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In Paris, the Bulls and Pistons enjoy the sights, culture, and opera

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PARIS (AP) — Detroit guard Rodney McGruder has never experienced anything like it. He walked into the lobby of the Paris Opera House, then stopped and looked up to stare silently at 19th-century works of art.

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Finally, speak up.

“Here’s something else,” McGruder said. “This is unbelievable.”

This was exactly the reaction the Pistons wanted their players to have on this trip.

The Pistons and Chicago Bulls face off in Paris on Thursday night, though this journey — across six time zones for the Pistons, seven for the Bulls — is about more than just basketball. It was a mid-season immersion in French cuisine, wine, and culture, a bit of nightlife, a bit of fashion, and even a bit of business. Everyone saw the Eiffel Tower, everyone saw the Champs-Elysées, but both teams decided that they couldn’t come to Paris and not make every effort to enjoy the opportunity.

And the fans in Paris, who are preparing for the Olympic Games in the summer of 2024, attend wherever the Bulls and Pistons are.

“I can’t understand what they’re talking about,” said Bulls coach Billy Donovan. “But there seem to be gatherings and crowds of people.”

There were requisite trips to the Eiffel Tower for both teams, along with a basketball clinic for about 50 school-aged French girls on Wednesday.

“These kids don’t have a chance to see us in person, so it’s great for them and great for us,” said Bulls center Nikola Vucevic. “It means a lot to them and we try to return the favor as much as we can, and spend time when we can.”

Events were held around the unveiling of murals depicting both teams, as well as a trip for some to an event at Roland-Garros – the site of the French Open tennis tournament. Some members of the Bulls delegation are awaiting a visit to the US embassy on Tuesday, and some members of the Pistons group on Wednesday. And the Pistons decided they wanted a private party filled with some of the best in Paris like art, ballet, food and drink and opera.

So, owner Tom Gores and Vice Chairman Arn Tellem spearheaded plans for a one night they hope the 200 or so members of the Pistons traveling party won’t forget.

“I think in general, whether it’s work or basketball, bringing families together is what’s most important to us,” said Gorris, as guests enjoyed the sights of art and the sounds of music. “For us as a culture, that is what means the most.”

A simple banner on the fence outside the opera house on Tuesday read “Fermeture Exceptionnelle,” which translates to “exceptional closure.” He did not say why. A few passers-by along the sidewalk wondered on a cold night who was inside the fleet of buses that were carrying a well-dressed group of people to the event—especially those who were perhaps a little taller than the usual opera audience.

Inside, the Pistons had the place to themselves.

There were the sounds of violins and cellos, an opera singer appearing on the grand marble staircase with her voice filling the entire space shortly after the event had begun, ballet dancers inside the foyer covered in gold with 19th century artwork, more opera singers there, and then finally a closing tribute to “The Phantom of the Opera” – written over 100 years ago and set inside what Parisians and aficionados around the world call the Palais Garnier.

“It’s great being able to show my culture a little bit,” said Pistons’ Killian Hayes, who is French. “Even though I didn’t grow up in Paris, I spent a lot of time here. It’s Fashion Week here, and everyone really enjoys it.”

Hayes had never been to an opera house before and, like everyone else, was amazed at the sights inside. So did Pistons coach Dwayne Casey, who called it a unique night. For his wife, Brenda, it was the night of 25 years in the making. She once spent a short time in Paris, had tickets to the opera and couldn’t see what was inside – the show was canceled that night.

The scene you got on Tuesday was probably a little more exciting than the ones you could have seen 25 years ago.

“A little better,” said Casey, laughing.

It was two nights before the Paris game, about halfway through a tough season riddled with losses and injuries, and none of that mattered for a couple of hours. They got dressed up, took countless photos and videos, and even stayed up to sing the last note.

The plan was to make a memory. And it happened.

“It’s a really special evening,” said Tellem. “When we came here, the whole idea was to create some goodwill in the world. So, we did that to provide a memorable evening that I hope the players and their families will take with them forever.”

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