The majestic Hospital Salpetriere in the Parisian neighborhood of Austerlitz was the scene Thursday morning of an inspiring event that showed once again how the international language of basketball can bring smiles to the faces of disadvantaged children. Eight players from the Final Four teams took time out from their preparations for one of the biggest games of their lives to help dedicate a new basketball court for the young patients at the hospital.
In a courtyard behind the hospital, the players were greeted with a round of applause by 60 children, their parents and doctors. "I wish to say some words of thanks first of all to the players, who came here to play the most important games of the season," said Jordi Bertomeu, the Euroleague Basketball CEO. "Even though they are concentrated on their games, they came here to be with these children and to do something that unites us all."
The other protagonist at the event was Mondo, the Euroleague official partner that donated the shining new baskets at both ends of the court. Doing the honors of inaugurating the basket were the two tallest players on the visit, Pops Mensah-Bonsu of CSKA Moscow and Boni Ndong of Regal FC Barcelona, took off from halfcourt to score simultaneous layups. Then it was fun time for the kids, who grabbed 15 new official 2010 Final Four basketballs from Nike and spent the next half-hour shooting with the Euroleague stars. Later, they were divided into teams for a couple of contests and took a group photo with their big friends.
"I think it makes the players happier than it makes the kids," Mensah-Bonsu said afterwards. "Whenever we can use whatever celebrity or type of fame we have to put a smile on the kids’ face is just as good for us… Basketball is a universal language when it comes to something like this. They appreciate us coming out and the fact that we play basketball and they enjoy the sport too makes us one."
"It's a joy to be here today with these kids in Paris," Jordi Trias of Barcelona said. "It's a great thing that the Euroleague has organized. These kids have their difficulties, but if we can give them something special for one day, it's certainly special for us, too."
"We are happy to be here and help these kids," added Jan Vesely of Patizan. "To see how the children like to play basketball. They are laughing. They are happy. They are smiling. And the smile is the international language."
"It’s hard to communicate because we do not speak French, but everybody can be together and smiling through sports and that is good," Panagiotis Vasilopoulos of Olympiacos said.
In addition to the aforementioned players, Petar Bozic of Partizan Belgrade, Yotam Halperin of Olympiacos Piraeus and Andrey Vorontsevich of CSKA Moscow were also on hand and none of them left before helping hand out special backpacks for the children as well.