Thriving on long-range shooting and an effervescent performance by Portland Trailblazers guard Nicholas Batum, the French finally touched the pinnacle after finishing as runners-up in 1949 and 2011. “It’s very emotional as I’ve been chasing this for ten years,” 31-year old Parker, who marshalled his team with the authority of a treble NBA champion, told the France 2 television channel. “We have made history because the first title is always the most beautiful. I received so many messages of support this morning and I didn’t want to disappoint people. The great (semi-final) victory over Spain boosted our confidence for this match.” Although the San Antonio Spurs playmaker at times struggled with mid-range jump shots, he carved out the supply routes with incisive passing, while Batum nailed one perimeter shot after another and forward Boris Diaw did the damage in the paint on both ends of the court. A fired-up Batum, who endured a patchy tournament and averaged only 11 points per game up to the final, found his range and sank 17 in the first half as France turned a 22-19 first-quarter deficit into a 50-34 halftime lead. Forward Linas Kleiza carried the Lithuanians with 16 points early in the game but lack of support from back-court players pegged back the 2003 winners as they also got muscled off the boards by an athletic French outfit who picked up 17 rebounds more than their rivals. France built a 76-56 lead with three minutes left and set the tone for celebrations in the Stozice Arena, with Parker netting a pair of audacious lay-ups in the closing stages to put the icing on the cake and throw the French fans into raptures. He finished the game with 12 points, Diaw chipped in with 15 and six rebounds while Batum could take the foot off the gas pedal as the rest of the French team joined the party, with 10 of their 12 players getting on the scoresheet. “What we’ve just done is amazing,” Batum, who finished with 17 points and six rebounds, said in a courtside interview. “We fought, we never gave up. French basketball needed that and it’s pure rapture.” Diaw added: “This is what we managed to achieve after a decade of building and hard work.
“I’m the biggest sports fan in the company,” he boasts, and claimed it wouldn’t be unusual to find him at a high school football game, professional tennis match or college basketball game. He cites Duke basketball as his favorite team, “I admire their coach immensely,” and has often been linked to so far unfounded rumors of interest in purchasing an NFL franchise. But it’s that passion for sports that can be found all over his decade as chairman of NASCAR. France doesn’t look at his sport as an auto racing series when he makes strategic decisions, instead he considers the big four professional leagues. It’s how NASCAR ended up with the Chase format in 2004. France saw it as way to add excitement when NASCAR goes head-to-head with the NFL, and he’s tinkered with the format since its debut, expanding the field, adding wild card berths and bonus points for “regular season” wins, in an effort to create what he calls “Game 7 moments.” For France, it’s part of the evolution of keeping NASCAR relevant in relation to the NFL and other sports, particularly as NASCAR’s televisions ratings and attendance have slid since the 2008 economic collapse. “We’ve always been trying to get television dollars or exposure or sponsor participation, stuff that you only get by having the size audience that will put you in line with the other professional sports leagues,” he said. “The nuances of what we do is very different than any sport. We’ve also taken an unabashed view to creating the closest competition that we can. We’re competing for the casual fan. It may not be the biggest motorsports fan, but they certainly appreciate big moments in sports. We have to compete with other sports, so that’s natural for us to want to emulate some of the things to set up big moments to attract some of the casual fans.” But both the Chase itself and France’s push to move NASCAR away from some of its traditional regional tracks and into larger urban markets has irritated its longtime fan base.
France steadies NASCAR during credibility crisis
Credit: Reuters/Charles Platiau By Matthias Blamont and Tim Hepher PARIS | Mon Sep 23, 2013 9:11am EDT PARIS (Reuters) – Air France-KLM (AIRF.PA) became the subject of a tug of war over its role in crisis-torn Italian partner Alitalia on Monday as Rome invited it to double its stake, while its own shareholders and unions looked ready to resist any new lifeline. The board of Air France-KLM, which owns 25 percent of Alitalia after helping it out of bankruptcy in 2008, was due to meet at 1600 GMT as Alitalia prepares to tap shareholders for cash for a second time this year, people close to the matter said. Alitalia is in the midst of a new crisis as it faces a cash shortfall of some 400 million euros ($540 million) and private Italian shareholders, who also took part in the 2008 rescue, become free to sell their shares when a lock-up expires in a month’s time. Air France-KLM will discuss whether to maintain its stake by participating in a capital increase, risk upsetting unions and the Dutch side of the company by raising its stake, or risk a Franco-Italian row by turning its back on its partner in the Skyteam alliance of airlines. Any extra investment could be a hard sell with the Franco-Dutch firm’s shareholders and workers, as it is in the midst of cutting costs and jobs in a bid to bring down its own debts. But the company will also be keen to protect the value of its existing investment and maintain access to Europe’s fourth-largest travel market. Italian transport minister Maurizio Lupi raised the stakes hours ahead of the meeting on Monday by saying Italy would not oppose an increase in Air France-KLM’s stake to 50 percent, effectively opening the door to foreign control. “I expect that Air France will strongly reaffirm that Alitalia is a strategic asset for Air France, and therefore that there will be a strengthening of Air France’s role,” he said on the sidelines of a conference in Milan. “We ask that Air France does not consider Alitalia and (Rome airport) Fiumicino as an appendix, but a strategic asset for the development of European air transport.” Lupi is a political ally of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi who opposed proposals to have Air France-KLM take control of Alitalia in 2008, and instead asked a group of Italian investors to take over the loss-making carrier. POLITICALLY SENSITIVE Alitalia has moved aggressively to cut costs in recent years, but remains severely hampered by low-cost competition in its European markets, poor demand on its domestic routes due to Italy’s debt crisis and the rise of high-speed trains, as well as insufficient capital to invest in long-haul fleets. Earlier this year, Air France-KLM participated in its share of a 150 million euro shareholder loan to keep Alitalia afloat. Chief Executive Alexandre de Juniac pledged in July not to put up more money without tough conditions. “In the past few weeks the management of Air France-KLM have been more open towards an increase in the stake rather than just taking part in a capital increase,” a union source briefed on the discussions said, asking not to be named. Air France-KLM declined comment.