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The Story of a French Grizzlies Superfan

Tommy Duquenne

It was Saturday afternoon when I first stumbled upon this fascinating Twitter account:

I was intrigued, so I clicked on the profile. I was shocked and amazed to see that the account had over nine-thousand followers, way more than I would have expected a French Grizzlies fan account to have racked up.

Out of curiosity, I browsed the account’s followers, my interest only growing. This account was followed by an abundance of other accounts similar to it, except these accounts represented other NBA teams. There was “Denver Nuggets France,” “Warriors France,” “Sixers France.” I came across at least one popular French account representing every single NBA team.

Each account had thousands of followers, and their tweets were heavily liked and interacted with. I had no idea France had this big of an NBA following. To be honest, I’d never really put much thought into the concept. However, it was extremely riveting to see a French Grizzlies account have nearly the amount of followers a Memphis-based fan account such as @MadeInMemphis1 has.

I was curious about so many things; I had to reach out to the person behind this “Grizzlies France” account.

That’s how I began talking to Tommy Duquenne, a twenty-eight-year-old man living in the town of Nantes, France.

The conversation began, like any great 21st century story - over Twitter DM’s. I knew instantly after his first response that I had to write something; to share with the Memphis community the compelling yet often overlooked reality of the global Grizzlies fandom.

Duquenne quickly agreed to my proposition, so I started to ask him questions. When I urged him not to worry about taking his time responding to my questions, he graciously responded that he would oblige, for his English “is not good enough to be that quick.” However, from the bits of conversation we’d already had, I beg to differ; his English was actually quite impressive.

According to Duquenne, basketball has rapidly grown in popularity just over the last few years in France. He explained to me that, similarly to how it is in the United States, France contains a large, active community of NBA fans on Twitter. Every franchise has at least one main French fan account, its primary focus being covering that specific team day-to-day and sharing news with fans.

The most beloved and popular player there, unsurprisingly, is Tony Parker - the legendary former Spur born and raised in France. Duequenne even goes as far to say, “He may even be the guy who got things started in France with basketball.”

He adds that though soccer is still by far the number-one sport in France, “B-ball is really becoming popular here.”

Dueqenne himself started off solely being an avid soccer fan. His interest for basketball came later.

Ok, so why the Grizzlies, I wondered? Of all the teams in the NBA, what made him choose us?

His love for the Grizzlies actually began as a random selection during a video game. “When I was young and didn’t know anything about the NBA, I played video games and I had to pick a team,” Duquenne admits. He’d never watched an NBA game in his life. “So I went with the Grizzlies. That’s pretty much how it started for me.”

It wasn’t until a few years later, however, that he decided to see what it was like to view an actual NBA game rather than just observing the teams and players on video games. And just like he’d done in his video game years before, Duquenne chose the Grizzlies. From then on, he was hooked.

“I still remember it, a Memphis win in Utah back in 2010 and I really loved it,” Duquenne reflects. “So I watched the next one, and the next one.” And since that day, nine years later, he’s watched nearly every game.

Duquenne was now an avid Grizzlies fan, so dedicated that he’d regularly wake up in the middle of the night to catch a game. “The difficult part is the time difference,” he laughs over the phone. “I will go to sleep around midnight, wake up at 3 AM, watch the game, go back to sleep, and wake up to go to work.” He says this matter-of-factly, as if he isn’t sacrificing the sleep that we take for granted just to watch the same basketball games that we watch.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies-Press Conference Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Over time, Duquenne found that he had trouble sharing and expressing this love with his friends. His personal friends not only didn’t care about the Grizzlies, but most of them weren’t even NBA fans. He had no one to talk basketball with, so, in 2014, he started his Twitter account.

It’s funny, because in that aspect, his story lines up perfectly with mine. Both of us loved basketball in communities where we felt like our voice wasn’t heard, and both of us created fan accounts to find people who cared. I was a thirteen-year-old girl in Memphis; he was a twenty-three-year-old man in France. But when you exclude those minor details, our stories are practically the same. We loved the same basketball team, and we wanted to share that love with the world.

I found that Duquenne was a lot more similar to me than I could have envisioned. He may live thousands of miles away, but if you strip away the thick French accent, all you hear is a man who loves the Grizzlies, just like me.

Just like us.

The Twitter account opened Duquenne up to a world of French Grizzlies fans, and he was ecstatic. The friendships he crafted on the account turned to real-life friendships, as these passionate Grizzlies fans began to realize they were not alone. Duquenne frequently hosted watch parties at his house, inviting his friends from Twitter.

His favorite all-time player is Marc Gasol, because, “He’s a guy who doesn’t care about statistics. He plays to win games.”

It wasn’t until January of this year that Duquenne was finally able to witness the magic of Gasol and the Grizzlies in person. “It was my first visit to the United States, and I wanted it to be Memphis.” He could’ve gone anywhere, but he chose Memphis.

So Memphis it was.

Duquenne traveled here MLK weekend, and stayed the entire week. In this time, he was able to catch four Grizzlies games.

“It was cool to finally see the players that close,” he tells me, unable to hide the excitement in his voice. “When I started watching the NBA ten years ago, I never could’ve imagined visiting the city and watching the NBA team. I enjoyed Memphis a lot because of the atmosphere. The music, Beale Street. It was incredible.”

When he visited, he was able to get in contact with Grizzlies President Jason Wexler, who introduced him to prominent local media members such as Pete Pranica and Michael Wallace. “I was there with my camera,” Duquenne enthusiastically explains. “So I could interview them! It was a really big experience for me.”

Duquenne went back home, eager to share his surreal Memphis experience with his fellow French Grizz fans.

Though the majority of French basketball fans apparently flock to teams such as the Lakers and the Thunder, there is a vocal fandom for each team. Every day, Duquenne finds that he’s still discovering new French Grizzlies fans on Twitter.

And this concept is not unique to France. I’ve come across a Brazilian fan page, too. The idea is that we are so engrossed in our United States bubble that sometimes we fail to acknowledge and celebrate the fans from completely different walks of life who dedicate themselves to our team, just as passionately as we do.

And just how global the game of basketball truly is becoming.

The difference is, most of them never even get to step foot in to FedExForum. Duquenne was lucky, but he’s the exception, not the rule. There is an abundance of Grizzlies fans all around the world who will never get to watch a game at a reasonable time or witness Grizzlies basketball in person.

But they’re just as much a part of Grizz Nation, and NBA Twitter (and fandom in general), as any of us are, because they love this basketball team. And they deserve to be heard not just by their home countries, but by all of us.

“I think it could be cool for U.S. fans to see that their Grizzlies are loved outside of Memphis, even overseas,” says Duquenne.

He’s right. It is cool. He opened me up to an entire world of Grizzlies fans I never knew existed, and now, I have the pleasure of sharing his world with all of you.

As I write this, it’s mid-afternoon in Memphis, but it’s late in France. People are going to sleep. If the NBA season was in action right now, I’d be wide awake and waiting for game-time. But this time, I’d be thinking of all of the international Grizzlies fans who are getting ready for bed, preparing to set their alarms and wake up sometime in the AM just to watch the game with us.

We see you, and we appreciate you.

Follow @sbngrizzlies