Nicolas Batum says he meant no harm with remark about Spanish players

ByMichael Wallace ESPN logo
Tuesday, April 21, 2015

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum has apologized for his role in a team motivational message that included an inflammatory remark about Spanish players, which was perceived as a shot at Grizzlies All-Star center Marc Gasol.

"I apologize if I hurt some people," Batum said before the Blazers practiced Tuesday at FedEx Forum. "But I have total respect for Marc Gasol. He knows that. We've talked about it sometimes."

Batum said his intent was never to harm Spanish people or anyone else when he contributed to a list of motivational themes the Trail Blazers posted inside the visitors' locker room before their 100-86 loss Sunday to Memphis in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.

Among the messages on the laminated card was the phrase: "We don't lose to Spanish players."

Other goals or messages listed on the card included references to how the Blazers planned to "win the dogfight," play tougher than Memphis, be more aggressive on defense and stick together through adversity.

A Blazers spokesman said several team members contributed thoughts to the card.

Batum confirmed Tuesday he was responsible for the part about Spanish players and that a long-standing international basketball rivalry between France and Spain was the source of the comment. He said the message was not intended as a cultural or racist insult.

Portland coach Terry Stotts and several of the team's players have said the card was never meant to be seen by media members who entered the locker room Sunday. But they also insisted nothing on the card was meant to be offensive.

"It was something that was meant to stay among our team," Blazers guard Damian Lillard said. "It's a rivalry between their [national] teams. It wasn't meant as any disrespect. And that's that."

The fallout has overshadowed preparation for Game 2 on Wednesday, although Gasol has spent the past two days trying to defuse the scrutiny.

Batum said he has not heard from the league about any potential disciplinary action and that he had not yet reached out to Gasol to apologize directly. Batum said he may have a chance during Wednesday's game to speak to Gasol to make sure the Memphis star understands the intent was not to be offensive.

Gasol said again Tuesday it shouldn't be a distraction.

"I don't have no take," Gasol said before the Grizzlies practiced. "And if I don't take anything out of it, I don't expect any of you guys [in the media] to take anything out of it. As far as I know, none of you guys are Spanish. So I hope nobody is bothered by that."

A seventh-year veteran from France, Batum has played with the French national team in recent summers and has faced the Spanish national team that features Marc and Pau Gasol.

During the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Batum, playing for France, punched Spanish guard Juan Carlos Navarro in the groin late in Spain's 66-59 win during quarterfinal play. Last summer, Batum's France team beat Spain and the Gasols 65-52 during the World Cup.

"We beat them; they beat us," Batum said Tuesday. "They crushed my Olympic dreams; we crushed their World Cup dreams. We're maybe the two best teams in Europe right now. We go at each other every summer, and that's why we respect each other so much. We heard bad stuff [from them] against us, too. We know that's nothing against us and the countries. I have nothing against Spain or Marc."

Batum said his girlfriend, who is of Russian and Spanish descent, chided him for not understanding how his message on the team card could be interpreted if presented without context.

"I understand how it could get out, get around and hurt people," Batum said. "I joked with Spanish players before and I do with French players all the time. I don't hate Spanish people. My girlfriend is Spanish. I don't think Marc will make a big deal about this. Worse things [are] said between France and Spain [on the court] in the summer than this was. Trust me."

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