It was easier than an SAT sample question.
“Who do you think is the best quote on the Blazers?” a local television reporter asked me last week.
I looked back like he’d just asked who the most famous Barack was.
“Nicolas Batum,” I said in my best “no duh” voice.
“Yeah, we don’t really interview him much,” the newsman replied. "Too hard for people to understand."
Too hard for people to understand? Yeah, like Shaq was James Earl Jones.
It’s true that reporters would benefit from Batum having a closed-caption setting. Talking to the Frenchman is like having a cell-phone conversation circa 2002 — there are going to be dropped words here and there.
But once your ears adapt, you realize that he is the most genuine, honest, and approachable player on the team. Spend five minutes with him, and you may forget which of you is the millionaire.
Wednesday, New Jersey guard Deron Williams blew off a reporter then complained to teammates about how he was “asking dumb questions” while the man was still in the room.
Earlier in the season, LaMarcus Aldridge told a group of media members surrounding his locker “I’m going to show up to your jobs and put a camera in your face.”
Other players neglect to look you in the eye. Gerald Wallace once said to a teammate “I’m not talking to these (expletives)” after he felt he had answered enough questions.
But Batum takes the radical approach of treating goobers like me as though we’re human beings.
Eye contact. Respect. And get this — honesty.
When he injured his knee earlier in the season and thought he might have torn an ACL, he admitted that missing the Olympics — not NBA games — was his biggest fear.
When his team’s roster was gutted in the middle of last month, and the remaining Blazers were putting on fronts as though they’d lost nothing more than a 2019 second-round pick, Batum confessed “I really don’t know what to think.”
When asked if the infamous goaltending game against the Thunder in February was a turning point in the season, Nic said that if he would have converted his layup at the end of regulation, the franchise’s personnel moves likely wouldn’t have gone down.
And after LeBron James and Dwyane Wade beat Portland like a piñata last month, Batum said that they were the best players in the world and that “sometimes there is nothing you can do.”
Do you how refreshing that is in this world of “our focus is on tonight?” Do you know how unique that is in this time of “we’re taking it one game at a time?”
Blazers interim coach Kaleb Canales, bless his 34-year-old heart, is a walking pull-string doll with five different clichés he keeps on loop. Batum, on the other hand, treats sentences the way Deion Sanders does suits — never using the same one twice.
Last year, when Nic changed lockers and lined up next to Rudy Fernandez and Patty Mills, he told reporters that “you have to use a passport to come over here.”
Last Sunday, after apologizing for scoring a meaningless layup at the buzzer in a win over Minnesota, he joked that he was owed two points for a bizarre goaltending call in the first half.
And Wednesday, when the Blazers were a field goal away from securing free Chalupas for the fans, he turned to a courtside attendee, said “I got you,” then knocked down a jumper.
Some folks may argue that Brandon Roy was just as charismatic and engaging as Batum. And they’re probably right. But there were also three times last year — whether it pertained to Andre Miller, Nate McMillan, or his lack of playing time — in which Roy openly complained about someone or something within the organization.
Has anyone ever heard Batum sound off? Did he mutter a single objection when he was playing behind a much less productive Wesley Matthews for much of the year?
Was he not the one telling anyone who would listen that Luke Babbitt was the team’s best shooter, or that he — not Raymond Felton — was at fault for Monday’s critical late-game turnover, or that Portland has welcomed him as though the city were his second home?
Batum may not be the most talented Blazer, and there may forever be a language barrier between him and the everyday television viewer.
But it’s not hard to see that he has the purest heart on this team.
To argue otherwise? That would be hard to understand.
Matt Calkins covers the Trail Blazers for The Columbian. He can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or firstname.lastname@example.org