La N°13, Élisabeth Riffiod.
Boris Diaw, el hijo de la mejor pívot francesa de la historia
Veteranísimos aficionados europeos reconocen un aire familiar cuando ven agruparse para el tiro a Boris Babacar Diaw-Riffiod, número 13 de Francia y 33 en los San Antonio Spurs: Boris ejecuta exactamente la misma mecánica de tiro de su madre, Élisabeth Riffiod, 247 veces internacional y excapitana del equipo nacional femenino de Francia.
Su altura de 1,87 hizo a Riffiod una gran pívot en los años 70, pese a la anemia juvenil. En el INSEP, el equivalente francés del INEF, el Instituto Nacional de Educación Física en España, Riffiod se enamoró del senegalés Issa Diaw, saltador de altura. Tuvieron dos hijos, Boris y Martin. Issa regresó a Senegal , donde hoy trabaja como abogado.
En funciones de madre soltera, Élisabeth crió a los chicos… y les enseñó a jugar a baloncesto: “Fue hasta que yo tuve altura y rapidez para poder con ella; entonces dejó de jugar conmigo”, bromea hoy Boris (2,03), quien heredó de su madre la baja frecuencia cardíaca: 32 pulsaciones para Élisabeth, y 35 para Boris.
Diaw proves mom wrong
Posted: Wednesday, July 09, 2003
ATLANTA - When Boris Diaw was growing up in France, his mother tried to steer him away from the idea of playing in the NBA.
''She didn't want me to lose my dream,'' he recalled. ''She would say, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah,' but she didn't think it was possible for a Frenchman to play in the NBA.''
Diaw couldn't help but smile Tuesday, his mother at his side as he tried on an Atlanta Hawks uniform. Diaw, the No. 21 overall pick, was among three French players taken in last month's draft.
His mother, Elizabeth Riffiod, was one of the best female players in French history, playing 13 years for the national team. She's even got a jersey in the Basketball Hall of Fame at Springfield, Mass.
But Riffiod wouldn't let her youngest son take up the sport until he was 10 years old. She tried to interest him in other pursuits, including judo, rugby and soccer.
''When I was young, it was impossible for anyone from our country to play in the NBA,'' Riffiod said.
That began to change after the first U.S. ''Dream Team'' won gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Suddenly, kids throughout Europe dreamed of being the next Magic Johnson or Larry Bird.
Despite his genetic advantages, Diaw didn't stand out when he first took the court. But a growth spurt beginning at 15 - he grew 8 inches in two years, according to his mother - suddenly propelled him to the forefront of French basketball.
By age 19, Diaw felt confident enough in his abilities to enter his name in the NBA draft. He pulled out, however, because it seemed unlikely he would be picked.
After going through the same scenario in 2002 - Diaw entered the draft as an early entry player, then withdrew - he finally made the plunge this year at 21. Even though he averaged only 7.3 points a game for his French team, the Hawks felt his overall abilities were worthy of a first-round pick.
''It's not any one thing about him,'' general manager Billy Knight said. ''I like everything about him. And he's young enough that there's still a big upside.''
The 6-foot-8 Diaw wasn't even the first Frenchman taken in the draft - that honor went to his Pau Orthez teammate, guard Michael Pietrus, picked at No. 11 by the Golden State Warriors. In the second round, French guard Paccelis Morlende went to the Philadelphia 76ers with the 50th overall selection.
''We have a very good generation of players,'' Diaw said, noting that everyone changed their outlook after Barcelona. ''We just knew the players in the NBA. We did not even know who was playing in France.''
Diaw modeled his game after Johnson's, becoming enamored with the idea of making dazzling passes to his teammates rather than handling the scoring himself.
He said that accounts for his rather ordinary scoring numbers for Pau Orthez, where he never averaged more than 7.7 points a game in three seasons.
''Magic Johnson was my favorite,'' Diaw said. ''I wanted to be like him because he was not selfish. He just wanted his team to win. He created 'Showtime' with the pass.
''I try to do the same thing. I want to make my teammates happy. I think that's important.''
Diaw, who helped Pau Orthez win two straight French championships, dismissed skeptics who say he'll get knocked around in the NBA and won't score enough to be effective.
''They say that just because I look to my teammates,'' said Diaw, who is definitely on the slender side at 203 pounds. ''I am not soft when I play defense. ... Sometimes I am a shooter, but when I see a teammate open under the basket I pass it him. Why take a jumpshot at the start of a play when you can go around and find a better setup?''
Diaw wanted to honor his mother by wearing 13, the number she had during her playing days, but it already was taken by Glenn Robinson. The rookie took No. 32 instead.
At a news conference on the Philips Arena practice court, Diaw was joined by Travis Hansen, a second-round pick from Brigham Young. Later, both rookies and their families were turned loose in the arena store, picking out hats and shirts with their new team colors.
''We're not expecting them to be miracle workers,'' Knight said. ''We do expect them to come in and contribute.''
Notes: The Hawks announced their team for the weeklong summer rookie league, which starts next Monday in Boston. The roster includes guard Dan Dickau, the team's first-round pick in 2002, and Corey Benjamin, who also played for the Hawks last season. Other notable players: former Georgia Tech star Alvin Jones and ex-Auburn standout Chris Porter.
Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Wednesday, July 9, 2003.
Thanks for Everything, Mom (the Jumper, Too)
Only her son is a continent away. And he happens to have her heartbeat and her jump shot.
Boris Diaw remembers playing pickup games with his mother, Elizabeth Riffiod, several years after she stopped playing center for the French national team.
“She was beating me really easy when I was so young,” Diaw said Thursday in a telephone interview after practice in Phoenix, where he is a reserve for the Suns. “Once I got a little size and quickness and could have beaten her,” he added with a laugh, “she stopped playing with me.”
A mother knows when it is time to step away. Still, even when Diaw grew to match her 6-foot-2 height as a teenager, Riffiod could not envision that he would reach the N.B.A.
“It wasn’t something I had as a goal for him,” Riffiod said Thursday in a telephone interview from her home in Talence, France, in Bordeaux. She spoke in French, through a Times interpreter. “It was so selective for a French player, I never imagined it.”
Now Riffiod follows Diaw’s progress in the Western Conference semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs over the Internet, agonizing play by play. “I cannot put up with that level of torture at that hour,” Riffiod said.
Or, if the games are broadcast live, she will awaken at 3 a.m. to watch Diaw with the sound muted so she will not hear commentators drone on and possibly criticize her son.
After a breakout season last year, the 6-8 Diaw won the league’s most improved player award, then signed a $45 million contract extension. But he has been inconsistent this season, and his playing time decreased when center Amare Stoudemire returned from injury.
“Boris has adapted for the team,” Riffiod said. She understands from experience.
On the day of the interview, Riffiod, nearly 60, retired from teaching at the University of Bordeaux, where she was a biology professor and basketball coach. She will still be the president of Diaw’s charitable foundation.
For 13 seasons, Riffiod played professional club basketball and participated in international competitions.
Diaw, 25, never saw her play, but he remembers her uniforms from the 1970s hanging in her closet. They were vestiges of a time when women in Europe — predominantly from the Soviet Union — were slowly gaining acceptance for competing at an elite level.
“I want to be like my mom, but more like her career and the way she did it than how she plays,” Diaw said, reciting how Riffiod won six French club championships. Although competitive in the European championships, France never qualified for the Olympics while she played.
Like his mother, Diaw is an undersized center (he has played every position with the Suns, from point guard to center). Riffiod recently discovered that she and her son also share another trait; they each have an extraordinarily low resting heart rate. “It’s a good thing for endurance,” she said of her 32 beats per minute.
“In the morning during the season when I am in shape, it can be 35,” Diaw said.
He and his mother say that Riffiod gained recognition as the first woman in France to shoot a jump shot. She learned the skill at 20 from watching a videotape of Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics with her teammates in Paris at the French National Institute for Sports and Physical Education, known in France by its acronym, Insep.
Riffiod was a quick study. As a child, she was prohibited to play sports because of a type of anemia. In her first year at the University of Besançon, a teacher noticed her size and agility and directed her to Insep. By then, Riffiod said her blood condition had gone away.
At the sports university, she met Issa Diaw, a high jumper from Senegal. The couple were a contrast but Riffiod said she never experienced bigotry because of her mixed-race relationship. “As athletes, we were given a free pass,” she said.
Playing basketball was her full-time job, she explained, and she was paid by her country to train and compete, leaving no time to think about starting a family. Finally, Riffiod decided to quit, and she and Issa had two sons, Boris and Martin, who is four years older.
She and Issa never married, and when he returned to Senegal (where he is a lawyer), she taught and raised her children as a single parent.
“I think all her life was a sacrifice,” Diaw said. “When she was playing, she sacrificed everything for basketball. When we were born, she made a life for me and my brother and put everything else on hold.”
But she did not channel her basketball ambitions through her children. “A lot of people said I should train my children,” Riffiod said. “I said that’s too young; nobody should be trained in a sport before 10 years old.”
Martin was more interested in soccer. Boris tried judo and fencing. Neither loved basketball until the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, when the United States’ Dream Team ignited the sport’s international popularity.
Martin’s sudden enthusiasm rubbed off on his brother. “I think he identified with black American players much more than with a blonde French mother,” Riffiod said of Martin, who played professionally in France’s second division.
Diaw went to Insep 20 years after his parents met there. His roommate was Tony Parker, the Spurs’ point guard and Diaw’s opponent in this series. They are such close friends — as captains on the French national team — that Diaw will be the best man at Parker’s wedding this summer to the actress Eva Longoria.
Diaw is not the only player in the N.B.A. whose mother was a prominent basketball player. Yao Ming’s mother, Fang Feng Di, was the top center on the Chinese national team. Ray Allen’s mother, Flo, played professionally in Britain, and Dwight Howard’s mother also played.
In France, Riffiod explained that Mother’s Day is not celebrated today, but June 3. If the Suns are still playing then, that could mean they will soon be headed to the N.B.A. finals.
“Yes, that would be a nice Mother’s Day gift,” Riffiod said.