LAS VEGAS — Frank Ntilikina sat out the Knicks’ summer league loss to the Lakers Tuesday night with a minor injury. Earlier in the day, he watched on television as his other team — the French national soccer team — pulled out a 1-0 victory over Belgium in the World Cup semifinals.
Ntilikina was born in Belgium, but he grew up in France from the age of 3 after his Rwandan parents moved there. He was pulling for France all the way.
“That was a great game,” Ntilikina said. “A great level of competition from both teams. I think we can go all the way since we beat that team. Anything can happen because it is the final, but I wish that France can go all the way.”
The final is Sunday, and France will meet Croatia, which beat England in Wednesday’s semifinal. Although basketball is his first love, it was only natural for Ntilikina to play soccer as a youth growing up in Strasbourg.
“When you go around and just play with your friends, most of the time you play soccer,” Ntilikina said. “I was playing basketball and soccer with them. Soccer is really big in France.”
After making a name for himself while playing professional basketball for Strasbourg as a 17-year-old, Ntilikina had the opportunity to meet French national team members Samuel Umtiti and Kylian Mbappe. Umtiti is from Cameroon but has French citizenship. Mbappe was born in Paris but his parents are from Cameroon.
Umtiti scored the only goal in France’s win over Belgium. Earlier in the tournament, Mbappe scored the last two goals in France’s 4-3 round of 16 win over Argentina. Ntilikina said it’s not as though he has a personal relationship with Umtiti and Mbappe, but having met them personalizes the experience of watching them in the World Cup.
“Of course, it’s always special to see them,” Ntilikina said. “Once I got to meet them in life and now I see them on the field, it’s a little more special.”