Today, David Stern announced that the NBA will play 2 regular season games in London this year. Now seems a good time to share my excitement (WOOOOOO!) and hopefully a few more articulate thoughts and questions about the relationship between the NBA and Europe in general with you guys.
The Background: Why I'm so excited to see competitive NBA basketball in the UK.
A quick introduction first of all. I'm 22, from the UK, and have been a Blazers fan since the age of 8; my best friend then was a displaced Portlander who introduced me both to the sport and the team.
We don't get to see much high-standard basketball in the UK. Until last season, they used to show one live game per week on non-cable TV, but now that has stopped altogether. When they did show games, the time gap meant that they could only be east-coast games, and even then, showing them live meant games taking place between 2 and 5 in the morning.
Furthermore, we do not enter the Euroleague, and unless it's shown on an obscure cable TV channel, we can't watch it either. Our national basketball league is depleted of all it's talent, as our best players all play abroad. (see Freeland, Joel). Basically, our exposure to high-class, competitive basketball is limited to the Olympics, and even then, it doesn't get shown if we have a medal hope in archery.
For the last few years, the NBA has hosted pre-season exhibition games in London and other European cities. In my opinion, this has been a great step in the right direction, but it still had one big problem.
Let me explain: Last autumn, I went to the O2 Arena in London twice, once to see the pre-season game between the Bulls and Jazz, and the other time to see the ATP Tour finals (the end of season tennis event between the top 8 players). I'm a bigger basketball fan than tennis fan, but for 47 minutes, the NBA game left me kind of cold, and I preferred the tennis, and here's why: Derrick Rose sat the entire game, Noah, Deron, Boozer and even Luol Deng (who most of the fans were there to see) sat extended stretches, so the teams had no synergy, and there was little attempt to run plays. In short, it felt like a summer league game, with rookies looking to get theirs, and it lacked that competitive NBA atmosphere.
So now, even though it's just the lowly Raps and Nets, I can be excited for people playing like the game really matters, for 40 minutes of John Wall, and for some good solid screens. It may not seem much to you guys, and it certainly isn't playoff basketball, but to me, it's golden.
Question 1: Is the UK ready for NBA basketball?
On the surface, you might say not. The crowd at the pre-season games are not Bedgers; they aren't able to appreciate every nuance; someone looping off three screens for a mid-range J, the art of offensive rebounding, or a cleverly designed inbounds play. The only attempt to put people off at free throws was a drunk guy shouting "Liiiiiiiindsey, Liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiindsey, Go on Girl!" at Lindsey Hunter. Funny, but a demonstration of how far we have to go as sophisticated basketball fans.
Despite that, I believe we deserve the chance, and all because of those few leftover seconds in one preseason game. With the Jazz up 101-100, and the clock running down, NBA superstar and future Hall of Famer James Johnson, in the most important game of his career, hit a turnaround jumper, and the crowd of roughly 20,000 went truly, legitimately crazy. Joking aside, the atmosphere for those few seconds was like a playoffs crowd, or like Roy hitting the deep game-winning 3 against Houston, all for a game which counts for nothing, and a player who, in all probability won't matter much either.
It says to me that although there isn't yet the deep understanding, which can only come with experience, there is the passion for basketball in the UK to support regular season games, and maybe somewhere down the line, there is the capacity for the UK to have, and to cherish, an NBA team.
Question 2: Is there a place for a European division of the NBA?
In David Stern's announcement today, there was talk, somewhere down the line, of a European division of the NBA.
Whilst I can speak for the UK, and say that I believe there is a place for one or more NBA teams in the UK, I can't vouch for other European countries. They have the Euroleague, and they have strong teams and rivalries of their own. They are also more closely tied to the FIBA way of doing things - the shorter 3 point line, the tighter calling of games etc. If there are any other European Bedgers, or those with knowledge of the European game, I'd love to hear your thoughts on whether the NBA would take off in Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, Athens etc.
Question 3: What do Americans think?
So far you've heard what I think, and in truth, it's all pretty selfish, and basically about my desire to see the Blazers at least once a year. What would the average Bedger, on the west-coast, think of the NBA being played at midday your time? Do you think that the additional travel would cause a significant problem? Do you even like that the NBA is attempting to globalize? Do you want American stars playing overseas? Any other thoughts, positive or negative?
Thanks for reading guys (and girls), your thoughts, comments and criticisms are all welcome, and I'll keep an eye on the post to try and discuss anything that comes up!