by Ben Taylor / @benitaylor
Around this time last year, I wrote a piece about the idea of taking the NBA All-Star Game to international cities—with London in mind as a prime host, pre-Olympic optimism and excitement coursing through my hoops-starved veins.
Well, it is five months since the Olympics finished. The widely held positivity about the Games—particularly among the UK basketball community around the arrival of LeBron, Kobe, and the U.S. team changing basketball’s status in the UK—has melted away. The Olympics were great, as were Coach K’s team, but the game hasn’t changed at all. For some, things have gotten worse.
Having the world’s best on its doorstep didn’t seem to capture the British public’s attention, certainly not to the extent of other Olympic sports—particularly those in which Great Britain performed well. Basketball was, at best, an afterthought.
In the months that followed, England Basketball and British Basketball, the organizations responsible for running and promoting the game here, had their public funding cut due to poor participation statistics and lack of medal prospects, impacting basketball at both the grassroots and elite levels.
And for the fans, disagreement between the NBA and ESPN meant starting the new season without any TV coverage of the league.
But while 2012 ended on a sour note, 2013 has started positively.
The news of the funding cut united the UK hoops community and spurred it into action—fronted, as always, by Hoopsfix founder Sam Neter. A petition to have the UK government reconsider British Basketball’s funding cut has been started—if you have a spare minute, you can add your name to it here.
In the last few weeks, the NBA’s London office announced a new and vastly improved TV deal, with British broadcaster Sky, one of the driving forces behind the NFL’s popularity in the UK, signing up to show live games every Sunday night, in addition to highlights, and full coverage of the NBA Playoffs and Finals.
And, to top it all off, this week sees the arrival of the Knicks and the Pistons in the UK, who will play at a sold-out O2 Arena in London on Thursday night. It’ll be the third NBA regular season game to take place in London, following 2011’s double header between a Nets team featuring the newly-signed Deron Williams, and the Toronto Raptors.
Needless to say, the visit of the Knicks—one of the most popular teams across the pond—has even the fair-weather fans of the game excited. Tickets, which originally sold out in a matter of days, are in high demand, with the cheapest changing hands for upwards of $300. Expect the O2 arena to be packed with blue and orange for what is, technically, a Detroit home game.
For the first time in the UK, those unable to get their hands on tickets will be able to watch the game at home in 3D, another result of the new Sky TV deal.
Rasheed Wallace, coming out of your TV screen in glorious 3D. If that isn’t a moment to be celebrated, I don’t know what is.