5 Truths from the NBA London game: Brexit trouble, freebies and a European commitment
Tom Bennett and Marcus Foley were at the O2 in London to watch the Washington Wizards beat the New York Knicks. Here are five things they learned.
COULD BREXIT SPELL THE END OF THE NBA LONDON GAME?
"We're looking to play a regular season game in Paris... maybe next season."
You could feel the buzz in the press room as the NBA commissioner Adam Silver revealed plans for a Paris game next season.
And you could almost hear the cogs turning: 'does this mean the NBA are really looking to commit to Europe".
But then, with a glimpse at the faces around the room, it was clear that the penny had dropped: 'oh... Brexit'.
London's relationship with the NBA had been blossoming. But there's a problem on the horizon and both sides can see it coming.
Silver didn't explicitly mention Brexit, but it didn't take a genius to read between the lines as he said:
"This feels like a European all-star game."
"London is a hub in Europe. Easily accessible for other people in Europe."
"We are looking at others markets and recognise that Europe is a huge market."
And finally, when asked if a Paris match would be as well as, or instead of London;
"We're thinking the likelihood is one game in Europe."
Sorry London, but the writing is on the wall.
BRITAIN DOESN'T HAVE AMERICA'S KNACK FOR PIZZAZ... BUT THAT'S OKAY
Attending an NBA match in London is a terrific experience. The sporting standard is high, the fans are as passionate and knowledgeable as any, and the level of off-court entertainment outstrips anything British sports can offer. Add into that the intoxicating ingredient of a sprinkle of celebrity stardust and you have an amazing evening of sports entertainment.
But one thing is lacking. The pizzaz isn't quite there, the vibe is fun but restrained, the entertainment is plentiful but not overwhelming. It's simply very British.
And that's absolutely fine.
The NBA is a magical league and has earned a loyal worldwide following as a result. But if Basketball is truly going to break Britain as a spectator sport then it needs to be done in a way that meets British demands. And the London games do exactly that.
A FREEBIE TRUMPS EVERYTHING
The O2 crowd clapped politely after the London Philharmonic Orchestra had performed the national anthems of America and Great Britain.
They whooped encouragingly as the cheerleaders did their thing.
They rose from their seats to cheer the players on as a tight game approached it's climax.
And they gasped in amazement as a buzzer-beating intervention from 'VAR' settled the match.
But by far the biggest reaction of the night (and it wasn't even close) was when the offer of free t-shirts presented itself.
As the mascot, cheerleaders and support staff pelted their surplus XL merchandise into the crowd, people were quite literally falling over themselves to get a grip on the free cloth. Men in suits who had barely stirred all evening suddenly became treasure-hunters, palming kids aside as they looked to pluck some fashion gold from the sky. And even the Premier League footballers, who had tried all evening to look so cool that you could be forgiven for thinking they were bored, showed a hint of animation at the chance of collecting some new threads.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, trumps a freebie.
Arsenal's Spanish defender Hector Bellerin, Arsenal's Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Arsenal's French striker Alexandre Lacazette attend the NBA London Game 2019 basketball game between Washington Wizards and New York Knicks at the O2 ArenGetty Images
THIS IS HOW VAR SHOULD BE USED
The New York Knicks and the Washington Wizards are hardly elite NBA sides. The Knicks sit second from bottom of the Eastern Conference while the Wizards, without franchise player John Wall for the season, are unlikely to make the play-offs – and, if they do, they’ll endure a pretty savage first-round exit.
However, they served up a pretty decent exhibition of basketball on Thursday night at the O2. The Knicks looked, at one point, like they might secure a blowout win only for the Wizards to whittle down their advantage to the point either team could have won it down the straight.
To be fair, it was a touch of an anti-climax that the Wizards took the spoils after Allonzo Trier was called on a goaltend with 0.4 seconds remaining as Thomas Bryant attempted a layup.
The decision was reviewed and this is where the Premier League could learn a hell of a lot from basketball and American sports in general. The review added to the spectacle because it was fully immersive – those in attendance could, via the jumbotron, watch the footage the officials were reviewing to make the decision. The decision was debated live, frame by frame and there was zero confusion as to what was going on. Basically, it was the complete opposite of the process in football at the moment. VAR can be good; it just needs to be used correctly.
THE NBA NEEDS TO COMMIT TO EUROPE
When asked about its potential in his pre-match press conference, commissioner Silver outlined the issues a European division would cause the NBA. The long and short of it was that it was unworkable.
Silver outlined two main obstacles:
- The travel associated with having a division of say the Eastern Conference in another continent and the impact that may have on player health
- The concern that an additional six teams required for a self-contained division would require an additional 90 players and this would dilute the calibre of the league
However, neither issue is without a workaround, and the NBA might want to start looking at workarounds, as if the league wants to continue to grow then it needs to fully commit to Europe, and that means a division.
Thursday was the ninth year that the NBA staged a game in London, and all in all Silver said, the game marked the 91st game the league has played in Europe. A fairly paltry number considering that a regular season is 82 games long.
Soon the novelty factor of a game that has little-to-no bearing on either team’s season is being held in London will wear off. It might be a regular-season game but what impact will Thursday’s game have on either team’s season? Little.
The NFL can ‘get away’ with playing one or two games a season in London purely due to the reduced volume of games in a season. A loss in the London game could derail a season for an NFL team, the same can’t be said for the NBA, where the teams have 81 other opportunities to put a bad performance right, and if fans do not feel fully invested in a league that makes an appearance once a year, then that league’s growth in that market will start to stagnate.
The London games are great but the next challenge for the NBA is to fully embed itself in Europe.