Nets seal comfortable win over Hawks as Stern promises more NBA to the UK.
The Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks took part in the latest NBA Global Game at the O2 in London on Thursday night, but there has been a mixed review of the event from across the pond.
Out-going NBA Commissioner David Stern revealed that Adam Silver sees the globalisation of the sport as one of his priorities when he takes office next month, and that London will remain a home for the league in the forthcoming years.
However, with ESPN amongst others questioning the atmosphere on Thursday and the players bemoaning the travel and lack of rest, is there a threat that regular season games in London are discontinued or are the benefits for the league still too great regardless of the negative aspects?
Scott Hazlewood: We’ve heard less than complimentary things about the game last night at the O2, mostly that the atmosphere was not worthy of a regular season game. You were in the middle of it all, is that criticism justified?
Sumeet Paul: Without sugar coating it, I think it is. ESPN pointed out that the “biggest cheers were reserved for the off-the-court action”, which included the big screen searching out footballers and celebrities and a poor guy getting hit on the head by a stray Nets pass.
It was great to see Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in action, and watch Joe Johnson do his thing. However, with a number of empty seats, it perhaps wasn’t as successful as I expected it to be. In addition, perhaps it is unfair to compare, but as an event and spectacle, it again fell short of the show put on by the NFL.
SH: Do you think that has to do with the ticket price? England and the UK does have a die-hard NBA fan-base, but do you think they need to lower prices in order to attract fringe fans?
SP: That probably was a factor, but the figures do say it was a sell-out. Given the novelty of the Global Games I don’t think the NBA will want to lower prices, and that’s actually understandable. If the number of regular-season games in London were to increase moving forward, then the pricing range would be something to look at and an NFL-style season ticket could be introduced.
SH: Players will say they love coming to other countries, we saw Kevin Garnett visiting Stamford Bridge to meet Chelsea players, but do you think they just see one-off games like this an annoyance?
SP: The WSJ published a great piece as they went behind the scenes during Brooklyn’s trip. They discussed how tired the players looked as they went through promotional events while Andrei Kirilenko wasn’t shy about giving his opinion on how tough the trip was, particularly for his back.
However, there is an aspect of coming abroad which allows teams to treat it like a mini training camp where they can regroup and go again. The two respective coaches kept emphasising how this was a “business trip”, and their teams appeared focused on the court. Garnett embraced the whole experience, but if it became a regular trip would they be so thrilled? I’m not so sure.
SH: Football is such an important part of English society, and by holding games here in the middle of the Premier League season, is it almost an impossible sell? You yourself said the cameras spent most of the night scanning for Arsenal or Chelsea players in the crowd.
SP: The NFL don’t seem to have that problem, and in a way I would say neither do the NBA given the attendance. I think the issue is more to do with engaging fans, and while I didn’t expect to be greeted by the Barclays Center or the Philips Arena when I entered the O2, it still fell below expectations in terms of the atmosphere.
The crowd took great pleasure in booing the likes of Olivier Giroud and Per Mertesacker, but then were relatively silent when the Nets or Hawks were taking free-throws. Perhaps it is difficult to translate the rivalry and atmosphere across the pond?
The game perhaps didn’t help in that respect either given Brooklyn’s dominance. While it was high-scoring and entertaining, it almost felt like a warm-up for All-Star Weekend with the number of uncontested lay-ups.
SH: So another NBA game in London has come and gone, overall what’s your opinion going forward? Are we going to see more games, maybe bigger name teams with a LeBron James or Kevin Durant here or a London franchise one day?
SP: I think a London franchise is a pipe dream, and as Paul Pierce mentioned, if it does happen at all it won’t be for another 5 to 10 years at least. The NBA need to introduce more games first to test the waters, and they need to bring bigger teams who will put on a competitive game as the O2 has now seen back-to-back blowouts.
David Stern, and Adam Silver, clearly see London as the base for their forays into Europe, and I certainly won’t complain too much about seeing more teams make the trip, but would you agree that more games would be the appropriate progress for the NBA in the UK?
SH: Yes more games, but the right kind of game. You can never predict what is going to happen when you set the dates for these games. The Eastern Conference teams have largely been terrible to date, but a team like the Nets, with the star power of All-Stars and Championship winners amongst them should have raised more than an eye brow of the English media and sports loving public. But more games, say three a season, like the NFL is moving to would be a way of going about raising the profile.
A one-off such as this, even though it is a regular season game will ensure teams will actually try as compared to a pre-season game or an exhibition, which is quickly forgotten as people go back to the main sport they follow if it isn’t basketball.