Published on November 11, 2013 | by Ryan Davies

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NBA follows NFL lead by moving in on a potential UK franchise

The 02 plays host to two NBA basketball teams

London’s O2 Arena hosting a regular season NBA game as part of the NBA International Series as it has done since 2007 [Photo by: @theHutch]

Since American football’s huge increase in popularity over recent years in the UK, it now seems basketball is following in the footsteps that the NFL have made across the pond.

With the recent NBA International Series match taking centre stage in Manchester only last month, basketball has been given a platform to grow here in the UK.

Despite only being a pre-season match, the Manchester Arena welcomed a capacity crowd as Oklahoma City Thunder overcame the Philadelphia 76ers 103-99 in a thrilling match.

London will welcome the NBA back to these shores when the O2 Arena hosts a regular season game between the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks on January 16, after the huge success in the previous season.

The UK has hosted NBA games dating back to 2007 and London has hosted regular season games since 2011, which have all been sell-outs.

NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, who played in the first ever NBA pre-season game in the UK 20 years ago, believes that it is only a matter of time before the UK has its own NBA side.

“I mean, whoever thought the NBA would play regular season games here? Nobody! But they’ve been doing it for years now. Eventually it’s going to happen. It’s inevitable.”

The former Atlanta Hawk continued. “Will it be the Hawks who come here? Hopefully not! I’d hate to leave Atlanta. But it could be a completely new franchise. An expansion. That’s the most likely thing.

“We all saw how well London put on the Olympics last summer and how great the basketball venue was. London would be a very attractive capital city for an NBA franchise.”

Wilkins also said that a move would be a good idea for the game in general. “The enthusiasm is already there. When I first played here the sport was just being introduced to UK fans. Now there’s a lot more love for it. I think it would be a good thing for the sport. It grows the borders for basketball worldwide. London would definitely be an attractive venue for that.”

 Global

Basketball has grown as a team sport not only in the UK but all around the world. This is due to the NBA’s dedication to make top games available globally, not just in America.

The NBA Global games schedule has been increasing every year since the idea began.

In six different countries 10 regular season and pre-season games will be played this season with 12 NBA teams taking part, making it the highest number of games to be played internationally in the history of the league. Countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Spain and Israel will join the UK in hosting games this season.

This commitment by the NBA to travel around the globe playing matches and essentially promoting their sport has seen it gain a new following of fans, and importantly new players.

Participation

The UAL basketball society has seen a sudden revival of membership in both the men’s and women’s teams, who are competing in the BUCS leagues. President of the basketball society Oliver Cheeseman spoke of his delight at the added interest in students wanting to play basketball.

“I started in 2010 and we had quite a solid membership. When I took control we saw a drop in numbers to below 10. This year, however, interest has grown and I’m happy to say we’re back where we were when I joined. A few members short perhaps but the quality and commitment rate is better so I’d say we’re actually in a better position.”

Cheeseman agreed that basketball has become more popular in the UK in recent years and believes that a better standard in the national leagues in the UK will make more of an impact than having more international games from America.

“Basketball has been the fastest growing sport over here since the early 2000s. However, that rate of growth has only really picked up the pace in the last 3-4 years. What I’d really like to see is continual investment on a grass-roots level upwards so we can have our own professional basketball league that’s at least to a standard of competitiveness with other leagues throughout Europe.”

Funding cut

Unfortunately for basketball in this country, Great Britain’s men’s basketball team were knocked out of September’s Eurobasket competition in the group stage curtailing their funding for the next Olympics in 2016.

UK Sport had promised the sport extra funding for both the men’s and women’s teams on the condition that the men finished in the top six and the women the top eight of their respective competitions. GB basketball now has a nervous wait until UK Sport delivers its verdict in January.

It’s not all bad news though as British basketball at least has a figurehead to not only lead the national team, but also for upcoming British youngsters to look to as inspiration.

Luol Deng is Britain’s major success in the NBA, plying his trade for the Chicago Bulls and competing in the end-of-season All-Star game in each of the last two years.

With Deng leading the way on the court and the NBA International Series giving the game such a huge platform off it, basketball looks set to continue growing on UK shores.

 

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