British

Basketball in Great Britain: What Next?

February 1, 2013 10:00 am 4 comments

by Sam Neter

NBA London Live 2013By Sam Hart | @the_line_131

It’s only a fortnight since the NBA’s latest regular season showpiece extravaganza at London’s O2 Arena… but it feels like a lifetime.

As a basketball fan in the United Kingdom, you have to seriously respect Luol Deng. And not just because he’s ours.

This is a guy who is a star. An All Star, a Superstar. An athlete living in the United States, being paid the big bucks as a professional and getting at least some of the recognition his talent undoubtedly deserves. He is the highest paid British sportsman in the world and an icon in a big, bustling, major sporting city. When he’s not on the court trying to chase down a Championship, he’s off it, busy supporting the country of his birth, South Sudan, with a charity foundation following the grizzly War of Independence that caused that nation so such pain.

Why then, you must ask, does he even bother with attempting to prop up basketball in Britain, his adopted country, when, on the surface at least, there aren’t many others who seem to care?

The answer is simple: because he, like many of us, recognises the incredible potential the sport has on these shores – a potential that, unless something begins to change right now, may never be fulfilled.

And that, actually, a great many people do care.

Just two weeks ago the buzz for basketball in our capital city was at fever pitch. The NBA brought over the storied New York Knicks to play the Detroit Pistons and once more the O2 was full of the sights and sounds of elite basketball, just as it was for the Olympics in the summer and for the League’s previous visits over the years. The hunger and the excitement were evident more than ever… but, perhaps this year more than any other, questions lingered with regards to where we go from here. A gloom hung over the event. What’s next?

David Stern and Adam Silver, National Basketball Association Commissioner and Commissioner-in-waiting, both reacted with dismay to the Government’s recent decision to obliterate basketball’s funding in Britain – the former calling it “stunning”. But what must he truly think? Investing so much, making such an effort and showing such un-wavering commitment in bringing the League to London and expanding the game this side of the pond must appear to supply very little in return.

Can Stern really stick to his prediction of there being a European NBA Division and teams in Europe, including London, in the next 20 years? We’re really no closer to that being a reality than when it was first mooted. If anything, we’re further away. And that’s nothing short of sad.

If we’re ever to see it, ever to have a professional league to be proud of, the wheels of momentum need to start turning immediately.

Deng courageously penned a letter directly to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, earlier in the week demanding answers with regards to the monetary cuts, which many of you may have read. In it he uses language such as “Do not underestimate the fan base that this sport has in the UK” and “You’re allowing a sport to be greatly harmed… and I won’t accept it”. It’s stirring and inspiring, proving that the basketball community in Great Britain does have a significant voice. But there is one line more than any other that jumps off of the page at you, a statistic: that “basketball participation for 11-15 year olds is… second only to football”. The opportunities are mind-boggling, the thought of ignoring them, plain scary.

We can’t wait for hand-outs, for millions or miracles. We need to make a stand, to shout so loud that we can’t be ignored. Hoopsfix’s very own Sam Neter has helped start an online e-petition, also mentioned in Deng’s letter, protesting the confusing and nonsensical actions of UK Sport. It’s a start, and I urge you all to sign it.

Then maybe one day the NBA could find a permanent home here…

Image Credit: NBAE/Getty images

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