Basketball in Great Britain: What Next?

NBA London Live 2013

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

  • Tom

    Basketball has been coming up top in surveys for the past 20 years. Just because someone plays hoops once a week in the local park it does not mean the sport is popular and booming. The key are the clubs that make the players – train them and develop them. They are underfunded and run by the same people for years, no pro coaching and no accountablity based on poor results. The sport spent over 20 million in 7 years including various funding schemes for national teams, AASE’s, EB, etc. And the situattion is not only not better, but in many cases is worse. The Minister is right that unless the sport is shaken-upcompletely and rebuilt, nothing major will happen in the next 20 years. NBA will come once or twice per year because O2 meets their standards, sell their merchandise, and move on…our kids will continue to pay to play in poor leagues and look at any opportunity to go overseas.

  • Dpeti

    According to the BBC, GB has now received some extra funding. Let’s hope that this will help the English EB.

    Does anyone know who is the new Chairman of the Executive Committee?

  • I do agree slightly with the first comment. We do need a shake up in the UK. I think people like Sam should be running things. Facilities wise, there are more courts than ever before. We need changes in organisations like the BBL. Lets not forget that the NBA/ABA were struggling before the 80s and look where they are now. Lets change formats and maybe run a similar playoffs style in the English leagues. The main thing is to increase participation and grow slowly, but have a plan

    • Dpeti

      Well, with regard to Simon’s comments, let us hope that the changes made at the AGM to revise the Articles of Memorandum and appoint Jan Hagen and the three other “independent” officers of the Executive committee will prove a turning point in the future of English basketball. (

      Certainly a change of the Executive Committee personnel was an absolute necessity if anything was to change.

      However, whether they will have the power to appoint/reappoint/fire various professional staff of the EB we will have to wait and see.

      Most certainly certain personnel have to go as there is at present a deep distrust by Sport England of some of the present EB personnel, as indicated by the comments of the Sports Minister in the recent Commons Debate.

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