By Sam Hart | @the_line_131
March 5, 2011, Greenwich, London. The New Jersey Nets and the Toronto Raptors had been going at it, up and down, for four quarters. The game mattered. Not just a glitzy showcase, it mattered. With 20 seconds left, the Raps’ DeMar DeRozan span into the lane to tie it up. Overtime. Then, 10 seconds left in the extra period, Sasha Vujačić arched in a three-ball, sending the building into a frenzy. Double-overtime. Again with ten seconds left, this time it’s the Nets’ Deron Williams’ turn to try and put the sword in. Twisting, turning, driving, dishing, before getting the rock back and dropping in a two to equal the contest yet again. Triple-overtime. Finally, Travis Outlaw gets the job done. Two free throws to ice the encounter, with the game clock once more dwindling down. Amazing. It was a wild night, a wild end to an incredible stopover for the NBA in our capital. Never mind the coaches patiently waiting outside the arena, London’s public transport system threatening to close for the night, or the long drives home for thousands that would now absolutely stretch into the next morning. This is what we wanted. This is what it’s all about. This is why we love this game.
The NBA is still keeping its promise in bringing the world’s premium brand of basketball to the masses, so others, not lucky enough to witness these moments every week except on their televisions, can enjoy the sport and the stars they love, up close and personal.
Of course, it’s a huge cash cow for the League; continuing to believe in the transition from a solely North American professional set up to truly worldwide competition can only further strengthen the power of those internationally household-known three letters, raking in the merchandise, sponsorship and marketing dollars. But it’s more than that.
As NBA Commissioner David Stern puts it, “providing fans with an authentic NBA experience is an important part of our efforts to grow the game globally… and leave a lasting impact in each of the communities we visit.”
The Oklahoma City Thunder’s win over Fenerbahçe Ulker of Turkey in Istanbul on Saturday means that there has been a total of 139 games featuring National Basketball Association sides played outside of the United States. A number set to reach 148 after this set of matches, dubbed ‘The Global Games’, has concluded. And over the years, boy, have their been some doozies…
Like the very first, where the Washington Bullets unthinkably lost by just one point to Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel in 1978, or the Bullets making the trip to China the very next year, the first NBA team to visit that country.
There was the tour of Italy in ’84, ‘The Italian Open’, where Commissioner Stern, in his first year at the helm, first exclaimed that there was a possibility of regular season NBA games being played in foreign countries. Later in the 1980s the Atlanta Hawks went behind The Iron Curtain to knock off The Soviet Union National Team thanks to a John Battle buzzer-beater in Tbilisi, Georgia, then still a part of the Soviet Republic.
The McDonald’s Championship era ran for 12 years and saw NBA teams matched up against different winners from around the world, bringing a more competitive structure and point to the League’s travels. Legendary icons like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Michael Jordan showcased their extraordinary talents in cities such as Madrid, Barcelona and Paris during what many believe to be the Association’s ‘Golden Era’.
Momentously, just as predicted six years earlier, regular season games were first played on international soil in Japan in 1990, with the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz trading victories in Tokyo. The experiment worked, as the regular season returned to that country just two years later, with the Seattle SuperSonics going 2-0 against the Houston Rockets in Yokohama in front of sold-out crowds.
The 90s saw no less than 14 contests held in Mexico City, Mexico, including one regular season classic fought out between Texas Triangle rivals the Rockets and Dallas Mavericks in ’97, before the turn of the century brought the League to new countries, like the Dominican Republic and Taiwan, as well as new cities around Europe and China.
And nobody who was there two years ago could possibly forget Europe’s regular season debut, in London, between New Jersey and the Detroit Pistons. A huge moment for basketball fans in this country, just days before the aforementioned triple-OT thriller where the Nets edged out the Raptors.
Happily, we are getting our fair share again, too.
This week sees Manchester’s Phones 4 U Arena host Kevin Durant and the Thunder as they play the Philadelphia 76ers in another new city on the NBA’s map. And to top it all off, early next year we will see another regular season game held at The O2, this time between the Hawks – who return to London for the first time in 20 years – and the newly-stacked Nets, this time, of course, donning the black and white of Brooklyn.
It has been proven time and time again that the hunger for basketball outside of America and Canada, around the world, and especially in the UK, is truly insatiable. So who knows, maybe one day London and Manchester will have NBA teams of their own?
Image Credit: NBAE/Getty Images
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