The Knicks beat the Pistons, 102-87, and the game was rarely close -- New York jumped to a 16-2 lead in the opening minutes and rarely looked back. But for basketball-starved fans at London's O2 Arena, the final score was but a small detail compared to simply watching a real live NBA game on the other side of the Atlantic.
DBB reader Emile Heskey was in attendance, sending the following description of the day's festivities. The following are his words and pictures, with only a handful of tiny edits.
The big wall leading up to the O2 arena had a history of the NBA adorning it. Pistons and Knicks players were on the adjoining pillars with a small video display showing their names and facts. All in all, some significant effort to educate newcomers as to what this game of bouncy ball is all about.
Oh, and there was a fat guy in a Pistons uniform behind some glass, spinning the ball.
As for the game, first off, I'd like to apologise. That's what us English are good at, along with drinking and moaning about the weather. But in this case, apologising is justified, because London didn't do a very good job of representing Detroit Pistons as the "home" team.
Knicks jerseys outnumbered Pistons jerseys about 12-1 and they were treated as the home team. Unsurprisingly, the majority were Anthony jerseys but guess what the most popular Pistons jersey was? It wasn't Monroe. Or Stuckey. Or even Wallace or Billups or Rodman or Thomas. It was Knight. Knight. By a pretty big margin as well. I'm as confused as you are.
You probably saw on TV that the Knicks opened with a barrage of 3-pointers that set the tone for the game but actually, the tone was set earlier than that. Just before tip-off, Amare Stoudemire took to centre court to thank London for its hospitality. London cheered in approval.
Then Tayshaun Prince stepped forward to do the same on behalf of the Pistons and oh dear. His softly-spoken drawl quickly lost a crowd that had been battered into an ovation by the booming voice of Stoudemire and then his microphone cut out. Prince shrugged in confusion, then walked back to the Pistons bench to a chorus of boos.
You know how the game went on TV following tip-off, so here's some extra stuff:
- The first time-out was interesting in that the pistons huddled around Lawrence Frank except for Charlie Villanueva, who was standing off to the side and watching the Pistons cheerleaders. He probably had the right idea though. He was staring at the cheerleaders and I was staring at Charlie Villanueva. So, you know.
- As with the previous NBA game in London, Nets vs Raptors, the rules were randomly explained at random points in the evening.
- During one of the later time-outs, the video display above had the question: 'can you name at least six teams who made the play-offs last year?' One of the displayed answers was MINNESOTA GRIZZLIES. Again, I can only apologise. We're still new to this basketball thing.
- Anthony got the most cheers, followed by Stoudemire. No special acknowledgement for anyone else. Not even Tyson Chandler. I could hear someone mutter "who's he?" when Chandler was subbed in. London eventually warmed to Will Bynum, when they recognised him as the-one-most-likely-to-drive-the-lane-and-do-impressive-non-dunky-things. It also helped that Bynum was on the court for so long and will likely have emerged as the recognisable player on the Pistons side of things for those NBA novices in O2 Arena -- Prince and Singler were anonymous, Monroe had Knicks D swarming all over him, no-one else on the Pistons team seemed to get a good run on the court.
- Knicks support was never boisterous or noisy, mostly because the narrative of the game never allowed for it (Knicks gain huge, early lead and comfortably hold it) but also because it simply wasn't that type of crowd, which was mostly filled with people who seemed to be there with an equal mix of curiosity and being able to tick 'I've been to an NBA game' off their to-do list. Cheapest tickets were £50, which works out to about 80 dollars. Compared to other UK sports, that's expensive.
- The biggest response to anything was when Austin Daye clotheslined Tyson Chandler, by far. Huge boos after that one. Maybe Daye didn't know who Chandler was.
- If you know your footballers/soccer players, Robert Pires, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Ashley Cole were at the game. Ashley Cole was the only person that evening who was booed louder than Daye.
For me, it was a great evening because I got to see Pistons play in person, convinced the people I went with that Drummond was The Future and saw Will Bynum do his thing. But I don't think David Stern organised the game specifically to please me and as part of the exercise to push NBA into the UK and expand its audience, it didn't work.
Those who were curious about basketball won't have come away from this as NBA converts. It wasn't much of a spectacle. Anthony might be a superstar but his drawn out isolation game isn't all that exciting to watch and you could see people were responding to the name rather than the player, which is likely why Will Bynum's support grew throughout the night. Bynum will have left a more favourable impression in those leaving the O2 Arena than anyone else on the court.
The NBA-in-the-UK experiment also suffers from exactly the same problem the NFL-in-the-UK attempts are in that we haven't seen two top teams play each other on these shores yet. Even if this game was organised back when Gordon was a Piston, there wasn't a single Gordon jersey in the building but plenty of James, Durant and Bryant jerseys. And it's more important NBA gets this right than NFL does if it really wants to conquer the UK. Most NBA games tip-off at around midnight-3am UK time while NFL games are around 9pm-11pm on Sunday, which is far more reasonable.
Still, I enjoyed myself, and that's what matters eh?