The NBA is in London. Right now.
The land of HP Sauce and The Kings Speech is getting a real NBA game. Well, it’s not like they are getting the NBA’s best product, they are getting the Nets against the Raptors (tip off at 3 p.m. Eastern Friday on NBA TV). They did not get Manchester United against Arsenal. This is more Blackburn against Birmingham. I’m mot sure what kind of crowd that would draw if those two English Premiere League teams played in New York.
But London will sell out the O2 Arena to see Deron Williams against Andrea Bargnani. It is part of the NBA’s effort to create a global brand as the elite basketball league on the planet. It is part of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s plan to make his team more international.
Basketball is one of the marquee events of any Summer Olympics — especially with the presence of the globally popular NBAers who dot many of the national team rosters — but the game has no real grassroots appeal in London.
So part of the reason for the NBA games here is to increase awareness and, potentially, increase attention during the London Games so that organizers aren’t left scrambling to sell tickets to what’s normally a virtual sellout event.
No doubt basketball will sell out, and we here in the states will get to see all of it we want (right here on NBC). But this will not be the biggest sport with the locals. It’s not what they will be talking about in the pubs. And sending the Nets and Raptors isn’t really going to change that. It’s a baby step, if any kind of step at all.