The NBA Global Games 2016 arrived in London on the 14th of January. I was fortunate to have tickets for the game in which the Orlando Magic would face the Toronto Raptors. Fortunate in that the 20,000 tickets sold out in under one hour and I managed to get my hands on two of them, I was rather unfortunate in the fact that these two tickets would cost a combined £150 or $215. This might not seem too far out of the ordinary........but the tickets were right up in the nosebleed section. But I guess this is just the price we have to pay if we want to see live NBA in England.
It makes me wonder if we would have to pay these prices on a regular basis if we were to ever get a NBA team over here full time. I'd like to think the answer would be no, but then again I highly doubt we'll see any NBA team being based anywhere other than America or Canada so I'll end this discussion here.
Anyway, me and my friend, who happens to support the Magic (he lived out there for a couple of years and started following them) set of on route to London for the game. He, excited to see Orlando in action, me, excited to see a live NBA game for the first time in nearly two years (since I last visited Memphis).
We arrived in London sometime around midday, we then proceeded to make our way towards the tube station. I'd never been on the tube in London before. I'm from the north of England and I'm not a big fan of London. Now, here's the difference between the north and London; London is a place of hustle and bustle, everyone is in a rush, people go out of their way not to help you, nobody smiles, and the price of everything is massively inflated. I can't quite figure out why tourists enjoy visiting London. There's probably a 0.000001% chance you will actually see the Queen either.
Back to my first experience on the tube, we stepped in to the tube station, thousands of determined people would then start to rush as fast as possible, pushing past as many people and objects as they possibly could in order to get to the stand their tube would be departing from. Me, I just stepped on the left hand side of the escalator to happily ride to my departing stand. Only it wasn't a happy ride, what seemed like hundreds of people decided they would just barge past me as they sprinted down the left hand side of said escalator. Now this is the thing with London, I didn't know at the time, but if you want to happily ride the escalator inside the tube station then you MUST stand only on the right hand side of the escalator, you must leave the left hand side empty for all the people who want to live their life on fast forward to sprint past everyone in their way, so these people that push past you can get on their tube, packed like sardines and have an uncomfortable ride to their destination. I'm not sure if these people know that there's a tube arrives every single minute that would get them to their destination, or are their lives on such a tight schedule that every minute counts so much to them?
We got off the tube outside the o2 Arena and went for a few pints, here's another difference between London and the north of England, where I live I can buy two pints of beer for the price of what one pint costs in London, not a massive problem, unless like me, you enjoy a few drinks. As we had a few drinks, savouring every mouthful due to the inflated London price, I looked around at all the different jerseys people were wearing. I know Orlando were playing Toronto, but this is the only chance many Englishmen would get to see a live game this season. Toronto jerseys were the order of the day, as around 50% of the people there had some sort of Raptors apparel on their backs, there was obviously a large number of Magic supporters there as well. Then you had many wearing Bulls, Celtics, and Lakers jerseys. I saw one Bucks jersey, one Nuggets jersey and I got talking to one person in a Wizards jersey, though he happened to be a Pistons fan! I claim to be the only Grizzlies fan in the arena that night. The Raptors were the best supported team, and upon my observation LeBron James had the second best support in the arena.
We went up to our seats in the nosebleed section, for what it's worth these tickets cost me more than my tickets cost me to sit on the second row at the FedEx Forum last time I was in Memphis, we watched the teams warm up as the arena started to fill up. Then came the time to announce the teams, Orlando were the designated home team and the Raptors were announced first. Loud cheers filled the arena as each member of the Raptors was announced to the crowd, these cheers weren't as loud for Orlando as their players were announced. I'd be pretty pissed if I was a Magic fan in Orlando, having a home game taken away from me and moved to London, especially now this game was now more of a road game for them with all the support being for the team that was supposed to be on the road.
The game started and the atmosphere became very quiet inside the arena, there was no chanting, just a few claps and cheers every time a basket was made. The person sat next to me insisted on talking about NFL throughout the majority of the first half. When he wasn't talking about NFL he was talking to me about football/soccer.
A large percentage of the crowd didn't seem to have any idea what was actually going on on the court, I'm not sure why some of these people would pay stupid prices for tickets to watch a game they knew nothing about.
Nikola Vucevic got fouled as he made a dunk, the scores were pretty tight at the time. He went to the line and made the free throw to complete the three point play, one guy sat behind me jumped up and shouted 'come on make the second one and level it up'. He couldn't understand why Vucevic wasn't getting two free throws the same as everyone else had done when they'd been fouled on a shot attempt. I couldn't help but laugh to myself at the thought of some sort of crazy four point play this person was expecting.
Another guy sat somewhere near us was just randomly shouting for the 'Orlando's' throughout the entire game. I presume he thought their nickname was 'Orlando's' rather than 'Magic'. Though I'm not sure if he thought the teams entire name was 'The Orlando Orlando's', I like to think this is what he does believe to be true.
What made me think that many of the people in the crowd were not NBA fans in the slightest way is what happened at half time. John Amaechi was presented on court along with NBA legends Hakeem Olajuwon, Rick Fox, Horace Grant, and Muggsy Bogues. When being presented on court they drew claps and cheers from all sides of the arena. But when Bogues, one of my childhood basketball heroes was presented, many people decided they would laugh at his size compared to the monsters he was stood next to. Yeah, he may look small next to them, but if they ever watched Muggsy play these people would see him as a legend, just like I did as a child and still do to this day.
The second half started with Toronto leading by nine points. Orlando managed to force overtime, the atmosphere was still rather subdued, there was the odd chant of 'D-FENSE' as Orlando tried to claw their way back into the game following a fast start from Toronto in overtime. Then, with the game clock winding down and Toronto leading by two points Vucevic grabs a loose ball and hoists it from mid-court, the ball hits the rim and bounces out. The clock expires and Toronto win.
Then comes the mad rush, nobody stays behind to show their appreciation to the players, they're more interested in fleeing out into the London night to catch their tube, once again it must be impossible for these people to wait just one minute for the next tube to arrive.
Me and my friend sat on the tube and both agreed that watching NBA in London will never compare to the thrill of watching a live game in America. But we both agree that we've still had a good time and will now make this a yearly event no matter which two teams are playing.
Despite being English myself, one thing that this experience taught me is I think I actually hate English people that watch NBA now, and I can't wait to come back to Memphis to watch a game with some 'real fans'.