The dust has settled on Britain’s most noteworthy yearly basketball fixture and what a triumph NBA London 2018 turned out to be.
“I have had an opportunity to interact with several of the players, many of whom had not been to London before, and I can tell you they’re all having a great time,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told us in the pre-game press conference. “This is a fantastic arena. It’s the equivalent of an NBA arena back home. I think once the game starts the players feel it’s very much the usual conditions in which they play games.”
Players, coaches and, most importantly, the fans echoed Silver’s statements about the arena operations and the smooth style in which the night fell into place – the ultimate validation for the eighth regular season NBA game to be played in England.
As revellers approached the arena, they were met with endless decorative murals that represented NBA folklore, as well as educational pieces around the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics, in order to appeal to the hoops fanatics and new fans alike. When they drew closer, a vast range of merchandise and special attractions awaited them. Unlike regular NBA games at a team’s home arena, Thursday night felt like a large-scale festival for basketball enthusiasts that you won’t experience elsewhere. The association sees the yearly NBA London game as an opportunity to win over some new fans and reward those that they already have across the Atlantic. And, therefore, they throw all that they can into the occasion.
Despite the astronomical resale prices that upset many, you would have been hard-pressed to find any gaping holes in the crowd, despite a number of empty seats evident to television viewers. The arena was pretty full though, forming a healthy, balanced sea of blue and green, despite the game technically being classed as a Sixers home game.
Shortly after the game intros and Joel Embiid’s battle cry of ‘trust the process’, NBA London 2018 was underway and the O2 Arena came to life after tip-off.
The game itself was a tense spectacle and became a statement win for the Celtics, who last visited London while preparing for their 2007-2008 title-winning season. After a much more confident start for the 76ers, Boston rallied back in the second half to overcome a 22-point deficit. The game had everything – superstar performances, glimpses into the future of the NBA and some good old fashioned on-court hostility.
Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving grabbed 20 points and seven assists that inspired MVP chants, as he led his team to the finish line. The 25-year-old was helped by an assertive performance by Jaylen Brown, a tremendously efficient Jayson Tatum and 19 points from Marcus Morris, who seemed more settled than in recent games.
The result was unfortunate for J.J. Redick, who scored 22 points for Philadelphia and the versatile Ben Simmons, who proved why he is considered the Rookie of the Year frontrunner, in the first half especially.
Fan-favourite Joel Embiid felt disappointed after the game, but told us that he relished the opportunity to represent the league overseas, especially as an overseas player:
— BT Sport (@btsport) January 11, 2018
A deflated but polite Simmons also told us how exciting the experience was, despite the result:
— BT Sport (@btsport) January 11, 2018
From dance cam to the humiliation of comedians, from a comeback performance to the half time show, the entertainment of NBA London left the jubilant crowd reluctant to leave the building.
Minutes after the final buzzer sounded, fans stayed put, in order to soak in as much of the atmosphere as they could and catch one of the souvenir t-shirts being launched into the rafters. The game may have been over, but for many of the Brits that attended, the NBA journey had just begun.
Photo by Simon Cooper/PA via Associated Press