Wednesday, 11 March 2015


On Sunday I went to the Copper Box Arena on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, to watch the London Lions play the Leicester Riders in their British Basketball League Trophy semi final second leg.

If you're wondering why they call it the Copper Box Arena. Here's a picture:

I've never been to see a professional basketball game before and if I'm being honest - which I almost always am. Sometimes a little too honest. - part of me still feels as though I haven't.

My friend Dom got two free tickets and was cool enough to ask me to go. Probably because he thought I had nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon haha well actually I cancelled climbing to go so there! Because as much as I love climbing and the people I climb with, I made a promise to myself - what feels like a long time ago now - to make every effort to prioritise doing things that I have never done before.

So I make my way to the Olympic Park - a pain in the arse journey which would have been a 20 minute bike ride if my bike wasn't at work with a flat tyre - to see my first ever game and I'm excited. Not a kid seeing a giant lollipop as big as their head at the fairground kind of excited, but excited none the less.

So I find my seat and sit down to watch my first ever professional basketball game.

I'm feeling excited because although I haven't given basketball much thought in recent years, as a teenager I was a big fan. Orlando Magic were my team and Penny Hardaway was my favourite player. I spent so many hours in our back garden in the late 90's, pretending to be Penny Hardaway, Shaquille O' Neal and the likes. Most of the time joined by my younger sister Sam. We had so much fun playing - even if the hoop was too high to ever slam dunk the ball home - for hours and hours, with the added bonus of annoying our older sister Amanda, as we played against the wall below her bedroom. Something we know doubt enjoyed a lot but also wasn't really our fault. 1. That's where the hoop was. 2. She shouldn't have been in bed at 2pm, even if she was a moody teenager and it was the weekend. We would play for hours and hours, go in for tea and come back out and play again until the sun went down and only stop when it really was just too dark to play any longer.

Here is the hoop that we played with as teenagers. That I unfortunately never grew tall enough to slam dunk.

So Sunday's game was the BBL Championship Trophy semi final, second leg between the London Lions and the Leicester Riders. A pretty big deal. The winners going through to meet the Newcastle Eagles in the final in Glasgow. It was a good game. A fairly close contest but in the end the quality of the Leicester Riders shone through as they ran out 91-81 winners.

Now I say it was a big game. However, being there you wouldn't necessarily have known that to be true. There wasn't a great deal to suggest that it was a particularly big game. I certainly didn't feel any of the big game atmosphere. The kind of atmosphere you would expect to find at a Premier League football ground, on the night of a big game.

And before I say anymore, I have to state that I enjoyed the game! It's an end to end, highly skilled, high energy, exciting sport but I was also left feeling a little disappointed. Basketball will never be as big here as it is in the US. For several reasons, including the biggest reason of all, our love of Football! Those are some big shoes to fill. Shoes that even the giants - one of the players was 6ft11 - of basketball world are going to struggle to fill because we really do love our football here. Plus there are so many other popular sports in this country, that basketball finds itself competing with for the publics affection. Motorsport, rugby, tennis, cricket and darts just to name a few. However, like I said, it is a very skilful and exciting game. A game I'm surprised hasn't taken off in the UK more than it has. Now I don't know the exact reasons for this but I did see a few clues on Sunday.

The thing was, it just didn't feel like a professional game bing played in a professional league. Nothing about the event felt particularly professional. Instead of playing in a purpose build arena, somewhere perfect for the sport, the Copper Box Arena was far from ideal. It was like a large school hall with a small court placed uncomfortably at it's centre. The court looked small. Is that how big they are in America? They definitely look bigger on tv. And although we had seats which were really quite close to the action, in general the seats felt too far back from the court. Which was maybe one reason to help explain a real lack of atmosphere. Also the playing surface appeared to be a piece lino on top of the wooden floor? Which felt a bit like expecting a professional football team to play on the local astroturf. Where is the purpose built arena? Where is the scientifically designed playing surface? Well, I suppose that all takes money. Money that the game is currently unable to attract. 

The same could be said about top players. And I don't want to be mean about the players out there. There were some very talented players on show and they were all professional sports men - something I could never be - but I'd be surprised if any of the players showcasing their talents at the Copper Box Arena on Sunday, would be of any interest to a NBA team scout. In fact I had the feeling - and of course I could be completely wrong - that the British league is a place for players who failed to get into the NBA or a larger European League. But of course, without the money to pay them top dollar, why would the top players come and play in the British league?

The arena was only around half full and I got the feeling that a lot of the people there - there were a lot of teenagers sat in the same section as myself and Dom - were there with either free or cheap tickets? I do have to note that Leicester had a large number of noisy and passionate fans. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that they are Britain's oldest professional Basketball club? In contrast however - although there were a small number of passionate home fans - the London Lions simply weren't afforded the same kind of support. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that the team haven't always been known as the London Lions, have been based in several places - including several places outside of London - and have only been based at the Copper Box Arena since August 2013. They will therefore need time to build a following. However, the London Lions are the only professional basketball team in London, a city of over 8 million people and yet at the moment they can't manage to fill a venue with a capacity of just 7,500 people. 

Which does seem quite strange. Especially considering the amount of young men and women in this city that love basketball. So why don't they go along and support their local team? Well unfortunately I don't have the answers to the questions: why they don't go or how do you encourage them to go. I wish I did and I'm really not wanting to sound like I'm slagging off the London Lions, the British Basketball League or anyone else for that matter. However, basketball is not as popular in this country as it really ought to be - an assumption based on my experience in London, maybe it is a more popular spectator sport in other cities? - and I think that one reason for this is the ticket price.

At £0 I thought my experience was worth every penny. However, if I had paid £22, for the pleasure of watching the London Lions being beaten at home by the Leicester Riders, then I would have been a lot less satisfied. I'm sorry, but for what they are offering, I simply think that it is a little too expensive. I can't say it with any real conviction, as it's not my area of expertise but maybe bring the ticket price down to £10-15, spend a bit of money advertising the tickets in the Metro and Bob's your Uncle, more bums on seats? 

Maybe that's the answer? Probably it's not. But whatever the answer and as much as I did actually enjoy the game, I doubt I'll be paying my own, hard earned cash to go and see a London Lions basketball match again soon. Which is a real shame as they and basketball in the UK need all of our support. So if you're a basketball fan living in London, be sure to go and check out the London Lions (or the team local to where you are). My experience wasn't quite positive enough to make me want to get behind my local team - not on a regular basis at least - but maybe your experience will have a different affect on you.

And finally I want to finish on a positive note because it was a positive experience and what it has done for me, is to reignite my love of basketball. When I go home in a couple of weeks, I'll be straight in the garage rummaging around for our old basketball and ringing my lil sis to come around for a game. Also if/when I get the chance to visit the States, I will be sure to take in an NBA game (hopefully involving "my team" the Orlando Magic). 

So thank you London Lions, Leicester Riders, the BBL and Dom Stevenson for inspiring me!

"I wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a baller..."

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