Special to NorthPoleHoops.com–By Raed Ayad
LONDON, ENG–To use prior connotation coined by American journalist and author Thomas L Friedman, “The World is flat.”
Globalization has become a driving force in flattening the modern world of communication, politics, business and now, made official by the NBA, basketball. The NBA has successfully extended its arm globally through the FIBA Basketball World Championships, the Olympics and their work with Basketball Without Borders, but Commissioner David Stern has a dream, “In terms of globalization, we’re going to see a desire for franchises in Europe — and in about 10 years, you’ll send me a postcard,” Stern stated in an article by the associated press.
Although still worlds away from creating an NBA franchise in Europe, a defining step has been taken in that direction. On March 4th, 2011 the New Jersey Nets and Toronto Raptors took part in the first NBA regular season game to ever take place outside of North America. Both these teams are heading for another lottery bound season but in this test run, it is formidable to use these two teams before sending over the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat.
The Toronto Raptors represent more so than any other team in the league the global framework of the NBA. Outside of being the only NBA team beyond the United States border, the Toronto Raptors are represented by the first European to be picked first overall in the NBA Draft, Andrea Bargnani from Italy. In addition, Jose Calderon from Spain, Linas Kleiza from Lithuania, Alexis Ajinça from France, Solomon Alibi from Nigeria, Leandro Barbosa and Head Coach by Jay Triano from Canada all portray this element of globalization.
On the other hand, the New Jersey Nets had two non-American players suit up for them in Sasha Vujacic from Slovenia and Johan Petro from France. However, like the Toronto Raptors, the Nets have made a global breakthrough for the league when they were purchased by Russian Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov becoming the first foreign investor to own an NBA team.
The 18,700 fans, half of which do not understand the rules of the game, were loud and enthusiastic from the get go resembling that of an Arsenal, Chelsea match in the fact that there was not a moment where the crowd was silent on both nights.
As the players were introduced, Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon received the loudest response on the Raptors side with Deron Williams of the New Jersey Nets receiving warmest welcome from both sides.
Although none of the teams have a connection to the United Kingdom, there was a clear favorite from the start. Lost amongst the Tony Parker, Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade jerseys worn by the fans, were a large number of Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani jerseys. The New Jersey Nets were received onto the court with a mixture of cheers and boos with the latter outweighing the prior; whereas the Raptors were welcomed with a chorus of cheers and offbeat “Lets Go Raptors” chants.
There was high energy throughout both games played in the United Kingdom as the fans were treated with arguably the best regular season game of the year in the triple overtime. This thriller saw the Raptors squander away three opportunities to win the game at the final buzzer.
The NBA is not ready just yet to bring the league to Europe permanently, and a lot of work needs to be done; but for these two east coast bottom feeders, this will be a trip to remember.
For a lot of the players this was their first trip to Europe and like many people from North America, the idea of another country and another culture is one that is not often welcomed. However, after battling through the long flight and jet lag, the players were extremely excited to represent their league in this historic project.
As for the basketball games themselves, the nets swept the Raptors in the two game mini series with victories of 116-103 and 137-136 behind Brook Lopez’ 29.5 points a game and Deron Williams 18.5 points and 14.5 assists per game.
The scoreboard indicates the Nets won both games, but the major winner of this project was clearly the NBA and Commissioner David Stern; hats off to the NBA for yet another successful project.