At about this time, the Magic were supposed to be on an international jaunt (notably avoiding ever having to go to New Jersey) to London as ambassadors of basketball to showcase the best the NBA had to offer to one of the great untapped markets for the NBA.
England and the United Kingdom is hardly a basketball hotbed. But the presence of the 2012 Olympics and the opportunity to expand and reach new fans had the NBA investing a lot of time, energy and money in creating a presence in the United Kingdom and expand the game somewhere it can start really fresh.
There is a strong group of NBA followers — including a great group of Magic fans — that packed the O2 Arena for the NBA’s yearly showcase, follow the professional league in the country and are part of the grass roots effort the NBA has supported the last few years playing out on the streets. Basketball culture in the United Kingdom is one that is still developing.
The NBA is trying to leverage the prep for the 2012 Olympics as the way to introduce the game to the mainstream of English pop culture.
The Nets and Raptors played to sold out crowds in two exciting regular season games. The NBA planned to have the Magic and the Nets ship out to London for a pair of games this season.
The lockout ended that dream. When the NBA released its shortened schedule, it was quite clear the Magic would not be making that trip overseas to play the Nets. At a time when momentum was building for the sport in the United Kingdom, the big galvanizing event for basketball fans was taken away — by a labor problem an ocean away.
Where does that leave basketball in the United Kingdom? Has the momentum for the league stopped?
It might have to some extent.
Go to nba.com/uk and all you will see is a link directing you to NBA.com and a recap of a 2011 tour of England that the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream took. The schedule for NBA events in the UK right now is empty as the league itself tries to get through the rigors of this shortened NBA season.
A new complaint has risen too as several of my UK followers have let me — and other NBA writers — know:
There are indeed just about three games per week scheduled for the NBA’s deal with ESPN UK. The Magic, who have appeared on the schedule regularly, do not appear again until April 19 against the Celtics (a 1 a.m. tip off). And it is true many more NHL games are shown on the UK’s Premier Sports. It might partially be an ESPN issue, who knows on that?
But the clear thing is UK NBA fans are upset with the lack of NBA coverage on television.
League Pass is available internationally, but obviously that is for the intense fan — the one that truly loves the game or already has a team to follow that makes the investment of money, let alone the time and early mornings, to purchase it.
Two games in the United Kingdom were not going to make basketball the national pasttime. Not by a long shot. But with the NBA putting in a big investment in the sport at the grass roots level and preparing for the big sport showcase as part of the Olympics, these games would have been a big momentum builder for increasing awareness of the sport.
The NBA missed an opportunity to showcase one of its brightest stars in its newest desired market.
London will still call in August and thereafter. Magic fans “Across the Pond” may not get the opportunity to see their team play as they had hoped.