Wednesday, 9 October 2013

COURTSIDE COLUMN-Manchester Giants

Thunder Strikes England.

Last night the NBA made history in England. Not only for being the first NBA game to be played in the city of Manchester (after the Atlanta Dream of the WNBA debuted here in 2011 and the Olympic Team USA warmed up against Great Britain ahead of last years Olympics in London), but for also being the first Basketball game my girlfriend got to see before her epic trip to America which may feature some classic college games in Kentucky and the Mecca of Basketball in New York, whether Nets or Knicks. Last night's exhibition was more than another game to add to the ticket stub collection photo album for me. As the amount of games I've seen is pushing 30 quicker than I am, (I'm one lucky, old man) this one held so much more meaning as I got to share one of my passions with the love of my life...the love of my life being my girlfriend not basketball people. Yeah I said it! Sharing this game together meant so much to me and here's hoping it leads to more, because we all know it won't be the same until we see Kobe and the Lakers do their thing together. Still, what a great way to start a new tradition.

In the same Manchester arena we saw the brilliant Bon Iver in last fall, it was great to share the fun and entertaining spectacle that an NBA game brings. From the t-shirts fired into the crowds (our outstretched arms really wanted one) and the exciting cheerleading (where's the pom, pom's) to the trampoline dunks between timeouts which raised the hands of our free Foot Locker foam fingers (we got 'em). Still, the most entertaining and hairy thing courtside (no, not me) had to be Rumble the Bison of the Oklahoma Thunder, (this is one bisont hat's leading the charge for mascot of the year), funny and family orientated this silly and sincere, behind the cameras enterainment is what the friendly feel of the NBA scene is all about. As is the hype and build up that helps bring Basketball's biggest stage to a worldwide audience. With two previous big game experience, Manchester did it right in their rookie NBA game. Even besting seasoned veteran London in their pregame rituals. Next door in the perfect evenings 'Printworks' venue (which Will Smith visited once for his record three premieres in one day promoting his classic comedy 'Hitch'), the cinemas, bars and restaurants took a back-seat to a quarter of an NBA court and every team in the leagues offical jerseys, which had fans touching the hems of their Basketball God's garments, wishing they could whip them off and wear them themselves.

On court all-day generous competitions of shooting and skill offered free tickets and perfect prizes for die-hard fans. Photographs and autographs where also on hand from some very cool and kind NBA legends who also offered their services as guest coaches to the Special Olympics athlete games. British legend and ambassador for hoops in this country John Amaechi, yet again showed how much he's breaking down borders after being the first, brave NBA player to announce he was gay and lead the way for those living in the shadows of ignorance and inequality. The legend was joined by the greatest of the greats including the finger-wagging of the greatest defensive player on the block, Dikembe Mutombo and that award winning smile. What would a hand of NBA legends be without a pair of Kings however? Sacramento great and one of the purest three-point shooters Peja Stojaković who won over eveyone-including my girlfriend (as a Lakers fan especially, I should be jealous, but you can't deny that smile...oh dear)-was joined by his teammate and former Lakers great Vlade Divac who towered above everybody and with his Jean Reno likeness next to his model teammate the pair looked suited and booted to be actors.

Two of the best centres, one of the best shooters and international players showed todays proceedings how far they and Basketball have come and how much the NBA cares about brining it's basketball brand across borders. With all that's going on you could almost forget there was a game going on...and a great one this exhibition was too. The NBA even offered some generous 2 for 1 offers to combat the criticism of their costly tickets and to fill out the remaining nose-bleeds. The league selected one of it's best (the top-tier Oklahoma City Thunder) and brightest (the raw and rising Philadelphia 76ers) to do battle in a game to precurse the start of the regular season in November. Sure these travel and Summer holiday weary players sported some rust almost like those Space Jam aliens took their power (you can thank my girlfriend for that real, classy reference...cool isn't she?), but as scrappy and sloppy this game was in parts, it meant more than just being a nothing friendly. With some competitivness, dunks, behind-the-back skill, sweet shots and a final 10 seconds that was tenser than a rocket launch, the Thunder stormed to victory against a Philly team that raised the stakes.

This was one for all the ages and the Manchester evening news pages...read all about it. The city and the sport gave us extra, extra like a billboard event worthy of the broadsheets. OKC's spring dunk dynamo Russell Westbrook, first-team favourite Kendrick Perkins and clutch king Derek Fisher (who wins the award for best dressed courtside, suited and booted with black frames in this spectacle) may have joined Philly's dunk-champ Jason Richardson, former number one lottery pick Kwame Brown and promising Royce White on the missing in action milk carton. Still, present and correct the Sixer's promising talents of Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner and Michael Carter-Williams joined OK-City's world wonder Sege Ibaka, longtime loyal Nick Collison (he's been down since the Supersonic Seattle days), rising talent Reggie Jackson and of course one of the best in the association Kevin Durant (whose star shine led had 21 points) kept everyone and my girlfriend entertained foremost in this first game. The former Giants hosting city of Manchester was united with America's finest sport once again like L.A. and David Beckham, but in this galaxy of stars it was the game itself that shined the brightest under the blinding northern lights. TIM DAVID HARVEY.

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