For the most part NBA preseason
activities have barely been worthy of note. However today a rather significant
exhibition match gets under way. On Monday 4 October reigning champions the Los
Angeles Lakers take on the Minnesota Timberwolves in London’s O2 Arena. Adding
to the occasion is legendary centre Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 63, who is expected to
attend the match as the NBA’s ambassador in the UK. The match is slated to be
broadcast on ESPN. From there Los Angeles plays FC Barcelona, a top-flight pro
European team, in Spain on Thursday.
For the Lakers it is the first time
in almost 20 years the side has played outside of North America. The last time
Los Angeles made a trek to Europe was back in 1991 during Abdul-Jabbar’s heyday
as the side played two exhibition games in France.
Abdul-Jabbar states the game is an
opportunity to further market basketball to British fans. “None of the sports
we play in America is the world’s number one,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “It’s been
okay with us if not everyone in the world is keen to play our sports. But
basketball is changing us. It has made great strides in the past 25 years in
terms of appeal to young athletes around the world. Children who are growing up
in every continent now aspire to play the game and athletes from many countries
are playing in the NBA.
“Basketball, like soccer, is
simple. You require a ball for soccer. For basketball all you need is a ball
and a basket. It is not as complicated as cricket. My family is from the West
Indies so I know all about cricket.”
This time focus is on Kobe Bryant,
who has won five championship rings with the team in the last 19 years. Health
concerns surround the superstar as he deals with an ailing knee and thumb and
he might not see much playing time. Nevertheless he should get plenty of support
in the stands. Bryant has boasted the most popular jersey in Europe for three
consecutive years. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are behind him. Time will tell
if the duo usurps Bryant based on the publicity surrounding James’s decision to
join Wade in Miami.
Bryant is most concerned about his
health at the moment.
“I’ve been playing a great deal of
basketball,” Bryant said. “This summer for me is about getting healthy. I think
that will give us the best opportunity to defend our title again.”
Interestingly Lakers head coach Phil Jackson is not too excited about the trip
as he rather have training camp solely at the Lakers training facility in El
“This training camp is kind of a
bust, as we call it,” Jackson said. “We don’t anticipate that the first two
weeks we’re going to gain any ground. It’s our turn to go to Europe and we’ll
make the best out of it.” A big reason for Jackson’s apathy were the Lakers’
travel arrangements. The Lakers had an 11-hour flight and an eight-hour time
change from Los Angeles to London on a chartered 777 jet with 105 people on
board, more than double their normal travelling party.