The NBA provided London with its sixth regular season game in as many years and once again fans were not left disappointed.
Tickets for the game sold out in under an hour paying testament to the ever growing legion of NBA fans here in the UK. Whilst the Orlando Magic and the Toronto Raptors may not be the most storied of NBA franchises, they are arguably two of the most exciting. The Magic’s roster is packed full of exciting young talent such as Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton and whilst they posted some of the weakest results last term, this year they are involved in an enthralling battle to clinch a Playoff spot at the end of the season. Canada’s NBA flagbearers, the Toronto Raptors, boast two All-Stars in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and their 24 and 15 record going into the game proved their quality.
Whilst London’s regular season NBA games are undeniably a sporting event, as a spectator it’s fair to say it feels like so much more than that. Celebrities such as Gordon Ramsay, Fleur East and Lethal Bizzle rubbing shoulders with footballing royalty such as Didier Drogba, Eden Hazard and Robert Pires gave the match-up an A-List feel and the Orlando Magic, as the home team, contrived to make The O2 their own. Dancers and mascots were rolled out at every available opportunity, imploring the crowd to get behind the Magic, yet in reality fans were just happy to witness live NBA basketball.
The game itself was a classic and confirmed pre-game predictions of a close contest. After four quarters of basketball the scores were level at 96 all and the buzzer sounded for overtime much to the delight of the 18,000 capacity crowd. After 5 additional minutes and a plethora of timeouts the game ended 106-103 in the Raptors’ favour.
Whilst the game was unequivocally a win for the Toronto Raptors, the same could be said for the NBA as an organisation. Once again they perfectly executed a game away from the comfort of the United States which was enjoyed by players, fans and staff alike.