Regular season basketball returned to the UK for the fifth time as the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the New York Knicks 97 – 79 in London last week. Whilst the showdown at The 02 was the jewel in the NBA’s crown, the days preceding the match were littered with promotional activity. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo, with 39 All-Star appearances between them, were among the names in London this year to help promote the game. What was obvious with all three was just how articulate and interesting they were when interviewed. I wasn’t alone with this thought as several journalists made the same observation post interview. We are used to watching Premier League footballers churn out a similar narrative (“We are looking forward to the next game”, “We are just looking to get the win”) every weekend and this was refreshing.
To those less familiar with basketball, Abdul-Jabbar, Olajuwon and Mutombo are three of the best NBA players of all time having absolutely dominated the league during their respective careers. It is hard to imagine retired footballers of equal standing: Zidane, Ronaldo and Nesta being quite so forthright and intuitive when put in front of the media.
Having witnessed all three of the aforementioned legends captivate each journalist they spoke to I went to practice to see how the current crop of NBA players would fare. NBA access is a world away from what UK sports journalists are used to. It is a fair comment that in the UK, sports stars and footballers in particular are impenetrable and shielded from both the media and the public. In the NBA this couldn’t be more different. Once both teams finished practice the waiting media were invited on court to speak to players. The players sat on the side lines as journalists nervously sidled up waiting to be shooed away by a PR executive. However this was not the case as they were welcomed by the players to interview them one on one. The bigger names such as global superstar Carmelo Anthony naturally attracted more interest and large media huddles rapidly formed around them. It quickly became apparent just how unfazed these players were with microphones and bodies well within the bounds of the ‘personal-space’ barrier and how well they answered the barrage of questions whilst drenched in post work out sweat.
It goes without saying that the hearty diet of media NBA players are fed from the day they are drafted helps to breed media savvy stars which Premier League clubs could only dream of. Every Saturday evening Twitter timelines are inundated with complaints against the monotony of UK commentators and their dreadful fashion choices. Watching New York Knicks legend Walt Frazier, the epitome of cool, effortlessly broadcast from courtside hammered home the difference between NBA and Premier League stars. As the popularity of the NBA continues to stretch around the globe I couldn’t help but link this to the accessibility of the players and the stars this helps to create.