The funfair-style drama filled the stadium, the crowd watched on in anticipation as the team’s walked onto the floor. This was subsequently followed by an array of light displays and blaring music played on the loud speakers.
It all felt so right as the crowd watched on with excitement etched across their respective faces, but something was amiss — this wasn’t normal British Basketball. The usual sport that garnered the interest of very few around the nation let alone the continent, the usual sport that rendered little excitement, anticipation, or general financial backing in the slightest. This was different.
The Betway All-Stars Basketball Tournament took place on Sunday afternoon, at the O2 Arena, one of the biggest national Basketball stadia. It was a tournament designed to entertain a large, globally televised audience to a sport that had never particularly thrilled audiences beforehand, and so was manufactured accordingly.
Despite a few early hiccups, teams began to settle and understand the new format of the 12-minute games that included a power play option, a five-point line, sin bins and no free throws. And once they were fully acclimatised, it was reminiscent of ducks taking to water — in stride.
— All-Stars Basketball (@AllStars_BB) September 24, 2017
Of course, the gap in quality between the NBA and the British league’s are indescribable, but that isn’t to say the eight British Basketball League teams didn’t put on a show for the 4,000 fans in attendance.
The main prerogative of the afternoon was to entertain a national audience, as well as a global one for a sport that hasn’t really taken off in the United Kingdom. And despite countless missed layups, deep airballs and sloppy turnovers, the crowd began to buy into the arcade-like elimination rounds as the games went by.
Sheffield Sharks guard Mackey McKnight sunk a splendid, five-point shot at the buzzer to beat the Worcester Wolves in the first round. A Hail Mary-esque play which began to turn some heads after a fairly lacklustre first few games, and the enjoyment only continued from then on out.
— All-Stars Basketball (@AllStars_BB) September 26, 2017
The afternoon saw several close scoring games, a couple of dramatic ten-point plays, with Worcester’s Elvisi Dusha’s the pick of the lot, and a double overtime win for eventual finalists, the Newcastle Eagles.
Perhaps the icing on the proverbial cake would be that the quintessential home team became the inaugural event winners, claiming the £25,000 prize money and trophy, to boot. The London Lions were far and away the fan favourites in the capital, rather unsurprisingly, and this was echoed by the crowd’s rapturous applause every time they stepped foot on the court.
London Lions eliminate Bristol and advance to the final, judging by the sound of the applause you can tell who they’re rooting for.
— James (@JCraggSport) September 24, 2017
The Lions began the day as complete outsiders as one of the lower seeds, with all expectations set on the current reigning BBL Champions, the Leicester Riders, sweeping proceedings. In the closest reenactment to a fairytale ending, London dominated in their home city, and ran out eventual winners after dismantling Newcastle comfortably in the final. Despite a late five-pointer, which put the game within one, the score didn’t do the Lions’ overall performance justice, with MVP Justin Robinson simply unstoppable.
Bristol Flyers head coach Andreas Kapoulas admitted that “it was a different event, it’s different to what we usually do.” The Flyers made a surprising run to the semi-finals, beating eventual winners Newcastle in the opening round for the first time in the club’s history, which Kapoulas admirably noted. “Well, the five-point shot was exciting,” the Greek said with a smile when asked about his take on the changes, “you could be critical of something, or you can be open-minded. It served a purpose.”
“From a Basketball point of view we always knew it was going to be difficult, we obviously struggled to adjust to (the new format)” suggested Surrey Scorchers head coach Creon Raftopoulos. Coach Creon, who came in to Sunday’s event with a career win percentage of 34.2, admitted “there were some positives, and some negatives,” but they will use this knowledge once the BBL Championship season begins on Friday.
Evidently, there were some creases to iron out, as there always is with drastically altered tournaments. But the fans in attendance and ones watching from the comforts of their homes were certainly entertained, which at the end of the day, was the main goal. The initiative shown from both the BBL and Matchroom Sports signals a step in the right direction for British Basketball, enabling funding to a national sport that has been deprived of funds for quite some time. This isn’t the last you’ll be hearing about Basketball in the UK, this is only the beginning.