It’s become par for the course for Great Britain fans. Aside from their opening games, GB’s men and women have been in every contest late with a great chance to upset the heavily-favoured opposition. Every time, they’ve fallen short, in increasingly dramatic fashion. Sometimes it’s been down to poor decision-making, other times shoddy refeering, and others incredible clutch play from their opponents, but the Brits are still searching for that elusive first W.
Reactions from GB fans have tended to fall into two camps. The majority have praised the teams for dragging themselves to the brink of victory against opponents who are overwhelmingly more talented. A smaller number agree with Chris Finch – “moral victories are still losses,” the GB coach said on Thursday – and believe the campaign thus far can be summed up with two stats: zero wins, and seven losses.
I can see where both sides are coming from, but they’re missing an important point.
What is the ultimate goal of the Great Britain basketball teams at the Olympics? For the players and coaching staff, it’s to win as many games as possible. But for the GB organisation as a whole, winning games is just a means to an end. The ultimate goal is to bringing basketball into the nation’s living rooms, to raise the profile of the sport, to encourage more people to play and to encourage those who do play to play more. Because if we can’t take steps forward in those areas now, basketball will slip down the sporting agenda post-2012 and likely won’t return.
For Britain to establish itself long-term as a legitimate, respected hoops nation, the Olympics needs to get people watching and talking about the sport. And on that basis, the Games have already been a success for GB Basketball.
A funny thing happened to me this week. It probably happened to you too. Friends, family and colleagues who had no previous interest in basketball suddenly wanted to talk about the previous night’s game. I started receiving texts during games, seeing posts about GB basketball in my Facebook feed, watching celebrities’ messages of support for the team pop up on Twitter. It wasn’t confined to London or even the UK – friends in Dublin who had been gripped by the loss to Spain sent me messages of condolence afterwards.
Being a basketball fan in Britain is normally a lonely business, but this week was different. The high drama of the nightly close games has drawn people in. Thousands of Brits are becoming more acquainted with the game, and discovering that it’s not just about freakishly tall Americans.
How many of them will become basketball fanatics, trying to find Eric Boateng’s Greek league stats and looking up flights to Slovenia next summer? Very few. How many will forget all about basketball once the Games are over? A lot more. But in between those two groups are a whole bunch of people who, the next time they hear about something basketball-related, might pause for a moment instead of immediately dismissing the game. Who might give their local BBL team a chance, or tune in to see how Luol Deng and Joel Freeland fare in the NBA next year, or try out for their school team, or join their local social league.
Basketball registers in their consciousness now. That’s progress, and success.
Now, if we could just get that first win…
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