Niall Gray looks back on the NBA’s latest trip to the UK and asks: is it going to be one-and-done for Manchester?
The floor has long been packed away at the Phones4u Arena in Manchester and the players who graced it Tuesday night are all back in the States getting ready for the new NBA season.
Rarely in these pre-season games do you get to see the elite stars put on a show, but Oklahoma Thunder’s Kevin Durant did, finishing just two rebounds shy of recording a triple double and putting on a third quarter display that sent the fans home happy.
For those who were there, that third quarter display of passing and scoring will be what they remember for years to come as Durant showed us why he is one of the best all-round players in the game. Given the amount of fans with KD gear on in the crowd, it was evident he was the man they came to see, he didn’t disappoint.
But the game against the Philadelphia 76ers wasn’t a sell-out, not even close, with sections upstairs curtained off behind both baskets and a few empty seats in the lower bowl. Those fans who did turn up, around 13,000 of them, made plenty of noise but people at the game were talking about those vacant spots.
In London, most games have sold out quickly, others took a little longer, but always a full house. First ever visit to Manchester and it’s a different story.
And I think that’s a shame because it’s good for the NBA to visit other cities and Manchester offers a chance for those who might not be able to get down to London for a game.
While I was in Manchester, and since I’ve been home, I’ve been asking people I know that follow the NBA why it wasn’t a sell-out. The responses were varied but the general feeling was people felt tickets were over-priced, or as it was put in one case, ‘London prices, not Manchester prices’.
Others cited the difficulty of getting to Manchester from the south on a weeknight, citing had it been a weekend game, they’d have gone. Then there were the teams, with people feeling that if it had been LeBron James’ Miami Heat or Kobe Bryant’s LA Lakers (who would not have played anyway due to injury!), then they would have got a ticket.
There’s no doubt the event will be discussed by the NBA hierarchy, and I hope they don’t write off Manchester, but instead look at the reasons mentioned and formulate a new plan to make sure that next time they visit, the ‘Sold Out’ signs are already up before the teams arrive.
I was really looking forward to going to Manchester, but came away a little disappointed.
Having not been able to make last year’s Great Britain v USA game, it was my first time back at the Arena since that classic BBL title decider between the Manchester Giants and Sheffield Sharks in 1999, and the place looked no different to back then.
Speaking of the BBL, it leads nicely into the final part of the blog, looking at the media day, which always take place a day before the game.
While these events allows all forms of media to get up close and ask questions of NBA stars, you can sometimes cringe at the questions that get asked. This year’s winner, asked by a couple of people was ‘what’s your favourite BBL team?’
Now, as much as I love the BBL, why would you ask that to American players who a) play in the biggest league in the world, and b) have indicated in earlier questions that they have never been to England and the only English sport they know is ‘soccer’?
Naturally, they got the responses I expected from ‘what’s the BBL?’, to the more media savvy answer of, ‘no, I don’t have a BBL team.’
If only I’d have thought of it at the time, I could have told them they could log on and watch BBL TV games from anywhere in the world – and cheaper than a ticket to Thunder-76ers.
Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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