London Lions are under new ownership. Who are they, and why are they here?

Growing up in Philadelphia, Adam Weiss witnessed the charge which electrified the City of Brotherly Love when Charles Barkley beat the chest of his 76ers jersey and the collective pulse that quickened when Michael Jordan flew through the air.

Basketball was a source of civic pride. Of unity and of passion. Venturing to London, he sensed a vacuum, a town and country where hoops existed on low voltage alone.

“If you look around Europe,” he notes, “in neighbouring countries like France, that isn’t the case at all. We couldn’t ascertain exactly what the reason was but there is a lack of infrastructure and government support.

“Someone pointed out that if Luol Deng’s 2012 Olympic team had stopped Jose Calderon from getting a free throw down the stretch, Great Britain would have beaten Spain and the sport might have grown exponentially with more support.

“But there is clearly a bunch of reasons why it is not as popular as it should be and will be.

“That’s an aberration.”

Not for much longer, he trusts. A key reason why he was a prime advocate in the takeover by Miami-based 777 Partners of London Lions earlier this summer, a move many trust can be a game changer for British basketball.

The figures boggle the mind. A private investment firm with a reported $4 billion in assets under their control.

Purchasing the still-reigning BBL champions from Vince Macaulay, by comparison, required a few spare dimes from down the back of their sofa. Weiss had initially reached out to the long-time owner, only to receive an auto-response that the club’s office had closed for the summer.

“It said,” he recounts, “to check back in the fall (autumn). But Vince got in touch, we met the next day and things progressed from there.”

It is no secret that the league’s capital club has lacked the investment required to become the marquee franchise which the BBL intended when it scoped out the Copper Box as a showcase venue in the wake of the London 2012 Olympics.

London, never cheap, was crying out for an infusion of capital when Macaulay had fully severed the long-broken ties with his previous partner Peter Sprogis.

Right time, right conversation, right concept.

And now, the talk is of elevating the Lions – and the sport – to the same level of prominence that it enjoys in the rest of the continent.

“London and the UK are a decade behind,” Weiss offers. “But because of the diversity of the population and the ex-pats who love the sport, you have a base.

“The infrastructure isn’t in place but all the ingredients are in place for the sport to be popularised. So we intend to support the club.

“But it’s also important that the league professionalise too. It’s an inflection point, with the pandemic, on the way sports are produced and presented and consumed.

“We want to present the league in unique ways.”

Adam Weiss is leading 777’s investment

Yet their remit is primarily focused on east London, and their budget too. One that has financed one of the deepest rosters in recent times in preparation for next month’s foray into the Basketball Champions League.

From the outside, it might appear a toe dipped in the water. The new ownership is all in, Weiss signals.

While their purchase has received little fanfare beyond a small post on 777’s corporate website, grand plans have been drafted to exponentially grow the Lions, on and off the court – creating the kind of infrastructure that is merely the standard elsewhere.

“There is the basketball ops side and the business side and both need a lot of work,” he underlines.

“We think there are different kinds of players who would come to London for different reasons. Players at the end of their careers. Players who just want to pursue business opportunities.

“Players who might have gone to the NBA G-League or the Australian league rather than going to college. Those players might as well go to Europe and London is well-positioned. Players who want to rebuild.

“There are different groups who we can recruit but you need to improve the brand of the league so agents don’t think their players will regress their stock if they come to the UK.

“You have training, an analytics department, all those things that go into helping Vince. Just that infrastructure that is commensurate with other clubs in Europe.”

Then on the business side, he declares, there is a compulsion to elevate the London Lions brand beyond its current furlough.

But, he insists: “We want to do it in an authentic way that’s beneficial to the different stakeholders we might appeal to. We want to weave ourselves into the fabric of the city without being opportunistic about it.

“And we think this sport, especially now, is a good vehicle for some of the cultural debates going on now in the world and to advance themselves.

“We think it’s achievable that we can popularise the sport and the club, at least to the level it was at its high water mark in the 1990s and early 2000s.

“And we want to incubate the talent that already exists, building academies that develop players and keep them at home.”

An ambitious manifesto, one which includes an interest in eventually moving among the goliaths of the EuroLeague. Such radical and grandiose transformation cannot, however, be bought overnight.

Nor will the returns on this investment.

No matter how many drums have been beaten to proclaim that British basketball has all the potential in the world, one only has to peer back two decades to see that raw cash thrown blindly at its deficiencies is a fool’s gold.

777, lest we forget, is no charity. But the play is not, Weiss maintains, to splurge, fatten the asset – then cut and run.

“We are in it for the long term. We’re looking to build a club to add value, rather than flipping it.”

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Main image: Matchroom/ Jamie McPhilimey 

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