Lessons from Europe Live
So Europe Live comes to an end, for another 50 weeks. The trunks have been
packed up. The private jets have slipped quietly from the VIP departure
lounges and set course for a route across the Pond. Fun while it lasted?
Sure it was. But what did we learn from the dozen or so games on both
sides of the Atlantic involving clubs from both the NBA and the
1. A pre-season game is not a genuinely attractive contest when it
involves two NBA teams. The best match-ups, at least from the perspective
of the paying public, are when you throw in the novelty of Europe against
North America – plus the dynamic of one side (guess which?) being fired up
to get the scalp.
2. Minnesota is not as bad as people imagine even though they’ll have to
win with heart and hustle rather than talent. Boston has got three
terrific players but that isn’t enough to contend. Toronto may struggle to
repeat as Division champions but the huge positive for the Raps is the
clear improvement and enhanced maturity of Andrea Bargnani. As for
Memphis, it could be a Grizzly year ahead.
3. There is a market for live games. Sure Rome didn’t sell out but
elsewhere, the reception was warm and enticing. David Stern has hinted
that the concept of training camps overseas will be re-visited when the
review of this whole initiative comes along, given that the coaches aren’t
able to do quite as much as they do on home terrain. However we can expect
to see as many, if not more, trips to foreign soil – including potentially
regular season matches in London – and in 2009, in Berlin.
4. The best clubs in Europe are not that far behind the worst of the NBA.
Anyone that claims that the victories of Malaga over Memphis and Real
Madrid over Toronto are anything more than one-offs is barking up the
wrong tree but neither should they be dismissed entirely. It’s interesting
that any of the NBA coaching staffs I spoke to over the last few weeks did
actually scout their opponents, indicating an appreciation of their threat
and the respect now earned.
The heavy defeats suffered on Thursday by Panathinaikos and Maccabi Tel
Aviv were almost a surprise (let’s remember than neither side, nor their
opponents New York or Houston, were at full strength). However the
intriguing idea – ventured by Wolves head coach Randy Wittman (see below)
– that somehow a European champion could get a berth into the NBA
play-offs becomes all the more intriguing.
5. None of this going to happen unless more top notch arenas are built in
Europe. The 02 in London is as good as anything I’ve seen across the
Atlantic and Stern told me it’s very likely the new Berlin Arena will host
pre-season games two years hence and be at the level required to be the
home of any European NBA franchise. Plans to have similar buildings in
Madrid and Rome are also under consideration, he said. All of which is
good for European basketball, not just the NBA.
6. It’s time to bring in the Greeks. There seems to be a fear among league
officials about taking Europe Live to Greece which is apparently based on
the past behaviour of the fans there. It’s an understandable apprehension
but it’s also a great shame that Europe’s second most fervent hoops nation
(after Lithuania) has been excluded from the party. Pana against San
Antonio in Athens? That would be anything but a friendly.
Posted by Mark Woods on October 12, 2007, 10:03 a.m. ET
A List - and rest - gather in London
As you'd expect for a NBA game - even of the exhibition variety - there
was ample celebs attracted along to Docklands to see the NBA hit town.
Top of the bill, fresh off a flight from Beijing, was F1 ace Lewis
Hamilton, sitting courtside along side West Ham defender Anton
Ferdinand. Perhaps he was being kept discretely apart from Chelsea
striker Didier Drogba, who - wearing more glitter than a panto dame -
was roundly booed when his face appeared on the Jumbrotron. But
Hamilton's security (two of them) took evasive action when he was
approached for a photo by an attractive brunette in the fourth quarter.
Footballing NBA fans were in plentiful supply. "I follow the league all
the time," Spurs hitman Darren Bent told me. "My team's the Cleveland
Cavaliers, because of LeBron James. I thought they did pretty well to do
how they did last year getting to the Finals. It's going to be
interesting to see if they can do as well this time."
To add to the X-List, the man from the BT adverts and 'My Family' Kris
Marshall sat up with his posse in the less expensive seats. To think he
could have watched it all on broadband…
Posted by Mark Woods on October 10, 2007, 4:55 p.m. ET
Stern ready to assist
NBA Commissioner David Stern has pledged to help British basketball
capitalise on the 2012 Olympic Games by providing additional support to
both the national teams and grassroots initiatives.
Speaking at London's 02 Arena ahead of the pre-season contest between
the Boston Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves, Stern admitted that
consideration is already being given to hosting the league's annual All
Star Game in the UK as well as, potentially, regular season games.
And with Chicago Bulls star Luol Deng providing the NBA with a British
homegrown talent to promote, Stern told me he is eager to take advantage
and provide tangible backing to bring together the myriad bodies
involved in the sport here.
"We have a meeting scheduled with British Performance Basketball, with
the Federation, with the BBL," he revealed.
"We've been asked by the Minister of Sport to use our power to talk to
all parties. We met today with the London Olympic Committee. We're going
to do all we can to help grow the game of basketball in Great Britain,
including anything we can do in the way of training. Of coaching, games,
preparation, you name it.
"We think that's a good thing to do. It can only help that GB qualified
for the A division of European basketball. Everything seems to be coming
together as we head towards 2012. The market is good commercially and
economically but has been lagging in basketball. We think that's about
to change dramatically. Basketball's a huge part of the Olympic
competition. We're thankful that FIFA make the (soccer) competition 23
The contest in the Docklands was part of the NBA Europe Live tour which
has seen four of Stern's teams train and play games overseas. With The
02's standing as the most modern arena outside of North America, I'm
told it is all but certain that London will be part of the initiative's
schedule until 2012.
However hopes that an accompanying training camp could be staged outwith
the capital appear to be unlikely after some coaches expressed concerns
over the additional travel involved.
"It's hard to move them around, then to make sure that the teams have
the opportunity to really train because that's what they're doing,
they're preparing," Stern added.
"The more important thing is the games. When you bring teams over, to
have them clustered might seem anti-social but I understand it. Because
it's very important for teams which are new together to bond and
Posted by Mark Woods on October 10, 2007, 3:40 p.m. ET
In UK, Allen re-visits old haunts
The Boston Celtics didn't practice on Tuesday, opting instead to rest up
with a few among their party to despite to do the court dedication which
has become a familiar part of the NBA's community ingratiation wherever
it goes in the world.
Most were kept well away from Commissioner David Stern's visit to City
Hall to meet London Mayor Ken Livingstone. No word on whether he's
planning to hit the league with a congestion charge for any traffic in
the lane at the 02 on Wednesday night (boom, boom!) but it was hard to
decipher who was the statesmen and who the master of all he surveys.
For one part of this travelling circus, touching down in the UK has
provided a touching piquancy. On Sunday, Ray Allen hired a car and
drove, two hours north, towards Suffolk.
It was here that he spent two years of his childhood, as an Air Force
brat. Before that day came when it was time to leave and suitcases were
hurriedly packed without time to reflect and bid farewell.
"It was good to go back and get closure," the Celtics guard said of his
visit to Saxenmundo, near Ipswich. "You move around a lot when your Dad
is in the Air Force. That's the nature of the job. But I got to go back
and see some places where I grew up. It felt good to have that."
There was his old house. The base. A few sights which remain in the
But, I asked him, what sticks out most in his mind of his British
"Fish n chips," he replied upon due consideration.
Some cultural icons never die although as a pre-game meal, it'll never
- The UK's ongoing ties with the NBA were underlined when Steve Bucknall
showed up at practice to survey the scene. Buck was the second player
from these shores to make the league when he had a brief stint along
side Magic Johnson at the LA Lakers before embarking on a glittering
career in Europe.
"It was a great time," he said. "Not long enough but I wouldn't swap
it." Appropriately, in his new role as a sports development chief in
nearby Lewisham, the one-time England cap gets to bring through new
prospects (as well as in his other role as a rookie coach of BBL
newcomers London Capital). Lakers by the Docks? You never know…
Minnesota v Boston is televised on Five US from 7pm on Wednesday
Posted by Mark Woods on October 9, 2007, 10:52 a.m. ET
London calling, NBA ready to answer
It was summed up in the words of that Shakespearean wannabe Eminem.
"Please come back. Please come back."
12 years after the Houston Rockets defeated Buckler Bologna to win the
(much lamented) McDonald's Championships at the Docklands Arena, the NBA
returns to London on Wednesday night when the Boston Celtics face the
'Great!' you might say. 'So what?' you may exclaim.
It's an exhibition game, between two teams who have bigger things on
their minds than a minor tune-up in the UK. A chance to have an early
look at the C's 'Big Three' before they take a seat in the third period
and let the scrubs battle it out for a minimum salary contract and the
opportunity to be bit players among the grandees. An opportunity for
Randy Wittman to assess just how decimated the wreckage over which he
presides is, courtesy of Kevin McHale's trading handiwork.
Like you said, great.
Look beyond this one, though. Focus not on the banality of what looms
large and think about the possibilities which lie ahead.
More of these kinds of fixtures, perhaps even featuring top European
sides (which makes them altogether more fascinating match-ups). A larger
presence for the NBA here - and the resulting spin-offs for domestic
basketball, including the Great Britain teams. And the chance to entice
new fans and sponsors into the sport thanks to the glad hand of David
There is no doubt The Commish sees the United Kingdom as a fertile
market. Why else would the league's Euro HQ seem destined to cross the
Channel in the years to come? Stern views The 02 as the most NBA ready
building outside of North America. If anywhere is going to be the
epicentre for pioneering new overseas initiatives, it will be by the
banks of the Thames.
An All Star Game? Out of season tours and clinics of the kind which
China has been staging in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics. 2012 is
coming next. Expect the Association to follow the trail.
More likely is a regular season encounter (of which there has only even
been one outside of the US and Canada), Stern admitted in Rome on
"I think that time is coming closer," he said at the half-time of the
Toronto Raptors 93-87 win over Virtus Roma. "That has historically been
a matter of Euros. It costs many Euros to buy a game from a regular
season because our teams do so well.
"But with the new O2 Arena in London, with the new arena in Berlin, with
the proposed arena in Rome, Europe is beginning to develop buildings
that look much like the ones that we have in the United States. And
those buildings will yield more revenue for such a game."
However, before anyone starts saving up for tickets, there is still work
to be done. "We need to develop a revenue model that works, both as to
ticket pricing and television rights fees," Stern added. "But in the
meantime, nothing we do is meant to be against that eventuality, it just
all helps the game grow, and we will see what will be will be."
The days when international expansion, particularly in Europe, was the
buzz phrase emanating from New York appear to be over. No longer is it
Stern's ambition. The D-League is growing on home soil while talk of
taking over the league in China appears, currently, a more enticing
financial position. It has been a few years since chatter of a European
Division of the NBA rose above the hubris. Silence, on that front at
least, now is less than golden.
"It's going to be hard, how that would be incorporated," admits
Minnesota head coach Randy Wittman, who is getting a taste of the
traumas of trans-Atlanticism this week. "I don't think there's an easy
way we can have a division which is integrated with the other divisions
we have right now, simply because of travel.
"If we end up broadening our horizons to put a European division in the
NBA, it will probably have to be that the winner comes over for the
play-offs. Down the road, it will be interesting to see how that plays
It's an intriguing compromise. Perhaps the victor of the Euroleague
enters the NBA play-offs with ties staged on either side of the Pond.
Then the title of world champions - still a misnomer for the North
American titlists - would be wholly more appropriate.
That would bring a genuinely competitive dimension to the NBA's forays
into Europe. It would also be the true showcase for the best of the
best. Don't expect that rarefied level of competition on Wednesday. But
beyond then, the possibilities are enticing indeed…
Posted by Mark Woods on October 9, 2007, 8:51 a.m. ET
For Rookie Coaches, Relief Starts with a W
There's only one way to win as a first time coach in the NBA. And that's actually … to win. Many have tried, only a few have truly succeeded. The failure rate is high. And the amount of much-hyped arrivistes into the role who have lasted just one season before scuttling back, chastened, to whence they came gives it all the job security of a Tottenham Hotspur manager.
Still, if you were asked, wouldn't you give it a shot? Never mind the decent pay cheque (or check if you prefer, since only Sam Mitchell - and the rest of the Raptors staff - gets a 'cheque' in the NBA). Or the long hours, the nightly tribulations, or the XXL sized egos. It's the pinnacle of professional basketball.
This week, three seasoned playcallers will walk onto the floor at training camp, look around and face an utterly new challenge. My team. My ideas. My responsibility. My word!
For Reggie Theus in Sacramento, Marc Iavaroni in Memphis and Sam Vincent in Charlotte, this is a whole new ball game. And although each has paid differing due to get to the prime seat on the bench, you can bet there will be that exhausting combination of anxiety, excitement and anticipation about what lies ahead.
Iavaroni arrives with the most hype of all, having spent several years as an assistant, most recently in Phoenix where he was seen as the co-architect of the Suns' Fun n Gun system along side Mike D'Antoni. Of the trio, he was the hottest candidate for the unusually limited number of vacancies in the league. And he has had ample time to consider just what his kinda team will be.
"Number one we have to establish an identity that takes into account what this team was good at and was not good at last year, reflecting their personnel," he told me. "And I think if you're familiar with the status of this team they scored more points after the change from Mike Fratello to Tony Barone but their defense suffered greatly.
"It was just a lot of change and no-one is held accountable for that. But you know we were 29th in points per allowed per game and 30th in field goal percentage allowed and that's last in the leagues. So number one I think this team has to bond through the improvement of their defense.
"And I think that's because defense is a weak thing so we have to collectively come together and have pride in stopping other people and then using that type of mentally that confidence to attack the defense of our opponent in transition to create turnovers to create blocked shots, missed shots and take those opportunities and make sure we attack quickly. Because that's something I've become very comfortable from my experiences in Phoenix and also as a player in the '80's when that's what we did.
"So I think number one, we have to play better defense, two we have to have more toughness, three there has to be a feeling that we're all in this together and that we play with a lot of passion because that enabled me to play in the league for 7 years. I had decent talent but not that type of talent that could afford to take every possession or anything for granted."
Iavaroni is in a fortunate position. The Grizzlies had the worst record in the NBA last term. They play in the most difficult Conference. The only way is up. Reaching the play-offs would be an accomplishment. Missing out? Well, it wouldn't be a complete disaster.
Theus and Vincent will not have such leeway. The Kings are re-building, no question. The lottery beckons in California's capitol. However Sacto's owners, the Maloofs, demonstrated last season with Eric Musselman than they are as ruthless with their coaches as they are in their casino business. In Theus, a former NBA star, they are rolling the dice, given his still-minimal experience in the college ranks. But can he win? His predecessor suffered with the slumps of Brad Miller and Mike Bibby and the ineffectuality of Kenny Miller. Entirely his fault? Probably not. But still, the trigger was pulled and a new sheriff installed.
Hired by his old chum Michael Jordan, Vincent will nevertheless feel the greatest heat. The Bobcats are no longer an 'expansion' franchise. The times for baby steps are over. North Carolina - and club owner Bob Johnson - is expecting major strides, into the post-season at least. A still young team in Charlotte will be pushed ever harder with the burden of expectation on its shoulders. No excuses required or expected.
There has been much scrutiny of the personal toll which such pressure extracts. In the NFL, head coaches can put in 22 hour days. The psychological strains are immense. Families are forgotten. Life, as we know it, stops here. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has admitted to going home and watching nothing except more football on television. It is every bit an all consuming passion.
"There are a lot of different pressures that come on and it does not matter what professional sport it is: NFL. Baseball. Basketball," outlines Minnesota Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman.
"At this level you are dealing with the best athletes, the best players, and you are expected to win. I am as a competitor as anybody else. The goal as a player is to win and for the coach it remains the same."
What advice, though, has he received to cope with the stresses and strains? You have, Wittman insists, to delegate and use all the resources provided.
He adds: "You are never as good as you think you are and you are never as bad as you think you are, you are somewhere always in between, if you keep that idea when you're riding high and winning, that keeps you kind of humble and hungry. You know when you go on a downturn, it's the same type of thing. You're not as bad as you are, you're one step away from turning around. Have an overall picture more than living day to day, game to game.
"If you live game to game in our business, given that we play over 100 games a year, you are going to get burned out. Keep the long game plan that you have and not look at it day to day. That will help you survive in this league."
Sport, at its highest level, is a battle. It is the survival of the fittest. For the three rookies, when they walk onto that floor, staying afloat is the foremost ambition. And that's why each defeat is accompanied by that sinking feeling and each victory delivering buoyancy that makes the toil worthwhile.
Posted by Mark Woods on October 6, 2007, 7:38 p.m. ET