Amazing Game

Pistons, Knicks spread the NBA’s gospel in London matchup

Today's Pistons-Knicks game in London demonstrates the NBA's international appeal, says George Blaha.
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
Ernest Hemingway used to call the people who loved bullfighting “aficionados.” I think the people who loved the NBA back when I started doing games in the ’70s were aficionados. They were great, knowledgeable fans – there just weren’t a lot of them.

The NBA was not a household game. Everybody knew basketball and, of course, they knew who the marquee teams were and paid attention to the Finals. But regular-season NBA games, for the most part, drew only aficionados. Now the whole world understands the NBA, the whole world watches the NBA, the whole world follows the NBA and that’s why we’re here – in London – to play this game tonight between the Pistons and the Knicks.

It’s amazing that we’re playing a game in London, but what’s more amazing is that as far as the NBA is concerned today, this is business as usual. It happens every season that games are played internationally, whether it’s regular season or preseason, and since this is a regular-season game, it counts as much as any other, no matter where it’s played.

I had never been to London before and I knew it was going to be a somewhat grueling trip over here, so I did what you’re supposed to do – stay up all day after you get here and don’t go to sleep until that evening. I feel pretty good, so I hope our players do, too.

What a great city London truly is. It reminds me of New York. I always thought nothing could be on par with New York as far as my favorite city, but London is right there. It’s an amazing place and it’s a privilege to be here.

It’s been an educational trip for me. I had a chance to go to Westminster Abbey and to Buckingham Palace and also to Churchill’s underground war museum, where he and all the military leaders during World War II were bunkered as Hitler bombed London. The history there is mind-boggling. And we have people like Winston Churchill and, over in the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt to thank for getting us through World War II. It doesn’t ever hurt to be reminded of that.

There’s a certain feel here in London that’s so multicultural and everybody is just blasé about it. It’s really a melting pot beyond all melting pots, maybe anywhere else in the world. That’s basically what the USA is all about, but it’s interesting to see where outside of our shores people from all over the world congregate and London is certainly that place.

It gives you a realization that maybe it’s not so far-fetched that someday there will be a team here or a team that plays some of its games here. You’d have to rearrange the schedule a little bit. We know the Pistons’ early-season schedule was tortuous because they had to give us breathing room around this trip to London. That’s why the Pistons played more games than anybody else early in the season. But you could see how it would be possible to have more than just a game per season played here in London.

When you’re playing the New York Knicks on an international stage, it makes it for all intents and purposes more than just a game. You certainly want to play well and getting a victory would be terrific with most of the world watching.

The Pistons are a team that has won seven of their last 10 games. They’re pretty much back to where probably I thought they’d be when the season started – a team that has a legitimate chance to make a run at the playoffs. I would have been surprised if the Pistons had been hopelessly out of it – and they’re not. I think this will be a recurring theme from now until the playoffs begin. Will the Pistons make it and, if so, in what spot?

I don’t think you’ll look at this Detroit team and say we can cross them off the list. This team has too much talent, too many good players. They might not have the superstars yet that some others have, but there’s an awful lot of ability up and down this roster, which has been proven by the play off the bench.

If you look at the franchises in the league that have won multiple championships, you of course focus on the Lakers and the Celtics and then the Bulls. And these days, you’ve got to think of San Antonio with the run Gregg Popovich has had. After that, one of the elite franchises is the Pistons. The Knicks also have multiple titles if you look at the two they won in the ’70s and the Pistons, of course, have three – the two the Bad Boys won and the Goin’ to Work gang’s 2004 title.

So it’s appropriate the Pistons and the Knicks are playing this game in London. Both franchises deserve to be here. I hope we can give London a great game.