- NBA shows are bonkers, says this Brit.
- Unlike Premier League soccer, the NBA manages to keep things interesting throughout dull periods like time-outs, and at half-time.
- Just watch out for flying t-shirts.
Some of the most memorable moments in sports are born out of technical genius, senseless violence, or just good old-fashioned chaos.
I’ll always remember Dennis Bergkamp’s close control during a Premier League match against Leicester City, where he scored a remarkable hat-trick in a 3-3 draw in 1997. I’ll never forget Zinedine Zidane dragging France to the 2006 FIFA World Cup final, only to be sent off in the tournament showpiece for ramming the butt of his head into Italy defender Marco Materazzi’s chest. And, more recently, I’ll always think about how Khabib Nurmagomedov refused to celebrate his dominant submission win over Conor McGregor in 2018, choosing instead to leap over the UFC fence, charge at McGregor’s cageside friends, and spark post-fight riots in and out of the cage itself.
Things like this are not the norm, of course. In fact, they very rarely ever happen.
Sports events can sometimes be rather dull affairs that are bereft of any real excitement. Passages of play get interrupted by things like incompetent touches, wayward passing, and errant shooting. Goalless draws are the scourge of travelling fans, and post-match comments from athletes and coaches can be mind-numbingly boring.
The recent NBA game between the Washington Wizards and the New York Knicks at the 02 Arena in London on Thursday was certainly void of plays worth remembering 10 years from now, but the NBA has managed to do something that soccer struggles to do. And that is to keep things interesting throughout those dull periods, during time-outs, and at half-time.
The reason for this is simple. NBA shows are completely bonkers.
Hip hop music blares through the speaker systems in the middle of the game, cheerleaders engage in gravity-defying gymnastics during time-outs, and strange-looking mascots act like children’s entertainers at courtside. It is a sensory overload.
This behaviour, though, is contagious as elaborate jigs danced in the bleachers by excitable fans get broadcast on the big screens. But fans have to be careful … if they’re not paying attention, a rogue t-shirt wrapped tight like a torpedo could cannonball into their unwitting faces at any moment, as they get fired into the crowd by enthusiastic event organizers working at ground-level.
The closest comparison to a British sporting experience is the darts, or at boxing, and both tend to be organized and promoted by the father-son duo at Matchroom Sports, Barry Hearn and Eddie Hearn. The Hearns understand that event-going fans like to dress-up, to drink, to listen to music, to dance, to sing, and, of course, to watch sport.
The NBA fosters a similar feel-good atmosphere. The league’s annual event on English turf provided a dramatic finish this week as the Wizards edged the Knicks by a 101-100 score thanks to a last-second goaltend violation.
Yes, the overall quality of the basketball may have lacked the skills of James Harden, LeBron James, and Steph Curry – the elite of the NBA – but in London, the league combined its competition with a fun night out, and that’s exactly how it should be.