As you may, or may not know, basketball is not the most popular sport in Great Britain. Sports channels prefer to show soccer (although it’s called football), rugby and cricket and very rarely basketball.
But, excitingly, the interest in basketball is growing. Through ESPN, games are shown live, and teams have visited for several years now, promoting the game. For the first time this year, two regular season NBA games will be played in London, as the Toronto Raptors and the New Jersey Nets will face each other at the O2 Arena in London in March 2011.
Accompanying the British interest in American basketball are some talented players. Under the FIBA rules, the host Olympic nation doesn’t automatically qualify for the basketball tournament, meaning GB still needs to qualify. Signs are good so far, as GB topped their qualifying group in Eurobasket 2011, and the team has an enthusiastic support group, encouraging fans to back British basketball, stating “Deng is better than Lebron." League basketball in Britain is growing steadily, but it's still beneficial to England if some of their top players can play in the best league in the world: the NBA.
Here are the five players in the NBA, who should all hopefully be representing Great Britain in 2012.
Deng, in being a well-paid and respected starter of an elite team like the Chicago Bulls, is comfortably the best player to have ever played for Great Britain. While he and his salary might not be the darling of Chicago’s heart, he puts up huge numbers for Great Britain, which show his clear potential and comfort in sometimes carrying a team. Deng also has an agreement with EA Sports to be on the cover of the NBA computer games, although he is still far from being a well known face or name. A good summer in 2012 could change that.
Deng’s main partner in crime is one-time Toronto Raptors darling Mensah-Bonsu, who is looking nice in a New Orleans Hornet jersey right now. He was known in Toronto for his explosive dunking power, and he brings all this and more to team GB. In qualification for Eurobasket 2011, he averaged an easy double-double, averaging 19.3 points and 13.5 rebounds in the eight games. It would be good for Mensah-Bonsu to establish himself on an NBA team, but the years spent playing in Europe haven’t dampened his spirits, and being a Londoner, he will be especially motivated to compete in the Olympics in his home town.
The name might surprise you, but Ben Gordon was born in London. He hasn’t represented team GB yet, mainly because of injury and contract issues, but has made his desire to play great. He even visited the team as they played in the Eurobasket 2011 qualifiers, as a means to show his support. Adding Gordon to the team would take a lot of the attacking responsibility off the shoulders of former Chicago Bulls teammate Luol Deng. Gordon left England for America at 10 months old, hence his accent thoroughly lacking any authenticity, but his visits back mean he won’t feel out of place on the team. He commented: “Britain has the best chocolate, and eating fish and chips out of the newspaper. That used to be my favorite…Just to participate in an Olympics would be amazing, but to play here in 2012 in the country where I was born, I don't have any words to describe that…I think my family would be really proud and it would be something very special.”
Slightly surprisingly, power forward Eric Boateng has played for the Denver Nuggets in the preseason this year, although it’s far from verbatim that he will start the year on their roster. But the Londoner should take great heart from this. He currently plays for Duke University’s basketball team—Deng’s former team—but would relish the chance to make the step up to the NBA, although he is under no illusions as to what he feels he must do: “I'm just absorbing what Coach Karl is trying to teach us and going out, playing hard and trying to execute the way he wants us to play…I'm not putting any pressure on myself. I'm just playing.” Either way, the experience will be valuable come 2012, if GB are competing against players with NBA experience.
“And with the 49th pick in the 2010 NBA draft, the San Antonio Spurs select Ryan Richards of CB Gran Canaria,” a pick that might have surprised some people, but undoubtedly a fantastic pick for British basketball and the Spurs. Richards is 19 but is strong and tall and can shoot and rebound. His free-throw shooting, especially for a big and young player, is exceptional. He averaged 21-of-23 in the pre-draft workouts. He’s not yet played for the Great Britain team, although by 2012, with some D-League or NBA action under his belt, he should be ready to play the five for Great Britain.