I have been fortunate enough to spend the past three weeks working in New York, and whilst over there, I thought I’d see what the locals do for sporting entertainment. Unfortunately, I couldn’t procure a ticket for the Superbowl, partly because I didn’t have a spare thousand pounds but mainly because it would be easier to locate the Holy Grail. So the other options were to see the New York Rangers play Ice Hockey (no thanks), or the New York Knicks or Brooklyn Nets play Basketball (the baseball season hasn’t started yet so I couldn’t go to the Yankees). Now given that a) Knicks tickets cost the earth and b) I was staying about a mile away from the Nets’ impressive new stadium, I chose the latter.
The tickets for the game against the San Antonio Spurs were advertised as $30, but I managed to get them for $26 on a legitimate touting website. This confused me somewhat as I thought touting was a way of making money, not losing it. Anyway some friends and I made our way to the brand new Barclays Center (sic) for our first taste of professional NBA. Our seats weren’t exactly in prime position but we had a great view of the whole court from side-on and even though we were in the top tier, there was still plenty of atmosphere. After the Star-Spangled Banner was belted out (why do U.S sports do this before every match?), it was time for tip-off.
The most notable thing about professional basketball is the speed at which the players move about. It is absolutely mind-boggling. They seem to be strolling along at a canter, when suddenly, an injection of pace and they’ve scored a basket in the blink of an eye. The game is also a lot more physical than I imagined. Players are constantly jostling for position on court and for an apparently non-contact sport there is certainly plenty of touchy-feely. The players are also ridiculously tall. I walked past the shortest player on either side in my hotel about a week ago (Deron Williams since you ask) and at 6ft, he seemed like a pretty big chap to me (admittedly, in my world, most people seem like giants). Yet, on court, surrounded by guys who are up to 7ft tall, he looked like a midget.
The level of athleticism these lads have has to be seen to be believed. They can jump ridiculously high and change direction at frightening speed. It may not look so impressive on TV but trust me, in the flesh it is absolutely astounding. The thing that attracts me to basketball is this combination of speed, skill, subtlety and tactics. It is not like the NFL where more emphasis is placed on the physical aspect. Yes, in Basketball you have to be fit and athletic, but without the technical ability to score a basket or the vision to see a pass, you are effectively obsolete.
As always in American sports, the off-court entertainment was almost as exciting as the sport itself. Cheerleaders, drummers, stadium announcers and a man dressed as a robot armed with a T-Shirt gun all arrived in the breaks in play to make sure the crowd didn’t get bored. My personal favourite was the dance cam, where cameras were pointed into the crowd to find the best dancer whilst music blared out. Yet, no matter how outrageously I jived to Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’, the camera just wouldn’t focus on me.
What about the match? The Nets won quite comfortably in the end, beating the Spurs 103-89. My new best friend Deron Williams ran the show, providing 8 assists and scoring 16 points. Fellow Nets player Alan Anderson top scored with 22 points against a pretty anonymous San Antonio side, for whom Danny Green was the standout performer.
Would I recommend live NBA? Yes I would. My companions were not so enthusiastic. They argued that each basket was not as significant event as say a goal in football or a try in rugby and in principle, I agree. The game is perfect for American audiences because there is some sort of action every 24 seconds (the allotted time each team can have possession) whereas English audiences prefer something with a little more build-up (hence the obsession with cricket). That should not detract from the fact that from an entertainment standpoint, I was not disappointed. Yes, the game is unashamedly geared towards television audiences, with regular breaks in play due to time-outs, but it is not as bad as NFL in that respect. For a first time visitor I found the experience overwhelmingly positive and at $26 a ticket, I found it money well spent. Am I now a genuine convert to the NBA? Probably not. Given the opportunity, would I go and watch another match live? Absolutely.