Manchester is known more for its football than its basketball, but the NBA Global Games took over for a couple of days, culminating with the Oklahoma City Thunder edging the Philadelphia 76ers 103-99.
The pre-season contest saw basketball return to the Phones 4U Arena for the first time since the Great Britain’s Men’s team hosted and lost to the USA Men’s team, 118-78, in a pre-Olympic warm-up.
Kevin Durant was part of the USA team on that day and told media before Tuesday night’s game that the prospect of playing in Manchester again was an exciting one.
“Its great being back in this arena playing here last summer, it brought back a lot of memories. I’m excited I’m back,” he said.
Durant’s excitement at being back in Manchester though, failed to translate onto the court early on in the contest, as the OKC star forward struggled to find his shot.
A 6-for-8 third quarter shooting display though from Durant helped the Thunder create some breathing room in the game. The 76ers kept it close throughout but the Thunder, with Durant rested on the bench, closed out the game, following on from their win in Istanbul against Fenerbahce with a win in England.
After the game, both coaches plus Durant praised Manchester and the UK fans for their support on the night.
“[It was] pretty fun to play in front of a great crowd,” summarised Durant, while Sixers head coach, Brett Brown, who was the Australian Men’s coach during the Olympics added that it was a ‘Well presented game’.
“We appreciate the support and professionalism that Manchester has shown the NBA and Philadelphia,” Brown said, as the Sixers lost their first pre-season game, following a 106-104 win over Bilbao on Sunday.
The showpiece event on Tuesday night though was only half the reason the NBA visited the UK, with a continued effort to build the market in Britain and increase interest in the game, still the priority for the NBA.
With a five-day NBA Fan Zone stationed in the city centre, complete with interactive games and guest appearances from former NBA stars such as Peja Stojakovic, Dikembe Mutombo, Basketball Without Borders founding father Vlade Divac and local ex-pro, John Amaechi, the NBA looked to make an impression upon a football-dominated city that hosts both Premier League giants United and City.
“I’m sure it can,” replied Divac when asked if basketball can co-exist with football in the UK.
“In other countries, like my home country, football is number one. Basketball keeps the number two spot and today’s world basketball and football is very similar: It’s very exciting, it’s a lot of fast playing teams on the field – a lot of similarities.”
Sixers trio Spencer Hawes, Thaddeus Young and Michael Carter-Williams, told the media during their stay in Manchester that football fans’ enthusiasm would always be well received court side, even if fans were experiencing the game for the first time.
“The crowd was crazy in Bilbao and I’m sure the UK fans are pretty much the same way and worse in terms of shouting and being loud,” said Carter-Williams while Young agreed, adding: “It’ll be very intense, like a soccer game. I get the feeling that soccer fans get very, very intense.”
Hawes, who hung up his goalkeeping gloves when he was young, said: “I know there’s a lot of great hoop fans, a lot of great sports fans in general. It’s fun to see the reach of the game, especially in a city that’s got such a reputation as a soccer city. Even the people who aren’t fans, the curiosity to come out and see what they think.”
Manchester United players Rio Ferdinand, Darren Fletcher, David De Gea and Adnan Januzaj were in attendance at the game.
The NBA’s next visit to the United Kingdom comes on January 16 when the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets meet in London’s O2 Arena in a regular season clash.