Why you should watch the British Basketball League

After big investments in British basketball, with more cameras, lights, partners, teams, halftime events and...Americans, now is the time to join the fun.

Basketball game

After big investments in British basketball, with more cameras, lights, partners, teams, halftime events and…Americans, now is the time to join the fun. Our man on the ground is Kieron Passaway, attending a game at London’s Copper Box Arena with wide eyes.

London Lions (13- 8) vs Bristol Flyers (9- 11) — Copper Box Arena, BBL League

Entering the Copper Box Arena (London Lion’s home) is a triumph. Walking through the concourse and seeing the court, you feel you know the experience. Why? It takes you to your memories of Space Jam. It reminds you of your quarantine with The Last Dance. It, well…why don’t I just:

Steaming hot dogs garnished with sauerkraut, crispy onions, cheese, and, wait… jalapenos too?; supercharged cheerleaders prancing and dancing to Rick Ross, to Jay-Z, to Wiz Khalifa, to Ye, to Travis Scott; Coca-Cola, pints… ice cold, in unlimited supply; horse-like men in lay-up lines effortlessly defying gravity and throwing the ball into the hoop with the flourish of Picasso’s brush; fluorescent lights mercilessly beating down until… wait, they’re not anymore.

No. The court’s now illuminated red, and there are strobes. The players are running out, and the music’s changed. It’s that song the Chicago Bulls came out to. The announcer sings, ‘introoooooducccciiinnnnnnnnnggggg….’ and the people cheer, and yes, indeed, the magic’s happening: it’s time to play ball.

British Basketball League

London Lions and Bristol Flyers tip-off in a late season game with Lions as firm favourites

It’s crazy to think this stuff happens in stiff-upper-lip Britain, but it does, from top to bottom. London, Sheffield, Leicester, Newcastle, Bristol, Plymouth, Glasgow, Manchester, Cheshire, Surrey. There are minor adjustments to the NBA. It isn’t as pristine and sparkly. It has more charm, though; how communal the league is, for example. You see academy players working modest merch stands.

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Local street dance groups take centre court at halftime and induce awe with splits, jumps, twirls, flips, and sways. Young and budding hosts help out with the halftime show. The crowd is old and young, of all races; office workers, streetwear hypebeasts; reservedly cheerful parents with prosecco in hand. Its energy is similar to non-league football, a healthy fusion of wholesomeness and excess.

British Basketball League

British Basketball League

British Basketball League

London Lions start hot finding themselves in a 8-0 lead

We call football the beautiful game, and that feels appropriate. It’s slow-cooked, consisting of larger-than-life, century-old rivalries. It has built communities and brought reluctant father-and-sons together. When teams score – finally score –, it can feel like poetry. A lot of the time, it is poetry. So the term beautiful is reserved for it.

But that’s fine. Basketball isn’t beautiful. It’s thrilling and fierce and exacting. It moves at 100 mph; leads can change hands tens of times within one quarter. The ball swings from side-to-side, end-to-end. Players spin, fly and slam with appealing machismo. Gravity becomes a joke to laugh at. It’s a battle for each and every possession. You see rivalries erupt and resolve and then erupt again. It demands your attention by the sheer force of its changeability. And that’s exactly how this game was going. The Lions started strong and looked dominant, but the Flyers fought back with gusto.

British Basketball League

Halftime: London Lions 49 – Bristol Flyers 47

This season has been a good one for the London Lions and for the league, to be fair. The former enjoyed a breach of Euro League’s second round, a first for the BBL; American-owned 777 Partners acquired the latter.

The takeover has resulted in a significant cash injection—seven million pounds, to be exact. This is big for a league that has flirted with administration more times than one cares to count. There’s optimism floating about now. Heck, compare today’s game day experience to last season, which at times felt like a high school production, and it’s impossible not to feel how polished this money is already making the experience.

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More people invested, more cameras, more lights, more halftime events, more partners, more teams (four, they’re hoping), more Americans, more dunks, more fun. The team’s announcer Tahir Hajat said he sees ‘new fans every single game.’ It’s been a real difference, but with that comes a challenge: ‘it’s all about building on the culture we already have… educating the new fans on the history of the team and league.’

Of course, seven million still isn’t enough; basketball is the second most played sport in England — so yeah, nowhere near enough, but it’s a promising start. And as all good capitalists know, investment begets investment.

British Basketball League

British Basketball League

3rd quarter: London Lions 66 – Bristol Flyers 59

Coming into the closing quarter, the game was surprisingly close. London Lions looked composed but not confident, and Bristol Flyers were hungry for an upset. In basketball, you see momentum-switchers which ultimately decide the game’s fate, and this match needed one.

Coming into the third, behold: Malcolm Delpeche of the Bristol Flyers, ladies and gentlemen. A poster (good dunk) every baller dreams of. A fine dime (pass) from Evans and Delpeche’s big man jams it on Kelley, London Lion’s seven-foot (not joking) American. The sold-out crowd erupted. London Lions battled until the end, but it was Bristol’s game after that.


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Fulltime: London Lions 74 – Bristol Flyers 78

The night is something both teams would have dreamed of last year. A relatively inconsequential late-season game on a Wednesday night.. sold-out and more raucous than games used to be under the Friday night lights. Josh Rodgers of Bristol Flyers said, ‘If the new ownership do things right the potential for the league is absolutely huge’. My thoughts? Now is as good a time as ever to get your first taste of British basketball.

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