Carmelo Anthony returned to the building where he won Olympic gold last summer to inspire the New York Knicks to a 102-87 victory over the Detroit Pistons in an NBA regular-season game at the O2 Arena in London.
Anthony scored 26 points while his United States and club team-mate Tyson Chandler had ten points and 14 rebounds. Amar’e Stoudemire scored 17 and JR Smith 16 as the Atlantic Division leaders proved too strong for a young Detroit team.
The game was all but over in the first quarter when New York responded to Detroit scoring the first points of the game by reeling off 16 straight of their own.
Not that this seemed to deter the sell-out crowd. While this was theoretically a “home” game for Detroit, the stands were full of Knicks jerseys and there was little doubt which way the fans were pulling.
Among their number were Knicks fanatic Spike Lee and Arsenal old boys Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires. They got to see a Knicks team which looks like a decent bet to end the city’s 40-year wait for an NBA Championship.
After Tayshaun Prince put Detroit in front, New York’s response was emphatic. Anthony’s pass set up Chandler for a dunk, and seconds later Anthony knocked down a three-pointer. Before Detroit knew what had hit them, Jason Kidd followed with another.
They were 16-2 up when Iman Shumpert, returning from long-term injury to start, sank yet another from Anthony’s pass.
A Detroit team that has five rookies on the roster battled hard and a 14-1 run had the Knicks worried as they closed the gap to 66-61 late in the third quarter. They got within four points before the Knicks found their rhythm once more to pull out a double-digit lead by the end of the period.
Another sell-out crowd of 18,689 suggested basketball’s potential in a country that has not yet taken the world’s second most popular team sport to its heart, but the dream of British basketball ever being staged at this level remains as far away as ever. In December, UK Sport announced Britain’s national teams would not be funded ahead of the Rio Olympics, having received £8.6 million in the run up to London but failed to medal.
The decision has been criticised not only for failing to recognise the huge strides made by the British teams since their inception in 2006, but also for cutting off a sport that has consistently shown strong participation levels amongst youngsters. NBA commissioner David Stern added his voice last night.
“Before the Olympics, basketball was being talked about as a sport being played in neighbourhoods in a country bemoaning the fact they had shut down so many playing fields,” he said. “The decision confounded me.”
Stern spoke enthusiastically about the reception the NBA has received in London, with last night being their 11th game here of any kind since 1993, and third regular-season game in the past two years.
“The basketball fans are terrific,” he said. “Whatever the government may be doing in terms of the development of the youth game or potentially the elite level, we’re here, the Olympics were a great success, the Euroleague final four is coming and we couldn’t be happier.”
Deputy commissioner Adam Silver said no firm plans were yet in place for the NBA to return next season, but a proposed pre-season friendly in Manchester remains under discussion and a regular-season contest could also be scheduled.
“We’re not ruling out a regular-season game,” he said. “There’s a good chance we again play a regular-season game in Europe, but it’s very difficult the way our schedule is configured. Manchester is something we’re continuing to look at. It’s not set yet but we’re looking at it.”
Stern, about to enter his final 12 months as NBA commissioner, was clear about his preference. “For my money, we can’t come back here enough,” he said.