Wednesday, 2 March 2011

WELCOME TO LONDON



It’s just gone twelve noon here in Milton Keynes, England. I’ve potted about with my morning errands, said hello to a few friends from my hometown, and just finished catching up with my twitter feed up to where I’ve seen that my favourite NBA team, the Toronto Raptors, managed to grind out a win over the New Orleans Hornets last night. For a British based basketball fan, like myself, spending half an hour each day scrolling through your twitter feed to follow as-live the fortunes of your team’s game the previous night is an almost daily routine. With the UK being 5 hours ahead of the American/Canadian east coast, and there being only 2 nationally televised games a week, staying up ‘til 3/4am to watch games is rarely an option, so you rely on the internet and social media to keep up to date with your team.

Since discovering twitter three seasons ago, the likes of Holly MacKenzie (@stackmack), Adam Francis (@raptorshq), Eric Smith (@Eric__Smith), Sam Holako (@RapsFan) & Jess (@Raps_fan) have kept me up to date with all things Toronto basketball. Signing news, rumours, practice reports, live blogging from games, pretty much everything you could hope to care about or take interest in when it comes to Toronto Raptors, each morning I’ll spend a good half hour catching up with my feed and seeing tweets informing me of all the goings on in Raptors Land.

This weekend however, there will be no need to hope my phone has picked up twitter updates overnight to enable me to read about the previous evening’s games when I rise from my slumber. And for a reason which can only be described as second best to someone giving me a winning lottery ticket and enabling me to fly across the pond and see my team play live. For this afternoon the Raptors arrived in England. Yes. In England. Where I live, where I was born, and where I began to learn about basketball as a kid by playing NBA Jam on the Sega genesis. For this weekend the Raptors’ road games against the New Jersey Nets will not take place at the Net’s home arena in Newark, NJ. Oh no. Instead, they will take place at London’s beautiful o2 Arena.

Can you believe it? When I found out, this past summer, that NBA commissioner David Stern had given the go-ahead to Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov to hold two regular season games here in England on March 4th & 5th I was excited. The NBA has held pre-season games in London each of the last 4 seasons, including in 2008 when I went along myself to see the very same New Jersey Nets take on Dwayne Wade’s Miami Heat as part of ‘NBA Europe Live’ – but this was the real deal. These would not be games where the starting players would play maybe ten minutes and then enjoy the comfort of the courtside seats for the rest of the game whilst roster players battled in front of the British crowd. This would be the real deal. Effort, hustle, sweat, blood, tears… all the things that lack in pre-season games, were going to be on display. What could possibly make the news of two actual regular season NBA games better? For most UK based basketball fans it would have been made better by the Nets’ opponent in these games being one of the teams they were familiar with and whose jerseys they owned. But, unfortunately for them and fortunately for me and every other Raptor fan in the country, it wouldn’t be the Magic, Pistons or Wizards coming to London with the Nets. It would be my team, the Toronto Raptors.

Now that the week of the games is finally here, I’ve already travelled from my base of Manchester in the north-west of England to my hometown of Milton Keynes, some thirty-five minutes north of the capital city. Tomorrow I’ll be in London itself where I look forward to sharing my experiences the week with you on this blog, including tomorrow’s trip to the NBA fan zone over at Westfield’s. I’ll be sharing it all; travel, sights, sounds, food, fan events, the games themselves and lots more besides. I’ll be posting photos too so you can see for yourself all the shenanigans of my experiences of NBA Games London and see the games from a British perspective. I hope that you enjoy reading about my experiences as much as I’ll enjoy living through them! I look forward to reading your comments of my posts and for those of you on twitter you can also follow me @TomHurley – GO RAPS!!

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