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The NBA in Europe: Why London can’t be left out

Our series continues as we head to the British capital.

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London2012 Lights up London Landmarks Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

We’ve talked about a hypothetical European division in the NBA. If you missed it, here are the cities we’d put in a six-city division. I already talked about Amsterdam and Berlin in detail, so links to their pieces are there as well:

This week, we’ll talk about London, the capital of the United Kingdom, a/k/a the American motherland.

Some facts on London

Facts on London United Kingdom

Before we get to some more cultural-thingees about London, let’s talk about its population.

London is the largest city in the European Union* with nearly 8.7 million people. The second largest city in the EU is Berlin, and we already have them included. If you want to compare London’s population versus some familiar places in the USA, it’s larger than New York City, the largest city in the United States AND the ENTIRE Commonwealth of Virginia!

London city size vs New York City and Virginia

The metro area is over 14 million strong. To put things into perspective, if this metro area was an EU member state, it would be the ninth largest in the Union. The 14 million figure is quite a bit larger than Belgium, and not that much smaller than the Netherlands.

London Metropolitan Area size compared to the Netherlands and Belgium

There’s more to London than its mammoth size of course. It is a major financial center where major banks like HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Lloyds. It’s also home to two of the biggest oil companies in the world, which are BP (British Petroleum) and Royal Dutch Shell (yes, it’s HQ is co-located in The Hague, Netherlands, which I touched on a couple weeks ago).

Now that I got some of the size metrics and business stuff out of the way, it’s safe to say that London is one of the most popular cities in the world. According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics’ International Passenger Survey, 18.6 people visited London from other countries, and 12.9 non-Londoners also visited the capital.

London is known for its many museums, many of which are free to go into, just like the Smithsonian in D.C. The British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Science Museum, and the National Gallery are just some of the many places you can go to without spending additional ££££’s.

Also, London and the UK is known for being the home of the House of Windsor, the name of the British monarchy. There are other monarchies in Europe such as Belgium with King Filip (Dutch) / Philippe (French) and Queen Mathilde; the Netherlands with King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima; and Spain with King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia. But they don’t have the profile anywhere near than that of British Head of State Queen Elizabeth II and her family. Just go to your local supermarket tabloid section and you will see plenty of stuff about her grandchildren and in-laws.

Queen Elizabeth II isn’t just the head of state for the UK. She also serves in that capacity for 16 of the 53 Commonwealth Nations, which include former British colonies like Australia and Canada.

*Yes, I know about the Brexit. But the UK is still in the EU right now and will be for quite some time.

Does the NBA invest in the UK?

Yes, the NBA has a website for the UK in conjunction with GiveMeSport.com. The league’s European offices are also there.

The O2 Arena is an NBA-ready facility there as well. Six NBA regular season games have been played at the arena since 2011. This season, the Denver Nuggets will play the Indiana Pacers on January 12, 2017, so this it’s clear that this is an annual event with the potential to be something more down the road.

Who are the best players from the UK?

Chicago Bulls v Milwaukee Bucks
Ben Gordon and Luol Deng are both British citizens. They played together on the Bulls from 2004-2009.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The most notable NBA players from the UK are either in the league right now or were in it recently.

Lakers wing Luol Deng is by far the most notable British player. He played for the Chicago Bulls for over 10 seasons (2004-14) where he made two All-Star teams. He also spent time with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat before signing with the Lakers this season.

Joel Freeland was with the Trail Blazers from 2012-2015 though he now plays for CSKA Moscow in Russia. And 11-year NBA veteran Ben Gordon was born in London, though he was raised in the United States.

Basketball isn’t as popular in the UK as it is in other parts of Europe. Why continue focusing on the UK?

It is true that the British men’s national basketball team isn’t as strong as Southern Mediterranean and Eastern Bloc nations. But the NBA is willing to look past that, and the British rank 24th in the world

The NBA wants to be in the EU’s largest and most prosperous markets. To Americans and perhaps the world, London and the UK is arguably the flagship of Europe. The NBA wants teams in markets like London, which is bigger than New York.

A European NBA division would feel empty without London. It’s like leaving an NBA team out of New York City in the United States. (Sorry, I don’t think people view Washington as America’s flagship though our city’s more powerful).

Would NBA players want to play here?

Yes. As Americans, we may not like admitting it because we forced our way out of British control during the Revolutionary War. But the British left a huge impact on making the USA what is is today. If the British didn’t overpower or defeat the Dutch and French back in Colonial times, the Eastern USA wouldn’t be the singular entity that it is. In addition, the British also gave Americans the English language.

Most NBA players will likely be American, and if there’s one thing that will be daunting for them, it’s being in foreign countries where other languages are spoken. In London, they won’t have to worry about it. Besides a different accent and some vocabulary, the culture shock Americans face would be less in London than any other city in a European Division simply because of language.

London is also a large world-class market just like New York or Los Angeles that should be attractive to NBA superstars who want to be in the spotlight.

Which soccer teams would a London NBA team compete against?

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

As you are likely aware, soccer is the top sport in the UK. But now I’ll have to start saying England instead. Here’s why.

The United Kingdom is the EU member state and “sovereign state.” Within the UK, there are four “countries” that have equal status: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. London is in England, which is the largest country in the UK. That’s basically why the UK is often called “England” anyway. The UK’s countries have ultimately decided to play separately for its national teams and its professional soccer leagues. That is a major reason why there is no British team during the World Cup.

In England, the top soccer division is the Premier League. It is regarded as one of the best top-to-bottom leagues in all of Europe if not the world. The English Football League is below the Premier Division, and there are three leagues within their system.

There are FIVE(!!!!!) Premier League teams in London this year: Arsenal, Chelsea, Crystal Place, Tottenham Hotspur, and West Ham United. Chances are that if you’re a soccer fan, you’ve head of most if not all of these teams.

Eight more teams are in the EFL’s three tier-league system. With so many teams in the London area, there are plenty of fierce rivalries that can be best explained in this post on The Telegraph.

Still, the NBA can find a niche in London

London is such a huge market that there should still be a decent amount of basketball fans among them. Also, the NBA has an office, holds events, and regular season games every year. Sure, soccer is the biggest sport in the UK and all of Europe. But NBA basketball is a global brand in and of itself.

If a few notable players play on a London-based team early on, there will definitely be a strong following. The main adjustment that the British would have to get used to is the American way on what happens to bad teams. We don’t relegate bad NBA teams to the D-League, we just hold annual drafts and offer them higher draft picks.

Next week, we’ll head to Madrid, the capital of Spain.