The glitz and glamour of the NBA will return to London in January next week when the Brooklyn Nets take on the Atlanta Hawks in a regular-season match at the O2 Arena.
The game will take place on Thursday January 16, 2014, the event sold out in 3 days.
Both teams are still in the play-off hunt in a weakened Eastern Conference and will see this trip to the Capital – where they will play just once in a four-day trip – as a welcome break from the toils of their rigorous 82-game season.
Casual British fans could be forgiven for thinking they know the Nets team. The franchise played a pre-season game in London in 2008 and took part in the first two regular season games, along with the Toronto Raptors, in 2011.
But much has changed since then, as new billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov has sought to turn the team into a title contender. Prokhorov moved the team from New Jersey to a new $1billion home in Brooklyn and, with the help of Jay-Z, created the Brooklyn Nets.
Entering this season the Nets were supposed to be one of the NBA’s best. They had captured two of the biggest names in the game, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett from Boston, to create a starting line-up comprised of five stellar names.
Pierce and Garnett were meant to add the defensive skills and toughness that would compliment the attacking flair of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez, as well as showing off their own veteran talents.
Trading for the two veterans made Prokhorov’s team the most expensive in the NBA by some margin.
Their total salaries add up to $101million this season, $14m more than near-neighbours the New York Knicks who are second in the most-expensive list.
All that money meant the Nets were expected to win right away, but that didn’t happen.
Prokhorov took the surprising step of naming Jason Kidd, who only finished his Hall of Fame playing career in the summer, as head coach, and it’s fair to say the 40-year-old struggled initially.
On paper the Nets were the second or third strongest team in the East behind the Miami Heat, but slumped as numerous players missed game time through injury.
There was further misery when Brook Lopez, who had been their best offensive player this season, was ruled out for the rest of the season through injury after playing just 17 games.
At one point the Nets, a team expected to walk into the play-offs in a conference that currently boasts just three teams with winning records, had won just 10 of 31 matches.
‘I don’t know, honestly,’ said guard Alan Anderson on his team’s poor start. ‘It’s a surprise to a lot of us, with the ammunition we have on this team. We’re going to fight through it.’
‘It’s been great, I’ve got a good group of guys, a veteran group. It’s been exciting, they’ve helped me in a big way of making this transition easy,’ he said.
Senior members of his roster, such as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, have spent a number of years playing opposite the two-time Olympic gold medal winner. Garnett is known as one of the league’s greatest competitors and trash-talkers, but Kidd says his previous relationship with those players hasn’t changed.
‘No, no, no, [Garnett’s] a competitor, playing against him for a lot of years I know he comes with being competitive and wants to win, and now being a coach I’m just trying to put him in a position to be successful, that’s all that matters.’
And the big change in recent days for Brooklyn?
‘Health has been a big part, that’s been something we’ve been dealing with all year, now we’re healthy we’re starting to get some wins and guys are playing well together. It’s a good time now to go to London and showcase our talents.’
Kidd was part of the New York Knicks team who beat the Detroit Pistons at The O2 Arena in London last year. He is looking forward to returning to the city, but says he doesn’t mind that he’s doing it as a coach and not a player.