Basketball: London to be part of NBA's empire

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Basketball

DUNCAN HOOPER

America's National Association has pinpointed London as the next outpost in its colonisation of the world. The NBA plans to open a London office to spearhead its marketing and merchandising drive in Western Europe, where they already sell more than pounds 20m worth of products a year.

The decision had already been taken before this weekend's McDonald's Championships. But, had the NBA management needed an extra push, the sight of 10,708 mainly young supporters watching the Houston Rockets beat Buckler Bologna 126-112 in the final at the London Arena, would certainly have convinced them.

The NBA invested $400,000 in increasing the venue's capacity for the three-day event and was rewarded with sell-outs on Friday and Saturday.

Geneva will continue as the headquarters of NBA Europe, but London will be the first of several satellite offices the NBA plans around the continent.

Ray Lalonde, NBA Europe's head of marketing, said: "It's the next natural step for us. You have the arenas now, the kids who want to play and, from this weekend, it's obvious they want to watch as well. England is an ideal market." Channel 4's coverage of NBA basketball which began with the McDonald's adds to this ideal mix.

The NBA is already considering alternative venues with larger ready-made capacities for other events, such as Manchester's Nynex Arena, which could hold 16,500 for basketball. The home of the Budweiser League's Manchester Giants, was considered as a venue for the McDonald's.

"We just couldn't be sure it would be ready on time," said Lalonde. "With all the planning that goes into the McDonald's we couldn't take the risk, but we will definitely be back with other events in the UK."

The event confirmed the gulf that exists between American pros and the best continental clubs. Sheffield Sharks were largely outclassed by Real Madrid and Maccabi Tel Aviv to finish sixth, while Bologna stayed with Houston for one half before being swept aside.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 24

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