British basketball: The idea of a legacy from London 2012 is laughable, says John Amaechi

John Amaechi, the British basketball star, tells Tim Rich that the Olympics failed to inspire youngsters to take up his sport and he’s having to fill the gap

“The Olympic legacy stuff is so much b******s,” said John Amaechi. One of Britain’s most famous basketball players is talking about what was the Olympic handball arena, now known as The Copper Box.

Amaechi runs the biggest basketball centre in Britain and wanted to replicate and expand it at The Copper Box. Its location in inner-city London seemed perfect for a team sport that ranks behind only football and cricket in terms of mass participation but has little place in the national consciousness, even though the season’s showpiece, the British Basketball League play-offs, sell out Wembley Arena.

“The legacy has always been b******s,” said Amaechi, who was on the diversity board of the London Organising Committee and was an ambassador for the Games. “Legacy costs money, legacy takes forward planning. My centre in Manchester has 2,500 coming through its doors every week; that centre would have had 10,000 playing basketball.

“It has four full-sized courts; I have three. It has full-time access; I have 5pm to midnight. It would have been jammed but it would never have been as profitable as hiring it out for five-a-side football.”

Basketball was one of those sports that did not linger in the Olympic limelight. The presence of the Chicago Bulls’ forward Luol Deng, who fled civil war in the Sudan as a child and grew up in Croydon, gave Team GB a certain glamour but it was rather like asking Lionel Messi to play for Scotland. It would guarantee crowds but not results.

In the wake of the Games, the sport’s governing body, British Basketball, was told it would lose all its funding. Following a campaign by Deng, who as Barack Obama’s favourite sportsman brings kudos, the funding was restored but only for a year, and it would depend on how Great Britain performed at the European Championship in Slovenia, a competition Deng will not be going to. Their chances are beyond slim.

This is a sport that needs radical, long-term restructuring rather than parachuting in a few players from the American NBA every four years – Byron Mullens of the Charlotte Bobcats had never set foot in Britain before accepting his invitation from Team GB.

As the most high-profile British sportsman to have come out as gay, Amaechi has always tackled issues directly. Shortly after our interview, he was due to fly to Doha to speak to a conference on “sports ethics and security” in the full knowledge that his values and those of the government of Qatar were hardly compatible.

“I would be very surprised if we even had had a team in 2016; I’d be shocked, frankly,” said Amaechi. “I know why they did what they did in 2012. They were hosting the Games, they had to have a team so they flung one together using some NBA players, but the point guard was my age (42). Luol will still be eligible to play in Rio but probably won’t.

“If we started now, we could put a side together for 2020. It would be competitive and it could qualify on its own merits. To build five more basketball centres would cost you £18m-£20m and then you would have the basis of a British team that would be young and raw and motivated by the fear of younger players taking their place.”

 Amaechi, who learnt his trade in the American collegiate system, will, with Salford University, fund £180,000 worth of basketball scholarships that will prepare athletes not just for a career in the sport but for life afterwards. There are also plans for a televised British League based around eight elite clubs.

“The UK Sports model – the idea that if you are good we will give you more money – is ridiculous,” said Amaechi. “Let’s face it; we are really good at winning boat races against landlocked countries. We are really good at shooting things – although I doubt pistol shooting is a sport you really want to encourage in the inner cities. We are really good at every colonial sport you can imagine; riding horses, for instance, like we once did across the plains of other people’s countries. And we look down on sports millions of people play.

“In basketball we are constantly seeing people who tell us, ‘I cannot stay in basketball because mum needs me to work in the shop’, or who can’t even consider university because of the loans needed. Working-class people view getting into debt for the sake of education very differently to how a middle-class family does. The risk often seems too great. We are trying to reduce that risk.” They are looking, initially, for six candidates to sponsor each year for three seasons. Of the first draft, two must be good enough to play for Amaechi’s club, Manchester Magic, or the women’s team, the Mystics, while studying at Salford.

Amaechi was 17 “eating a pasty” and walking down Market Street in Manchester when a stranger came up and asked if he fancied playing basketball. “Within six years, I was turning out for the Cleveland Cavaliers. It only takes six years to produce an NBA player and, believe me, you could walk down Market Street tomorrow and find better athletes than me.”

Amaechi’s first major stop on the road to the NBA was Pennsylvania State University. “I found myself at the Rec Hall, which was always called ‘The Small Gym’ and it had 18,000 seats.” The elite who graduate from the Salford programme will probably have to go abroad, to the United States or Spain, who are the European champions.

“There are three routes,” said Amaechi. “One is to go to the United States. The other is to be good enough to be picked up by a Spanish team. Barcelona and Real Madrid run very good basketball sides within their sports clubs. Or you could stay here, but to stay here is death. The average wage for a British basketball player in this country is around £7,000 a year. Some are paid more, like Andrew Sullivan, who is the captain of the GB team, but not a degree of magnitude more. I was talking salaries with a French journalist and asked what the average salary was in France and he said about £7,000 and I said: ‘That’s terrible. It’s the same here.’ But he meant £7,000 a month.” By way of comparison, Amaechi once turned down a $17m contract to play for Los Angeles Lakers – and that was 13 years ago.

“I am sad so many of our established basketball players are here. They are earning no money, their useful basketball years are waning away. If we had been able to offer them a place at university, they might have something to fall back on when their £7,000-a-year stint in basketball is done, rather than set up a coaching scheme where you do a little bit of this and a couple of hours of that and call it a career.”

For full details of the North-West  basketball scholarships go to: www.amaechibasketballcentre.com

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander in the leaked trailer for Zoolander 2
film
Sport
footballArsenal take the Community Shield thanks to a sensational strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Arts and Entertainment
Gemma Chan as synth Anita in Humans
film
News
Keeping it friendly: Tom Cruise on ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ensemble cast: Jamie McCartney with ‘The Great Wall of Vagina’
artBritish artist Jamie McCartney explains a work that is designed to put women's minds at rest
News
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen