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

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
people
Sport
SPORT
News
people
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Biggins as Mrs Smee in Peter Pan
theatreHow do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick