LONDON — New Jersey’s team? Sure.
But the Nets fancy themselves as so much more these days. They’re quickly becoming the world’s team in the NBA, having played preseason games in China this season, after conducting a basketball clinic in Russia, home of their billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov. Now they’re just hours away from making history as part of the first NBA regular season games to be played on soil outside of North America, tonight and Saturday here at London’s O2 Arena.
They’ve seen the Kremlin, the Great Wall and now Buckingham Palace all before St. Patrick’s Day, cementing the Nets as true citizens of the world.
“Hey, we’re a global team,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “And I don’t think it’s the last time [you’ll see us do this]. But Prokhorov has added that dynamic to our franchise. It was great to go to Russia and spend some time with him. It was great to go to China and play two preseason games and give back to that community. And now here we are in London, pretty much with the same game plan. This is where we are right now and there is really nothing to complain about. [NBA Commissioner] David Stern had this vision a long time ago and now to see it happening is great for our fans, especially for our fans abroad.”
Their counterparts staring back at them in this historical contest?
The Toronto Raptors, who truly embody the spirit of the league’s Basketball Without Borders mantra, boasting six players on their roster that hail from foreign lands. Raptors coach Jay Triano participated in BWB Africa last summer in Dakar, Senegal.
“I’m not sure you could have picked two better teams to represent the league when you look at it from that standpoint,” said Raptors’ big man Solomon Alabi. A native of Nigeria, Alabi is one of three Raptors to participate in the Basketball Without Borders program before joining the league as players. Andrea Bargnani (Italy) and Alexis Ajinca (France) are the others.