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Lions to be force before NBA dream is reality in London, says Vince Macaulay

Brooklyn Nets' Joe Johnson (right) and Atlanta Hawks' Lou Williams (left) during the NBA Global Games London 2014 match at the O2 Arena, London. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Brooklyn Nets' Joe Johnson (right) and Atlanta Hawks' Lou Williams (left) during the NBA Global Games London 2014 match at the O2 Arena, London. Photo: Adam Davy/PA

Sunday, January 26, 2014
1:14 PM

Vince Macaulay has dismissed the idea that the NBA could set up a permanent base in the capital and insists that his London Lions side will become a force long before the Americans invade – if ever they do.

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London Lions head coach Vince MacaulayLondon Lions head coach Vince Macaulay

The head coach of the British Basketball League outfit was one of 18,000 people in attendance at the O2 last week as the Brooklyn Nets beat Atlanta Hawks 127-110 in a regular Eastern Conference game on UK soil.

Incoming NBA commissioner Adam Silver said afterwards that London will remain a “centre-point” for the US league in Europe – with one-off games returning from next year – but also that the organisation are investigating the possibilities of starting a division on the continent, rather than a single franchise.

But it’s not something that threatens the Lions, insists Macaulay, who side face Durham Wildcats at the Copper Box today (4pm).

“I don’t actually know what he means by that,” the London boss said of Silver’s comments. “The NBA are very interested in London because the UK is number seller of [their] merchandise, so I can understand that.

“In terms of making it a division, I don’t see how that can happen because everyone already complains that product on the floor is already diluted by having 30 NBA teams, so whether we can add another three from this neck of the woods, I really don’t know.

“It’s one thing to draw 18,000 people to the O2 on a one-off, once a year, but it’s another thing to have 5,000 people come down to the Copper Box on a weekly basis.

“There’s a way to go yet and before it ever gets to that point we’ll have a thriving professional club in London with 5,000 people on a weekly basis, which will be looking to compete in Europe.

“It was terrific to see the buzz of basketball in London [at the O2]. There were a lot of London people and lots of Lions fans in there – I saw lots out our replica shirts and hats out there.

“We know that the NBA loves London and that basketball wants to be big in London and we are very pleased to be pushing that along the path.”

The Lions chief highlighted the “promising signs” of a record 2,200 attendance at their new Copper Box home for the 96-82 win over Newcastle Eagles three weeks ago which started a run of three league wins on the spin.

“I think that it’s just taken a bit of time for people in London to know that we are here, that it’s not the end of the world to get to Stratford and that when they get there it is a terrific product,” said Macaulay whose side beat BBL champions Leicester Riders on the road last weekend to extend their winning run to three games.

“The attendances are slowly growing and we have a latent audience within the British population, but we also have a growing audience among the European population.

“I’m talking about Polish people in London, Greeks, Israelis, Russians – they love their basketball.

“They are stuck in a rut, thinking that the British basketball scene is not as strong as some of the other European countries and it’s our mission in London to prove that it is.

“I think what we’re doing at the Copper Box has already made people aware of what our intentions are. We play in the best venue in the country, we are beginning to build a big following and because of the players we’ve been able to recruit.

“People are very well aware that we are the real deal.”

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