While much of international basketball fandom is anticipating the 2010 World Championship and the powerful teams’ backers dream of glory, one national team is fighting for its very survival against what some feel is an unfair burden placed upon them by FIBA and the IOC: Great Britain.
Great Britain held on for their fifth consecutive victory in Division A of the Eurobasket Qualifying Rounds last night, though nearly snatching the proverbial “defeat from the jaws of victory” against the frankly &^(&%#%-ing disappointing Hungary, official home team of BallinEurope.com headquarters. With the 66-64 win, Team Great Britain improved their record to 5-0 in the tournament and brightened their hopes of appearing in the 2012 Olympic Games.
The problem – and the extra onus on the British national team – is that the International Olympic Committee has made a special exception to a longstanding rule, namely the host nation receives automatic entry into the basketball tournament at the ‘Games. However, at the time Olympic-hosting privileges were granted to Great Britain, it was one of the few European nations *without a national team whatsoever.*
Last seen on the international stage in the 1980s, Team Britain was reconstituted in 2005 when governing bodies for English, Scottish and Welsh basketball enacted the new foundation for a national team. Since then, it’s been a bit of a rocky road for the Brits. Though quality, exciting talent like Luol Deng, Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Ben Gordon has represented the team (or at least been listed on the roster), injuries or NBA concerns have typically forced Britain to play with a less-than ideal squad.
On the other hand, Great Britain played one hell of a game against Team Spain in Eurobasket 2009 to definitely give Pau Gasol some gray hairs when Britain took a 73-71 lead late and was 3½ minutes from The Greatest International Tournament Upset of All-Time.
The problem-within-the-problem for Team Britain is that, well, nobody back home seems to care – or barely even know of its existence.
Think BiE is exaggerating? British national team fan (yes, Virginia, they do exist and their legion is growing) Sam Neter noticed this apathy/ignorance among his peers informally and so decided to put his suspicions to a greater test. This is what he found:
Incredible, thought Neter. And, to make a long story story short, he embarked upon a full-fledged online/real-life multi-media campaign called “Back British Basketball.” Sometimes featuring Silky Slim, sometimes not, the Back British Basketball campaign is a coordinated barrage of requisite website, YouTubes, Twitter, social networking from Facebook on down, and game-day presence that only a British fan could pull off – seriously, whatever football club lost this guy’s full-time allegiance is hurting right now. It’s all in response to what Neter (justifiably) sees as a lack of press coverage in the kingdom.
How’s the campaign going? BiE got a brief interview with the Man Who Would Save British Basketball himself, Sam Neter.
A personal question first: Why did you take this on? What is it about British basketball that moved you to do something like this when no one else really had?
It needed to be done. Simple as that. You look at Great Britain’s attendance figures since their inception, and the general atmosphere at games and it’s obvious something is going wrong somewhere. Contrary to popular belief, we have a great team who are entertaining to watch yet no one even knows they exist! Mix that in with the fact that as a host nation at London 2012 we don’t even have a place, it’s ridiculous. The British public/the world need to know about Great Britain basketball and start taking us a little more seriously!
One question any North American who pays attention to European basketball wants to know is, quite simply, what’s wrong with British basketball? For example, why are there no British clubs in any major European competition?
You know, that’s a question I probably couldn’t pinpoint an answer to. It’s a multitude of things; the sport is thriving at a grassroots level in terms of participation rates, so why not at a professional and international level? Money, structure, coaching, media attention, public awareness, access to facilities all contribute…the list is endless. There needs to be some huge fundamental changes to make a difference.
I see that you’ve managed to complete three of your 10 commandments for BackBritishBasketball. [For the reader, those 10 Commandments are:
1. Create a chant for Team GB.
2. Get Beckham to wear GB vest.
3. Get a special edition shoe made.
4. Get an MC to create a GB tune.
5. Dress a monument in GB vest.
6. Get crowd noise above 122 DB.
7. Get games broadcast on TV.
8. Commentate at GB games.
9. Get 100,000 views on YouTube.
10. Get in the papers.]
How are the other unfulfilled six coming along? Have you managed to get in touch with Becks yet?
Since you sent this interview, we are now up to four completed after the Deng chant we created and got going at the game yesterday. We have a custom shoe being designed, we have an MC track pretty much ready to go, and we will be commentating at the game on the 17th August. [Achieving all ten goals is] well under way.
Beckham is definitely proving the trickiest, but we’re trying! David, if you’re reading this-look me up!
Is FIBA/the IOC giving Britain a fair shake, in your opinion, with regarding to qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Games?
No! I think it’s evident for anyone to see from the outside that there has been constant moving of the goalposts. We were told we needed to get promoted to Division A, we did it. Then we had to qualify for Eurobasket 2009 in Poland which we did. Yet still no place.
In the interview done with the BBC just the other day, he asks how we are going to be competitive with other nations-we already are! Look at what we (almost) did to Spain at last year’s Eurobasket-that was without our best player (s).
You put our full healthy roster against any team in the world and they can compete. I’m not saying we would win, but we’d compete which is what FIBA/the IOC have requested.
There is talk in that BBC article asking when a domestic club will enter European competitions-what has that got to do with the Olympics?
It’s bullshit in my opinion, they talk about legacy but isn’t it obvious you’re doing a lot more damage to the basketball legacy of Great Britain not including us in our own games.
What do you feel your efforts at publicity could be deemed a success? In other words, what’s your ultimate goal?
There are many smaller goals, but right now the ultimate goal is to get qualification for London 2012 through bringing out huge crowds to back the team. In my opinion, based on what FIBA has said before, our 2012 place will be achieved if we qualify from our group to Eurobasket 2011.
Though a lot is down to the team, the effect public support and a big sellout crowd can have on a team’s performance is insurmountable and that’s what we’re trying to take care of. We want to sell as many tickets as possible to these home games, and once we’re there create an atmosphere that rivals some of the biggest European crowds. It’s no small task, and we’re realistic about it, but I already think the campaign is making an impact.
Along the same lines, what level of performance would you deem as a success for the national team?
For me, progression from previous years will be considered a success. Nothing less than qualifying for Eurobasket 2011 and improving on our finish in 2009. I don’t think that is unrealistic at all, and going in as underdogs is always a nice thing. I think we could surprise some people.
If Luol Deng, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Ben Gordon and this team see great success right through to 2012, do you believe that a great national team can be sustained in Britain?
Totally. There is no reason why it can’t. Success of a national team in a country can be a turning point for the sport at domestic levels, it can be momentum shifting. It will lead to more media coverage, more funding and changes at all levels of the sport. You look at every big basketball nation in Europe and they have a successful national team-it changes the face of the sport in a country. If we are successful through to 2012 there is no reason why the team can’t be sustained in to the future.
Even if the national team captures the imagination of the British public in Eurobasket 2011 and/or the 2012 Olympic Games, what if anything can sustain the interest?
There needs to be year around information on the team and the players. I think one of the problems at the moment is the British public only hear about the team for 4-5 weeks of the year (if at all) then during the regular season when they all go back to their clubs there isn’t a peep.
Their personalities and stories need to be put out there. People need to know who the team is; 90% of the British public couldn’t name one member of the team right now. Make sure they are at the forefront of the public’s mind year round. I understand that is a lot easier said than done though.