15 January holds an unusual place for European basketball fans in the calendar. With the NBA holding a bunch of matinée games as part of its Martin Luther King day celebration, it’s a rare chance for Euros to follow their local heroes at conventional hours. Emmet Ryan spent 4 hours and 54 minutes court-surfing the folks we think of as our guys
Dinner was ready and out of the over by tip off in Philly. Having punted the Hornets at Pistons game because, oddly, of the start being a little too early our journey began with Jonas Valanciunas and Dario Saric…and a few others.
There’s Lucas Nogueira, hadn’t seen much of him since I went to a game with my ex in the Palau Blaugrana back in 2013. He was playing for Estudiantes who were on the losing side against Barcelona that day. There wasn’t a lot of him in it but spotting him did sort of get me thinking about how European fans connect with ballers and who they connect with.
Nogueira isn’t European, he’s Brazilian, but there’s a familiarity with him that goes along the same lines as Shane Larkin and a few others. A player Euro fans got to know from what he did here before going to the NBA (or in Larkin’s case going back to the NBA).
The game itself was some rusty looking basketball, the Sixers were playing their first game since London and the Raps looked like that had even more time not playing basketball but Bucks at Wizards was coming up.
Giannis Antetokounmpo never played a second of top flight ball in Europe and his lone EuroBasket outing to date was a quiet affair as he regular deferred on a Greece side that fell at the quarter final stage in 2015.
The Freak is freaking loved over here. More than any Euro that jumped directly from lower level ball to the big show, the feeling that he is still mentally with fans on the continent is enormous and largely has been since well before his superstardom. His annual Antetokounmpbros events certainly help, dude spends a lot of time in Greece in the off-season, but there’s this cultural connection that the fans here adopted far more than him that seems to aid him in preventing any emotional disconnect.
If a Bucks game tips at 8pm EST, that’s 3am tip time in Greece. There are really few games the Freak plays that are suited for regular viewing in his homeland. League Pass and highlight clips help but it’s not the same. Watching a Giannis game is a commitment.
There just aren’t many days where a European with anything approaching a normal life can just court-surf on League Pass. 15 January is the day.
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On to the Knicks at Nets for a stint because Kristaps. Frank Ntkilina isn’t exactly having the best run of late and could do with a good night. I flat out forgot about Willy Hernangomez for a minute. He had grown so much as a baller since making the jump. At Sevilla, with Porzingis, he had a great partnership but his latter spell in Europe saw him as a bit part on Spain’s 2015 roster and barely more than that for Real Madrid through the following season.
Back to the Raps at Sixers because a Philly collapse looks imminent but then Daaaario makes the big three. I’m missing some clever stuff from Frank in Brooklyn. The Sixers game gets drunk at the end and I suddenly cop that I hadn’t noticed Jakob Poetl up until now.
Poetl should be a huge deal, Austria isn’t exactly a breeding ground for NBA talent, but he’s largely been on his own island due to how his career developed out in the States and out of focus. Shame on me for that considering the 2013 FIBA U18s had been his breakout display.
A brief jump to Spurs at Hawks. Hi Tony and Pau but. wait, here’s Ersan Ilyasova making back to back buckets. Ersan’s logged some serious time in Europe on top of his NBA career but there’s no denying that I care far more about the American guard who bopped around Europe for a few years before finally getting to the NBA.
Malcolm Delaney is a rarity, a baller who was openly always focused on finding a way to the association who was the delight of Europeans despite that. He’s also rare in that he is wholly honest about his height, Delaney actually is the 6’3” he’s listed, and everywhere in Europe he went he had a memorable impact. Three championships with three teams in three years and then he carried the fourth on his back to the Euroleague Final Four before. He is American, he never took a passport, he just came to Europe to play, and that was fine by us.
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Only time for a brief stop there to catch the finish of Bucks at Wiz. Giannis did this:
Hut, hut, HIKE!! ???? pic.twitter.com/GLhqoART9P
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) January 15, 2018
There was a gut check shot over Marcin Gortat, who is sort of in a middle spot. He’s a NBA lifer but one whose time suffering as part of the Polish national team makes him appreciated as much as his team mate Tomas Satoransky. Goran’s obviously Goran, I mean his EuroBasket heroics are the stuff of legend. We just wish we could watch more of him and especially not this one, it’s not a great night for him right after winning Eastern Conference player of the week.
A career high 20 rebounds for Giannis before going back to Knicks at Nets and Frank’s having the night he needs but Kristaps is in foul trouble late in the third. Like Greeks, Latvians don’t get nights like this where Porzingis is on at a normal hour. Even this game would end after midnight local there.
The finish of Spurs at Hawks is wild but we got a whole lot of Dennis Schroeder. While having a smoke outside the Mercedes Benz Arena in Berlin after another defeat for Deutschland in 2015, a German journalist whose name I forget described the game of Schroeder to me as well as anyone: “There is me, you, and the ball. Let’s see who is better.”
That’s what Davis Bertans got a whole lot of in his face as the game basically refused to end. The Hawks are not a good basketball team but letting Dennis be Dennis is still really fun to watch. Accept every argument about his game, no matter how thin, there needs to be a place for guys just this fun as raw competitors in basketball.
The foul trouble for Porzingis didn’t materialise into anything of note as Frank had himself a night with a 10-7-10 line. A win for New York and, finally, after jumping over and back between games for 4.5 hours, it’s finally time to get a proper look at the Heat at Bulls.
There was, somewhere in the mix, a 30 second to a minute stopover earlier in the game but it honestly escapes me when. For most of the evening this one has looked really one-sided for the Bulls but Miami was mounting a comeback in this one. A big finish for the night was in store.
Lauri Markkanen stepped up big and Finnished strong (oh Justin) and became the fastest player to 100 3s in NBA history. I was honestly surprised that 41 games was low enough to set the record, it’s still crazy impressive but I had just assume somebody had done something insane one rookie season before.
And scene. Time to do some chores, sort out my bag for the next day at the office, and get to bed for a relaxing podcast about microbes. Finished watching ball at 11pm and an absolute feast.
We get a taste of this throughout the season. Truth be told, the deal for NBA fans in my timezone isn’t that bad. The NBA Sunday slate is usually pretty good, there’s Christmas Day obviously, and NBA London, along with a couple of early tip weekend games in the playoffs during the first round.
There’s no other day like this however where watching the NBA doesn’t require that appointment nature to it. Where you can just stick on League Pass, move around, and enjoy a load of the guys you used to watch in leagues or youth tourneys here and now just hope they will show up for international play.
We have seriously good ball here and Euroleague is more reliable for teams trying to kill each other in any given regular season game (although shoutout to the Rockets and Clippers for that).
Timezones make watching the very best that comes from this continent through the primes of their careers is tough. It could be a lot worse, I’ve got it two hours better than Greeks, Latvians, and Turks, while it’s no accident that Australia tends to have the best League Pass per capita subscription rate.
It’s nice to have that night though where it’s normal, where it’s not a big deal to just chill out and jump around following the guys. Anyway, Real Madrid vs Baskonia is on Wednesday and we’ve only got another half season of Luka Doncic games left.
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