Now in part 1 of this piece I told you about my e-mail to the Leader of Manchester City Council and about my subsequent meeting with the Head of Major Sports Events, Jim Quigley.
I do not know if discussions had already been going on between Manchester City Council, USA Basketball and the NBA. Nobody mentioned it, but somehow the journey had begun.
My next involvement was a call from the City Council asking if I was available to host a launch event to make a major announcement. Having checked my diary I said yes I was available. It was then that I was told what the launch event was going to announce.
This was the headline from the press release –
MANCHESTER CITY COUNCIL, THE NBA AND USA BASKETBALL PARTNER TO BRING PREMIER BASKETBALL EVENTS TO THE CITY
I was over the moon.
The City Council had signed a three year agreement with the NBA and USA Basketball which would see the Atlanta Dream from the WNBA coming to Manchester to play against the Great Britain Women’s Team. That would be in year 1 (2011).
In year 2 (2012) USA Basketball would bring the Senior Men’s and Women’s team to play against the Great Britain Men and Women.
In my opinion that was going to be the biggest news of all until I heard that Year 3 would see two NBA teams coming to Manchester to play a pre-season friendly at the Manchester Arena. There had been pre-season games played in the UK before but for the first time ever they would be outside of London. This were going to be in the City of Manchester.
Well on the 28th of February 2011, the Launch duly took place at the Manchester Town Hall and it was a joy to be a part of it.
And on the due date the Atlanta Dream arrived in Manchester and took on the Great Britain Women’s Team. It was a one-sided affair but an absolute joy to be in the stands to see it all unfold.
Fast forward to 2012 and I get another call from the City Council asking if I was available for another Launch event. Once I confirmed my availability I was told that it was to announce that The USA Basketball Men’s team would be coming to the Manchester Arena and would be playing against Great Britain Men while the USA Women’s team would be playing against GB Women.
Coming over from the USA to be present at the Launch was one of my favourite NBA players, Clyde ‘The Glide’ Drexler.
The event was held at the fabulous Hilton Hotel in Manchester. And again it was a joy to be a part of it. On hand to get this one on the way were Drexler himself, Great Britain Captain Drew Sullivan, Lauren Thomas Johnson of Great Britain Women, Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City council and a gentleman by the name of Lionel Price. I did not know Lionel but soon found out that he was on the Great Britain Men’s Basketball team the last time the country was represented at the Olympics. That was in 1948. Boy did Lionel have some stories to tell. He is the only surviving member of that ’48 team.
There were two events on that day, the press launch at lunch time followed by an evening do for businesses around Manchester.
I have to tell you that my excitement for this forthcoming major basketball event was now at fever pitch. Clyde was simply awesome with his wonderful stories. He answered all the questions that were asked firstly by me and then from the floor. The obvious question was would the present USA team be able to beat the legendary Dream Team who lifted gold at the ’92 Olympics in Barcelona. His answer was a resounding NO!
He then went on to explain why.
He talked about the personnel but then suggested that this crop of players were soft compared to the players of old and that they were well protected by the referees nowadays.
Through-out the evening event there was a continuous loop of the top 10 plays by Clyde Drexler. Boy he could play a bit!
And so it is that we arrive to Wednesday the 18th of July 2012. As luck would have it I was working in Birmingham on Monday , Tuesday and Wednesday morning and the Women’s Game would take place on Wednesday Evening.
A few days earlier I was informed that my application for accreditation for both games was accepted.
I was jumping about when I found out.
Furthermore on the Tuesday I was told that there would be a press event to meet the Men’s team at the Manchester Arena at 12.00 noon on Wednesday.
I knew I couldn’t get there for 12 but I left Birmingham and made it to the Arena by about 12:35. I followed the signs to the court-side and there they were the USA Basketball Men’s Team.
As I said in my tweet on that Wednesday I had never seen LeBron or Kobe in the flesh before but I saw them at that event. They were in Manchester! Yeah BABY!
And so to the Games themselves.
The Women’s game was a total joy for me. It would be my first look at the 12 players selected by GB to go to the Olympics and it would give us a chance to gauge just how far they had come under Coach Tom Maher.
Now every self respecting fan of the game knows that GB cannot beat the USA at basketball men or women but these events would really give the home teams a chance to test themselves against the very best.
In my opinion the GB Women were simply wonderful especially after a sensational start which saw them leading USA Basketball by 11 points (21/10). I suggested to a colleague that this might be a good time to end the game.
Well Head Coach Geno Auriemma shuffled his pack and got his team going. It was wonderful to see and the USA team would run out easy winners but not before GB game him another scare cutting the deficit to just 7 in the third. The final score was 63-88 to Team USA and I think everyone had a great evening.
At the end of the evening at the press conference I got a chance to as Coach Auriemma about his thoughts about the City of Manchester. “It feels like a working men’s town, the kind of town I grew up in. I was looking forward to coming over here because I’m a huge soccer fan and it’s hard to believe that you got two top soccer teams in a city this size. I love it.” He said.
So that was that for the Women’s game but this was just the hors d’oeuver…the main course was going to be 24 hours later when the USA Men’s team would take to the Manchester Arena floor.
And so it is that I arrive to the Arena nice and early to see masses of queues everywhere. It was amazing and for me personally just wonderful. I can remember when we had our 14000 + crowd at the Arena back in the day but I had never seen anything like this in this City for a game of basketball.
Well to say it was an awesome night would be to do it a disservice. To see players of the calibre of Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James , Deron Williams and the rest was simply unbelievable.
To see these guys going to work was stunning.
For the first few minutes of the game Great Britain hung with the USA guys with a couple of nice dunks from Pops Mensah-Bonsu and some great plays by Luol Deng but the USA boys simply went to another level and became unstoppable.
What amazed me was the speed at which things happened when the US were on the ball…players driving and dishing…players driving and throwing it down…the quarter back passes for the touchdown and then there were the ally oops!
The final score was 78/118 to the USA watched by an awesome crowd of 19,979.
This was without doubt the greatest basketball night I have ever experienced and it is certainly one I will never forget.
There was one event which I’m afraid should never have happened and I don’t know why it happened.
I’ll tell you a story.
Back in the day, when I was commentating on television, one of my favourite players was Kurt Samuels. Now I have to say that Kurt was one of the laziest players I have ever known, I hope I haven’t offended him, but he played the game at his pace. What’s important was that he got the job done. I loved his coolness and it reminded me of the previously mentioned Larry Dassie.
My producer at the time was fairly new to basketball but she was the producer and knew everything about the game, or so she thought. On this one occasion there were a number of players in the crowd and she suggested that I gave them a name check which I duly did. We then went back to the group and she suggested that I named Kurt Samuels when I didn’t she shouted to name him. I went on to the talk back and said KURT SAMUELS IS NOT IN THAT PICTURE!
She got the message.
What happened on this wonderful night in Manchester was quite unforgivable and on behalf of basketball fans everywhere I apologise to Garnett Gayle and to Steve Bucknall. These guys are legends of the British game and they should expect better especially in a city that once was the centre of British Basketball.
I don’t blame announcer and pal of mine Fat Freddie for what happened because he had a producer with him who was responsible for everything that he said over the two nights.
I know that Freddie knows Buck and has known him for decades and I suggest that only someone who knows nothing about British basketball could make such a mistake.
I do not think that Garnett Gayle ever played in the NBA but he did play in the McDonalds Tournament back in the day under Head Coach Jimmy Brandon. I remember I was working at SKY Sports at the time and our regular floor managed was invited to work on the international broadcast sending the game back to the US.
When I arrived he spotted me and told me that he had a seat for me at the end of the commentators table. I was absolutely made up but that wasn’t the best of it he then handed me a pair of headphones which had the commentary that was being sent back to the States. It was truly wonderful.
One of the best bits was his pronunciation of the name Garnett Gayle.
It was pure poetry.
A small footnote…I would like to thank all the people who sent me wonderful messages asking why I was not on the microphone and suggested that I was missed.
Some people actually thought that they heard me on the broadcast.
I have to tell you that what I do at the Sharks and elsewhere in British basketball is not what FIBA or the NBA want.
I am quite happy with my performance at basketball games and I defend FIBA’s and the NBA’s right to have any kind of commentary or announcing that they want at their event and I congratulate both Freddie and Simon on the part they played on making this a truly wondrous event..
These two nights in Manchester were pure fantasy and the end of a dream which, for me, began back in 2007.
I thank God that he made that dream a reality and that he has given me a new vision for the future. I will reveal all soon.
All photos by Mike Shaft
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