How an Englishman fell in love with basketball

Most English people just can't get their heads round American sports. They stick to the Premiership.

lebron james 88 (photo credit: )
lebron james 88
(photo credit: )
Early Tuesday morning, either Florida or UCLA will have been crowned NCAA basketball Division 1 champion. This is not an amazing fact to start off with. What is somewhat surprising is that I know the tournament has taken place at all. For most English people, American sports are something of an enigma. We know they can't be that bad - millions of Americans are obsessed with what they call football, with basketball, baseball and ice hockey - but we Englishmen just can't get our heads round them.
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All that stopping and starting. The television timeouts every few minutes. The cheerleaders and half-time shows. It's all so, well, American. In general, English people like their football (what the Yanks call soccer), and a little bit of cricket for a couple of months in the summer (when there's no football). There's no need for dancing girls or razzmataz. We have the Premiership, with Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal - the best and most exciting league in the world. Growing up in England it was always like this. Even when the satellite TV channels began broadcasting live American football and basketball games, few people took much interest. I was a little different. Maybe it's my inquisitiveness, but I was sure there must be something more to these sports than just girls in short skirts and big men in bright colored (sic) uniforms running into each other. At my school they even taught us basketball for a few months, so I had learned how to do a layup. But try as I did, I just didn't really understand what was going on. Maybe it was due to the live games starting at some unearthly hour coupled with the fact that no-one really explained the rules to English people. Each year I would stay up and watch the beginning of the Super Bowl and fall asleep. And I remember trying very hard to root (sic) for Seattle against Chicago in the 1994 NBA finals before soon realizing I knew the names of a few players but little else apart from that Michael Jordan was supposed to be really good. Soon I had given up. Basketball, like all American sports, just seemed so boring. All it was was the players running up and down the little court, appearing to score nearly every time. Where was the fun? They always scored. This year this has all changed. And now I am suddenly starting to believe that I actually like basketball - and not just because of the players with preposterous names like Chauncey Billups and Jamaal Tinsley. It all started about a month ago with the Hapoel Jerusalem vs Roma ULEB Cup quarterfinal, second leg. I'd heard they were losing by eight points from the first game so I thought I'd give it a go and watch it. And what a performance from Roger Mason Jr., Horace Jenkins, Mario Austin and the rest of the team. At the start of the game they were losing by about seven and ended up rallying at the end to win by an amazing 17 points. Wow! The next week was the State Cup final, which I had managed to get a ticket for, just out of interest as I had heard so much about this Nokia Arena. And another amazing game - Jerusalem came so close to clawing back a 23-point deficit. I couldn't believe it. I was enjoying an American sport, albeit in Israel. Since then I've been hooked - I've watched Steve Nash perform for Phoenix and (King) Lebron James score umpteen points for Cleveland. I've seen the pain on the faces of the Duke players after losing to LSU and the elation of the supporters of George Mason. The Euroleague, the NBA, the ULEB Cup - I watch it all these days. Even the Israeli Basketball Super League has caught my attention (despite the crazy points system where the losing team is still awarded one point, I'm not sure what for). I was stunned when Elitzur Ashkelon beat Maccabi Rishon (I'm sure you all know that Rishon is one of the only teams that has beaten Maccabi Tel Aviv this season). I'm not totally sure of all the rules, but I'm learning. So who knows, maybe this season I'll start to make sense of baseball - there's still more than 160 games to go of the MLB season, which I hear started Sunday.