Sport

What ball is that?

Football-mad Britain gets chance to see US basketball stars

Thursday, July 19, 2012    

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) — The question would be almost unimaginable in the United States.

"Who's No 6?" a reporter asked a US official.

Yes, even LeBron James isn't recognised everywhere in Britain, where football is king and basketball is hardly an afterthought.

That will change at least briefly today, with James and the US Olympic team bringing it some rare attention with a game against Britain.

It's only an exhibition, so the result doesn't matter. But the event does, to those who want to see basketball gain a place in Britain's sports culture.

"This is a massive opportunity for British basketball to get some oxygen, to breathe life into the sport in this country," said Chris Mitchell, who calls Britain's games for BBC Radio. "Team USA being here is arguably the biggest-ever game this country has hosted. It's arguably bigger than any game they'll play at the Olympics, because they'll only face USA if they get through their group and perhaps meet them in the quarter-finals," he said.

Manchester Arena is expected to be full, many fans familiar with Kobe Bryant but with no clue how to pronounce the name of US coach Mike Krzyzewski. It probably won't be very competitive, but it will give the Americans the opportunity to play in front of the opponent's fans for the first time during their preparations for the London Olympics.

"They will represent their country, they will cheer on their team and hopefully we can just play well in front of them," James said.

The Americans met the media yesterday before practising at the arena, getting occasional questions about the Xs and Os of basketball and the people who play it: James asked about injured teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh; Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler about departed one Jeremy Lin.

And this being soccer country, of course there was that. Bryant is the most popular NBA player outside the U.S., but far from the most famous athlete in Los Angeles for the British.

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