NBA legend John Ameachi spoke to media ahead of the NBA London Game 2018 about what the UK fans can expect when the Philadelphia 76ers take on the Boston Celtics at the O2 Arena on January 11. Check out the highlights below.
Q: What should the British crowd expect to see?
Amaechi: “We are in a really fortunate position in that we’ve had some interesting match-ups in the past, we’ve had some marquee names in the past, but as the audience has matured here, so has their understanding of the NBA. In this match-up there will be a game they really appreciate; there are a lot of young stars on the two teams, there is a lot of experience in the two teams and both of their franchises are really storied. But at the same time this game really matters for them, so it’s not just a jaunt to the UK to chill out and have tea with me! It’s a vital game for them to maintain their momentum. The Celtics, after having a bit of a slide, are starting to turn things around. Philadelphia are going to want to consolidate, so this is going to be exciting for people to watch, a match-up that the mature watchers of the NBA can really appreciate.”
Q: Is Ben Simmonds going to win rookie of the year?
Amaechi: “I don’t think any award is straightforward in the NBA and there is way too much time left before the end of the season to be anointing anybody. I think it’s brilliant that we get to watch someone of his skill do his thing, and I think it would be amazing from a legacy of this game point of view if UK fans get to watch him in person and then he goes on to win rookie of the year, that would be amazing. But I’m not going to put any chips down on that.”
Q: Similarly Jaylen Brown, is he playing beyond his years?
Amaechi: “If you have good teammates, veterans on your team who can help you manage the ridiculous circus experience of being in the league, then players who are young can actually operate as quite mature individuals, they can play beyond their years. I’m not sure if it’s this young man’s special qualities in himself, or if he’s got that support system around him, I would suspect with this team that he has some good people in his ear.”
Q: Is Al Horford one of the most underrated players in the NBA?
Amaechi: “There are so many players who are! What is different from this league compared to other sports is that the veterans play a dual role, they aren’t just there to score their points, they’re there to hand over learning to the next generation.”
Q: Does the number of differing internationals on each team help them to come together?
Amaechi: “I’m a psychologist by trade nowadays and we know that diverse teams will kick the butt of homogenous ones! The real challenge with diverse teams is the frictions you have to deal with, when you’re all the same and you all like the same things and your values are all the same and your language is all the same, life can be a lot easier. But if you can stipulate and manage all the frictions that come with being different, whether it be language, country of origin, whatever, then there is something special, tangibly different, better that comes from a team like that.”
Q: Can Kyrie Irving win MVP?
Amaechi: “I’m not sure I see him winning MVP, which is nothing to do with his skills because God knows on my Twitter feed it’s been asking me for tickets so they can see Kyrie Irving! I don’t think it’s that important of an award, which sounds odd but the guys who win that what they’re really interested in is their teams progressing. I think he’s remarkable, I think he was underrated in Cleveland and now he’s had a chance to show that he is the real deal. As I say, even fans of the sixers in the UK have been asking about him.”
Q: How do crowds in the UK at the O2 differ from America?
Amaechi: “They’re less tribal in this particular contest, because when you come in a sixers jersey and you really want to watch Joel Embiid block some shots and do his thing around the basket, in the O2 for this particular game what you tend to find is that person in the Sixers jersey is still going to cheer for Kyrie Irving until the very end of the game when it’s on the line. It feels a bit more like you have fans of the sport rather than fans of a team, which I quite like.”
Q: On OG Anunoby, the only British born player in the NBA now, can he help British people develop their love of basketball?
Amaechi: “The challenge is that unless you’re a super keen basketball fan no one knows about him, or they don’t necessarily know he’s from this country. There are two things about this; one, this young man deserves to be a household name in this country, it wouldn’t matter if he was playing three minutes a game as he’s playing in the best league in the world, and respect should be automatic for that. The problem is nobody knows about him on the one hand, not enough people know about Luol Deng on the one hand, though he’s changed his passport to South-Sudanese now. On the other hand, they use his presence in the league as some kind of indicator that we’re on the right path, and so they get complacent, so his presence is a dual frustration for me. He should be a household name for achieving what he’s achieved, which is remarkable, and at the same time we need to be vigilant about the fact that he’s an anomaly, an exception, not the rule.”
Q: What can we do in Britain to get more players in the NBA?
Amaechi: “So many things. We need a natural league that is professional, we need coaching that is more than a weekend and a log-book, we need to consolidate authority under one body, and not have feuding home countries. That would do for a start! Indoor facilities accessible to all, with only the best coaches at the CPD coaching there, programmes that outreach into primary schools, programmes that help PE teachers how to teach basketball. That’s the list off the top of my head.”
Q: Finally, your prediction for the game and who’s going to be player of the game?
Amaechi: “Because I had tea with them I’m going to make a controversial ‘guesstimate’ here. I think Kyrie Irving is going to be player of the game, and I think that Joel Embiid will win the game for the sixers with a block shot at the end, I think it’s going to be that tight. Almost every game here has been incredibly close, and with so much riding on this I think that’s going to continue.”
The Philadelphia 76ers host the Boston Celtics at The O2 in London on Jan. 11 as part of NBA London Game 2018. The game is live on BT Sport or via NBA LEAGUE PASS.
Source: Pitch London