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LONDON REACHES FOR THE STARS!THE stars of the Premier League congregated by the side of a Basketball court in East London to watch the newest sports show in town.

The NBA has been here before, of course, but when the Chicago Bulls played the Utah Jazz in a pre-season game at the O2 Arena last night, it felt as if it might signal a new departure for British sport.

That was partly because the presence of British superstar Luol Deng in the Bulls team was a reminder that this country may finally be able to field a Basketball team that has a chance of some success at the 2012 Olympic Games.

The quarter finals, the semis and the final of the London Olympics will all be played at the O2, which was sold out to its 18,600 capacity for this game.

So when Deng scored nine points in the first quarter last night, it was time to dream of Olympic glory for Britain in a sport in which they have not been represented in the Games since 1948.

But last night may also herald the beginning of the NBA stepping up its presence in England in the next few years.

The NBA commissioner David Stern has preached caution since he arrived in England for the build-up to this match.

But it remains likely the NBA will play a regular season game in London next season or the one after.

And Stern also admitted this week that it may not be long before a London-based team is competing in the NBA .

Stern dismissed the idea that the distance a London team would have to travel to away games would scupper that plan.

He pointed out that it would be a shorter journey for the Boston Red Sox to visit London than to fly to play the Portland Trailblazers on the West Coast. Distance is rarely considered an obstacle to anything in the US.

An NBA team plays 41 home games and the NBA know they could sell out a high proportion of those games at a London franchise with fans hungry to see the biggest stars of the game like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.

Add to that the fact that the New England Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play in an NFL regular season game at Wembley later this month and it is clear a warmly-welcomed American invasion is under way.

So, even in the context of what English football would call a friendly, the NBA put on a terrific show last night.

The level of half-time entertainment is always a gauge of the importance American sport attaches to an event and the NBA chose the same Chinese acrobats who graced the half-time of Game 1 of the NBA Finals in Los Angeles last June.

Joe Cole, Jermain Defoe, Darren Bent, Anton Ferdinand, Tom Huddlestone, Michael Dawson and Sol Campbell (left) all had front-row seats.

For Campbell, it was the closest he's going to get to Premier League players for some time following his misadventure at Notts County.

After Deng, who was introduced as 'British national Luol Deng' had made a pre-match speech to the crowd, the footballers and the rest of the crowd were treated to some spectacular action. Utah's Ronnie Brewer had executed a superb slam dunk within 20 seconds then Deng burst into life midway through the first quarter with a huge leap over Mehmet Okur to open his account.

Deng, who is about to begin the second year of a six-year pounds 40m deal with the Bulls, is under pressure to justify his wages after missing a large chunk of last season with injury.

He lifted some of that pressure off his massive shoulders last night, top scoring for the Bulls against the Jazz, who are coached by the NBA's equivalent of Sir Alex Ferguson for longevity, Jerry Sloane.

The Bulls are still a long way from being the all-conquering unit they were when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were in their prime and winning six NBA titles.

But there was even an echo of those teams at courtside last night. Triple jump world champion Phillips Idowu was sitting among the Premier League players sporting cropped hair bleached shocking violet.

He looked for all the world like Basketball's former bad boy, Dennis Rodman. Get him out of retirement and a London franchise really would get off to a flying start.

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: October 7, 2009


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