The question would be almost unimaginable in the US.
“Who’s No. 6?” a reporter asked a US official.
Yes, even LeBron James isnot recognized everywhere in Britain, where soccer is king and basketball is hardly an afterthought.
That changed at least briefly yesterday, with James and the US Olympic team bringing basketball some rare attention with a game against Britain.
It is only an exhibition, so the result does not matter. However, the event does, to those who want to see basketball gain a place in Britain’s sports culture.
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 will not 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 on Wednesday before practicing at the arena, getting occasional questions about the Xs and Os of basketball and the people who play it: James was asked about injured teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh; Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler about departed teammate Jeremy Lin.
And this being soccer country, of course there was that. Bryant is the most popular NBA player outside the US, but far from the most famous athlete in Los Angeles for the British.
So what about David Beckham not making the host’s Olympic soccer roster, Kobe?
“I would love to have seen him have some type role on the team,” said Bryant, a soccer fan who lived outside the US as a child. “Just his leadership and his intelligence could have helped the team out.”
The Americans do not garner the same attention here as they did four years ago in China, where basketball is massively popular. However, their visit gives a sorely needed boost to the Brits who want to see the sport matter at home. Mitchell has been covering basketball for more than a decade, calling it a “niche” sport that sometimes draws only a few hundred fans and no press to its domestic league games.
“Basketball is an unknown quantity in this country,” he said. “People don’t understand it. They don’t know the rules. They don’t read about it in the newspapers because it’s not in the newspapers, it’s not on the news. It’s not part of our social fabric if you’d like, like it is in the States.”
The Americans are glad to do their part. They will see a more traditional basketball atmosphere in a few days, when they face Argentina and Spain in Barcelona.
For now, they are trying to help create one.
“We’re happy to be in England, in Great Britain, and you start even getting even more of a flavor for the Olympics, and we’re anxious to play Great Britain tomorrow night,” Krzyzewski said.