The lockout continues to drag on and suck away all the fun in basketball. I hate it, you hate it. We all hate it.
This makes it doubly worse for the NBA's growing legion of international fans. These are the people who don't get to see every game and are not right next to the labor issues going on because this is a very American legal issue we are dealing with here. Every basketball fan wants their basketball right now.
So it is important to come together with fans and remember why we love this game.
For a while now, I have had the pleasure to chat with Andy Burrows, a fan located in the United Kingdom. The NBA has put a lot of effort to help grow basketball in the United Kingdom and it was great to connect with such a passionate basketball fan. Best of all, he is a Magic fan!
It makes you realize Orlando is really just a hub for an international club of Magic fans everywhere. That is the beauty of sports, in my opinion. It has this amazing power to unite people in so many ways. When the Magic win, not only do we cheer, but Magic fans everywhere cheer. It is pretty powerful when you think about it like that.
With that said, as the lockout drags on, I wanted to get in touch with Andy and get his perspective on the Magic, the growth of basketball in the UK and the lockout.
Philip R-R: You and I have had a lot of interaction on Twitter (you can follow him @burrows316), but Magic fans may not know who you are. So why don't you introduce yourself a little bit. How did you become a Magic fan?
Andy Burrows: Hey my name is Andy Burrows from a small town 45 minutes outside of london called Leighton Buzzard. I have been a Magic fan since 1998. '98 was my first trip to Orlando and it was while the regular season was on (before lockouts). I loved the fact that you could watch your team more than once a week. I was just getting into sports state side.
In 1999, I spent quite a lot of time in Washington, D.C. I was getting into sports state side big time then, hence my love of the Washington Redskins. While I was in D.C., I made sure I watched the NBA every night and wore my Magic jersey with pride. So it was from then on I was hooked and, to this day, I love American sports. But most off all I love the Orlando Magic.
PRR: Personally, I am a Premier League fan and enjoy following soccer overseas. But it can be tough following my favorite team, Fulham (Come on You Whites!... yeah, we aren't friends this weekend since I saw the Tottenham logo as your twitter avatar this week -- and then Fulham lost 3-1 this weekend to Tottenham, yuck), when they are not one of the big teams. How would an NBA fan [in the United Kingdom] follow a team like the Magic? I imagine the Lakers or Heat or LeBron are much easier to follow.
Andy: So why not follow the Lakers or the Heat, etc., or, when I was growing up, the Bulls. I not only love the Orlando Magic, I love the Orlando fans.
I have sat in bars in Florida and watched a game, and the fans are definitely some of the most dedicated and passionate I have ever met. I was sitting in a bar surrounded by foam fingers with 'Go Magic Go,' I was welcomed like I had known these guys my entire life. For me, following the Magic is not all about the team but also the people I have met over the years. I still keep in touch with some people I met while in Florida. Some where hoping to come over and watch the game in London (which I still hope goes ahead).
As for watching the Magic over here, we have ESPN. They do show a lot of Magic games. The games start at 2 a.m. and finish around 4:15 a.m. So it's a few hours sleep then work. And god bless the Internet. I don't usually miss a game.
When the Magic made the play-offs I woke up the whole house with shouts of 'GO MAGIC GO.' My love of the magic was in most effect in 2009. I went and got married in Florida -- now this was the season the Magic made the play-offs -- the Magic where playing on the same day I got married so at about 8 p.m. I left my wedding reception headed up to my room to cheer on the Magic. (I'm just about in the clear with my wife).
PRR: That is my kind of fan! I am planning my eventual marriage for the offseason so I don't have to worry about. Have to think ahead, right?
From what I understand, basketball is a quietly growing sport in the UK but it is still very much on the fringe in the mainstream. How would you describe the basketball culture in the UK? What would it take for basketball to become more mainstream?
Andy: Basketball is very big in the UK you only have to look at the games over here last year -- two nights at the 02 arena SOLD out in no time. Look at what the NFL has done over here and what I hope the NBA will be doing this year by sending over the Magic. Basketball might not get a lot of press coverage in the UK but that's because sports like football (soccer) and cricket take up most of the papers. However you go on websites, you chat to people on forums, you will find many people like me.
The NBA will only keep getting bigger in the UK and, the sooner we get a season game over here, the better. Who knows? One day could we have our own team?
Will basketball ever be mainstream over in the UK? The honest answer is: no. But it will be and can be on the same level as the NFL. Access to American sports is a lot easier nowadays with ESPN and the Internet. We can see as much as we want.
PRR: There definitely seems to be a percpetion then that basketball is at the bottom because of the lack of coverage. But it sure sounds like things are growing with the sport. I imagine the trip to London last year, the Olympics next summer and the games this year would do a lot to continue this growth that seems to be going on at the grassroots level.
Have the NBA's recent trips and exhibitions in London helped grow the sport any? What is the response to the NBA's efforts in England?
Andy: England's response to basketball in the UK has been huge. The excitement about the Magic coming over this year has gone off the scale and because, like me, many Brits go to Florida on holiday. They all fell in love with the Magic. The games in the UK have been sell outs. I think we just need a regular season game and pray to god we still get the Magic this season (not holding my breath). Again look at what the NFL has done over here. The NBA does need a website like www.nfluk.com (check it out). If they want it to grow over here, they got to give it 100 percent. They will get the rewards.
PRR: The NBA has toyed around with the idea of possibly expanding to Europe, including into London. What do you think of this idea? Would a European Division work in the NBA?
Andy: This brings me onto a team in the UK, and could this work? In a word: YES!
The NFL is thinking of doing it, so why not the NBA? You can fly from most parts of America to London quicker than you can from coast to coast in the States. I, for one, would love us to have a team in London. Do I think it will ever happen? Yes. If the NBA really push the product over here, then in 5-6 years time I don't see why not!
PRR: Finally, the fans don't have much of a voice in this lockout. But here is your stage. What do you have to say to the players and owners as an international fan in a growing basketball market to urge them to come to a deal and end the lockout?
Andy: THE LOCKOUT! It's simple for me, the rich just wanna seem to get richer. Like our soccer players over here, it's all about the money and not about the fans. All I will say is do these people really need to be doing this?? When they go home to their 12 bedroom house driving their big car, think about the fan sitting in his one bedroom apartment driving a rust bucket for a car. Does the money really matter that much?? All the guy in the one bedroom apartment wants is to watch basketball and like many many fans can only dream of having the life these guys have. So if anyone from the NBA or Orlando Magic read this all I will say is THINK ABOUT THE FANS! From me in the UK to the great fans in Orlando all we want is basketball!
GO MAGIC GO!!!!
Thanks a bunch to Andy for taking the time to let us know about being a Magic fan in the UK. It is so great to hear people like him are as passionate about the Magic as we are. Despite that false alarm earlier Thursday, we are still very hopeful that the lockout gets resolved very very very VERY soon. Hopefully we will be able to check in with Andy before Orlando head to London to take on New Jersey in March.