Olympics – Basketball Arena

Lithuania 72 Nigeria 53, Great Britain 62 Brazil 67 (31st July 2012)

Two hours after the hockey ended I was due in the basketball arena, just across the other side of the park. The plan was also to get a bit to eat and have a look round some of the park. Getting that bite to eat took longer than expected due to the queues at the food stalls, and I ended up venturing into the Park’s supersized McDonalds, but even that took half an hour. Fast food it certainly wasn’t, but you did get a decent view of the park from the top floor.

The arena itself was deceptively far away across a bridge over a landscaped area of the park by the river. From the outside it’s like a dented giant shoe-box, as if someone had tried to bash their way out with a hammer. Large Olympic rings hanging on the outside give the place a bit of identity.

It’s another temporary stadium, although at least the white exterior does hide the steelwork on this one. 12,000 steeply banked orange and black seats tower over the tiny-looking basketball court below. The general darkness of the place give it a feel unlike other venues, as if you were in your own little world. The warm-up man/PA guy was also in his own little world, getting the crowd to “ooh” and “aaah” and sing lines from Beatles and Rolling Stones songs during prolonged stoppages. His enthusiasm certainly worked with the crowd, but you do sort of wonder how he’ll feel after doing the same schtick for three sessions a day at the end of the Olympics.

First up was a game between Lithuania and Nigeria. Basketball is Lithuania’s national sport, so their win was no surprise. Their fans also outnumbered the Nigerians, with a colourful and noisy contingent singing away, and whistling in derision every time Nigeria got near the basket. Given that this is basketball, this happened quite a lot.

Remnants of a juvenile sense of humour also lurked in my head when the Nigerian team was put up on the scoreboard. Given that the names were listed on the board as “1 Smith, 2 Jones” etc, the Nigerian Tony Skinn was a little unfortunate to have the squad number of 4.

The second game was the one that the majority of the fans in the stadium were excited about – Great Britain v Brazil. Now Brazil aren’t the giants in basketball that they are in football, being ranked down in 13th, but the fact that Britain were was down in 43rd highlighted that it’s be a “big ask” as pundits tend to say these days, to get the win.

Maybe it was the partizan crowd, or maybe it was the presence of NBA star Luol Deng in their ranks, but something inspired the GB team to a stirring performance. Maybe it was team coach Chris Finch. After all, after being told to F… Off by David Brent at the end of the final episode of The Office, he might have looked for a new career.

Whatever it was, GB went from 11-4 up in the first quarter, after being 0-4 down. Level at half time, and five points down at the end of the third though, Brazil looked to be maybe edging away. More gritty determination from GB though enabled them to be dreaming of a shock victory with just 4 minutes on the clock, when two 3 pointers in a row put them 56-55 up. Four minutes is a long time in basketball though, and seven unanswered points pushed the visitors just out of reach. A basket in the final second for Brazil gave them a 5-point 67-62 win, hiding just how close this had been to a shock result. The home crowd still gave the GB team a standing ovation in appreciation, but for GB the target is to turn these moral victories into actual ones.

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