The NBA has taken over London for the 2016 Global Games, which this year sees the Orlando Magic collide with the Toronto Raptors in a regular season, Eastern Conference clash at a sold out O2 Arena.
The Raptors sit in second place in the Eastern Conference table and are sitting on a three game win streak. Having spent big money and with two All-Stars contenders in their prime, the boys from Canada will be hoping to mount a real challenge for the NBA Finals this year.
Raptors stars Patrick Patterson and James Johnson took some time out to talk about their global games experience, the prospect of a permanent NBA presence in London and the advantages of having the biggest name in hip-hop as a fan.
Interview: Corey Pellatt
First thing, welcome to London! Have you managed to get anything in yet while you’ve been here, besides practice?
James Johnson: We’ve been shopping and eating, just the usual stuff. We did hit a department store, I forget what it’s called…Harrods? It was pretty dope, it’s like Barney’s back home.
Patrick Patterson: I’ve loved it, I went over to St. Paul’s this morning and had a great tour of that. I’ve been to see all these impressive monuments that you only ever see on TV and movies; Big Ben, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London…but the highlight for me has been riding in cabs. I’ve had so many stories with the cab drivers out here, it’s mind boggling what they’ve been through and what they’ve seen. I’m sad it’s got to come to and end. We’ve got the Chelsea game tonight, too…
You’re a Manchester City fan, correct?
PP: Yeah – It was my idea to make sure we see a soccer game, you’ve got to see a Premier League match. I’ve seen World Cup matches, I actually went to Rio to watch five matches. Granted – it’s not the Etihad – but I’m still excited to see my first Premier League match.
Although this seems like a pretty extreme trip, you guys are on the road a lot. What do you do to keep entertained?
JJ: Everyone’s different, I like to walk around and try new foods.
There’s plenty of Premier League players here who take FIFA 16 on the road with them, do you do the same with NBA 2K16?
JJ: I think we’re more FIFA guys. It’s different for us, we don’t really play the games we’re in. I know a couple of our team mates play games, but they’re more likely to play other sports before they play basketball.
PP: FIFA’s big in my life and in our locker room there’s a couple of guys – Terrence Ross, Bruno, Lucas Nogueira – that keep up with it. The only team I choose to play as is Manchester City.
When you find out you’re playing a game in London at the start of the season, is that exciting for you or a headache that you’ve got to do some extra travelling?
JJ: It’s dope, I love it. This is my third time here playing with the NBA so it’s turned into a tradition for me.
Would you like to see more regular season NBA games overseas?
JJ: Definitely. It’s not a bad thing for us and most of us wouldn’t even experience this if it wasn’t for basketball, so for the league to take us out here to do two things we love – travel and play ball – it’s worth every minute.
Each time the NFL come over there’s talk of a franchise being set up in London – would you like to see that happen in the NBA?
JJ: Yeah, maybe. The travelling time is tough but if there was a team out here they’d have a schedule set up that'd be accommodating. The toughest thing is for the London team to travel to the States every other game but I don’t see a huge problem with it.
PP: I would love to see that happen. This is a great step for the NBA to have more global games but it’d be terrific to see an actual NBA franchise in London, or anywhere in Europe that deserves a basketball team. For fans, it’s an opportunity to see more games.
Do you think the Raptors’ association with Drake has helped to build your UK fan base?
PP: I hope so. We all know that there are a lot of Drake fans across the world and there might not be too many Raptors fans from Toronto that converted from Drake, but it might happen elsewhere. Hopefully he continues to improve and get better and more people in the UK might get behind it.
JJ: Yeah, I agree. Jay Z did the same with the Brooklyn Nets but Drake is such a mogul that it definitely boosted the Raptors and more kids are now probably playing 2K16 with the Raptors because of him!
He’s unlikely to be courtside at the O2 but are there any big UK names you’d like to see in a Raptors jersey?
PP: One Direction. I don’t listen to them but the only reason I’d love to see all of them do a concert in Raptors jerseys is because they sell out concerts, shows, everything – If you get them in jerseys, it’d be huge for the team.
What’s music like in your locker room on game day?
PP: Oh it’s nothing but hip-hop so Young Thug, Drake, Rick Ross, Weezy, Rich Homie Quan…
Have you had to put a ban on Meek Mill?
PP: Oh yeah, Meek Mill has been banned for a long time. No one plays Meek Mill.
Basketball sneakers are as huge here as they are in the States, what’s your personal collection like?
JJ: My closet is crazy, I’ve got every pair of Jordans you can possibly think of – plus I’ve got a bit of designer stuff. The biggest closet is probably DeMar DeRozan’s, he’s got a mean sneaker game.
Finally, can you give us a prediction for the big game at the O2 Arena?
JJ: We’re gonna win. Expect us to play hard.
The Orlando Magic host the Toronto Raptors at The O2 in London on Jan. 14 as part of NBA Global Games London 2016. The game is live on BT Sport 1 and BT Sport Showcase or via NBA LEAGUE PASS (www.nba.tv) and will be screened live at 31 ODEON cinemas around the country.