Sky Sports was on hand to sample the Turkish Airlines Euroleague ahead of the competition's Final Four in London this year
By Alex Williams
Last Updated: 26/02/13 4:39pm
While plenty of fanfare surrounded the NBA's return to the O2 Arena in London this year, the announcement that the Turkish Airlines Euroleague will be coming to the same venue generated significantly fewer column inches.
The Euroleague is the continent's premier basketball competition and second only to the NBA in global terms. It will be setting up shop in London for the Final Four, where this season's European champions will be decided over two nights of competition in May.
Whereas the more famous American league can only export regular-season contests, British fans will be able to see the climax of the European campaign on their doorstep. And as a recent contest between Fenerbahce Ulker and FC Barcelona Regal in Istanbul proved, the stakes are certainly high.
In a game they really needed to win Fenerbahce were thrashed 99-60, a lacklustre and disjointed performance from the home side but not from the two devoted fan blocks, one situated behind the basket and one midcourt in the top tier of the stands.
The match began in a din of noise, with the visiting side subjected to a barrage of whistles while in possession of the ball, although the intimidation died down as the Spanish side established an early lead which only grew throughout the contest.
In the closing stages one of the fan blocks turned their ire towards the members of the board, urging them to resign, a chant for which they were duly derided by the rest of the supporters in attendance.
The team who have won four out of the past six Turkish Basketball League titles and are reigning champions in the Turkish Cup look like they will not be making an impact on the European stage this year, despite a fresh recruitment drive during the off-season.
After the match head coach Simone Pianigiani left the club, citing personal issues. Attention now turns to another run at the domestic championship.
"It's a different behaviour compared to, for instance, the NBA behaviour. In this specific arena, the fans feel the worship for the team," Euroleague Basketball president and CEO Jordi Bertomeu said of the Fenerbahce fans at the Ulker Sports Arena.
Raw passion is probably the first thing that comes to mind when describing European basketball, a notable contrast to the NBA's style, glitz and glamour to which most British fans of the sport are accustomed.
But will the UK fanbase buy in to the different experience at the O2 this year?
Bertomeu added: "We expect in London the same success we had (at the Final Four) in Istanbul last year and in Barcelona the previous year.
"The information and feelings we have from our colleagues in London looks positive. We've already sold 50 per cent of the tickets, which is more or less the same (position) as in previous years.
"It's interesting to see that around 32 per cent of the tickets sold have been in the UK market, which is very good news for us. Our feeling that there are people in the country that really love basketball will probably be confirmed at the end of this process."
The teams competing in the Final Four are likely to come from basketball heartlands such as Spain, Greece, Russia and Turkey, but home fans in attendance will have a side to cheer on too.
'Team England' has been given a wildcard in the eight-team Nike International Junior Tournament, which is held in the same venue as an undercard to the main event.
A British-based team in the top level of the competition currently looks a much less realistic prospect, however.
The last British Basketball League team to try their hand on the European stage were Guildford (now Surrey) Heat, who finished with a 0-10 record and the worst points difference in the ULEB Cup of 2007-08, the forerunner to the second-tier Eurocup.
The BBL are not complete novices in Europe - London Towers even competed in the original Euroleague at the turn of the century - but another representative seems unlikely without some major investment in the British game.
But Bertomeu is not ready to give up, saying: "For us, we cannot accept that the UK is outside the European basketball map. Since the very beginning, in the year 2000 when we were very young, we had a team in London.
"There was no success but the message was clear: we want all of Europe involved in the Euroleague, either through Euroleague or through Eurocup.
"I think that, with all respect, if Moldova is not in the list of countries (involved in the tournaments) then it's not a big deal.
"But when we are talking about the first, second and third top countries in Europe then it's a big problem. As we believed we need a strong presence in France - and we are working with them - (we also think) the UK has to be part of the European competitions."
A packed crowd at the O2 in May will go a long way towards proving that the appetite for a British Euroleague team is there among the fans.
Tickets for the Final Four at The O2 can be purchased at www.f4tickets.com