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The O2 welcomes the New Jersey Nets, a team with big ambitions

Michael Kim
njnets 231x300 The O2 welcomes the New Jersey Nets, a team with big ambitions

The New Jersey Nets bring a taste of the NBA to the O2 this weekend

The thought of the New Jersey Nets as “America’s Team” may elicit a chuckle from sports fans in the United States but the topic is a serious matter for Mikhail Prokhorov.

The billionaire owner from Russia holds a dream that the rest of the world will someday view his NBA franchise as a symbol of sports excellence, reaching into every continent in much the same way the New York Yankees or Manchester United is viewed.

That vision is now a mandate for his organisation.

“Our goal truly is to globalize our business, to project ourselves in a global fashion,” said Nets CEO Brett Yormark to the Associated Press.  “We’re very excited about what’s in store for his team, and I think over the course of the next 18 months, 24 months, you’ll see us more active globally.”

One of the first steps on this agenda is to embrace the opportunity to participate in the first regular season NBA games to be played in Europe.  The Nets and the Toronto Raptors play twice at O2 Arena in London Friday and Saturday.

Coincidentally, the Raptors are the only NBA franchise located outside of the U.S. with a roster studded with international players to reflect their geographic uniqueness.  Italian Andrea Bargnani is the star on a team that includes Alexis Ajinca of France, Brazil’s Leandro Barbosa, Jose Calderon of Spain and Lithuanian Linas Kleiza.

The NBA’s lone Canadian entry also connected with its fans and fueled its popularity in Europe in 2007 when it held its training camp in Italy and Spain.  This explains why one of the bottom-feeders in the league standings is one of the leaders in jersey and merchandise sales internationally.  Of course, those numbers are sure to experience a spike this weekend.

“It’s a great chance for brand building but we have been building our brand in Europe for many years with the acquisition of so many foreign players,” Raptors president and general manager Bryan Colangelo tells Reuters.

“It’s important to the league and important to us as a franchise to participate in the global growth of the game.”

So, the Nets not only have to beat the Raptors on the court this weekend, they must face the challenge from the Raptors (and historically successful teams, such as, the Celtics and Lakers) on the global stage in the years to come in order to fulfill Prokhorov’s prophecy.

Keep this in mind as you watch this weekend’s event in London.  There is much more at stake in these historic games than what appears simply as a matchup of teams with a combined 34 victories.

“It’s a good time to be a Nets fan,” adds Yormark.

You may laugh at that comment now.  Just remember, Mikhail Prokhorov has made a life – and billions of dollars – getting the last laugh.

Michael Kim is the host of SportsCenter, ESPN America’s flagship US sports news programme, now airing in the UK on ESPN America every weekday morning live from 6:00am with an updated show at 10:30pm. ESPN’s Free Weekend will make ESPN and ESPN America free to all Sky, Virgin Media and Talk Talk subscribers from 6am this Friday – sports fans can catch exclusive coverage of NBA live at the O2 among 22 live sporting events across the weekend. For the details visit: www.espn.co.uk/freeweekend

Picture: Getty Images

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