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Page last updated at 15:27 GMT, Monday, 9 August 2010 16:27 UK

London's O2 Arena to host NBA regular season matches

Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant's LA Lakers are the NBA champions

America's National Basketball Association will stage meaningful games in Europe for the first time, at London's O2 Arena in March.

The Toronto Raptors will face the New Jersey Nets at the O2 on 4 and 5 March.

NBA commissioner David Stern hinted at the move last October when GB star Luol Deng's Chicago Bulls took on Utah at the arena, a 2012 Olympic venue.

"The staging of regular-season games in Europe is a milestone for the NBA," said Stern.

"By bringing these two young and exciting teams to London, we are fulfilling our commitment to schedule a regular-season game in the UK prior to the 2012 Olympics.

"[It is] a natural progression given the overwhelming response to the many friendlies we have played to sold-out crowds over the years."

The O2 has hosted NBA pre-season exhibition games in October for the past three years, selling out each game. Stern added that tickets for the two games would go on sale on 1 September.

The October series has become a feature of the sporting calendar in London, with sport stars like Lewis Hamilton, Didier Drogba, David Haye and Phillips Idowu among the celebrities who have sat courtside at NBA's O2 games in recent years.

This is in the context of giving as much support as we can to basketball in the 2012 Olympics

NBA commissioner David Stern

The O2 is set to host the Olympic Games basketball tournament in 2012 from the quarter-final stage onwards.

"This, to us, is in the context of giving as much support as we can to the sport of basketball for the 2012 Olympics," said Stern.

"It's going to make basketball shine as a sport of intensity and teamwork and of diversity and inclusiveness."

"In Beijing, basketball was the hottest ticket. We don't expect that to be the case in London but we do think that Team GB could gain a lot of attention that wasn't expected."

Great Britain's men's and women's teams are currently engaged in European qualifiers, still in the process of convincing world governing body Fiba that they deserve a hosts' spot for 2012.

Burlington Mike

This October will see Kobe Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers, the current NBA champions, taking on the Minnesota Timberwolves in the latest game in the Europe Live series.

The Nets are no strangers to the O2 - they played against the Miami Heat in the Europe Live game in 2008. New Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is believed to have volunteered his team for this and other trips when he took over.

NBA regular season games have previously been played in Mexico and Japan, but the league has always resisted the clamour to bring a competitive game to Europe.

"Europe to us is second only to China as a potential revenue source," said Stern. "So we view Europe as a potentially fertile place."

Stern refused to be drawn on questions about possible future NBA franchises in Europe, however.

America's National Football League has staged an annual regular season game in London for each of the last three seasons and the National Hockey League has also held games in London in the past.

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see also
GB earn gutsy win over Macedonia
08 Aug 10 |  Basketball
Deng back for vital GB qualifiers
31 Jul 10 |  Basketball
NBA's Spurs draft Kent's Richards
28 Jun 10 |  Basketball
Superstar Deng spreads the basketball word
16 Aug 10 |  World Olympic Dreams
LeBron move sparks Cleveland fury
09 Jul 10 |  Basketball
Bryant inspires Lakers to title
15 Jun 09 |  Basketball

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