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Page last updated at 15:12 GMT, Sunday, 3 October 2010 16:12 UK

Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis eyes Lakers scalp in London

NBA Europe Live - Minnesota Timberwolves v LA Lakers
Venue: O2 Arena, London Date: 4 October Tip-off: 2000 BST
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC 5 live sports extra and live on ESPN

By Andrew McKenzie

Kurt Rambis was a big fan favourite during his playing days with the Lakers
Rambis was a big favourite with the Lakers fans during his playing days

Minnesota Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis will take a stroll down memory lane for more than one reason this week when his side meet the Los Angeles Lakers in London on Monday.

The last time Rambis was in the capital was as a tourist back in the 1980s.

"My wife and I visited London about 25 years ago," he told BBC Sport. "We went to watch the tennis at Wimbledon and the weather was unbelievable. It was sunny, blue skies and 85 degrees most of the time. All the locals were talking about how uncharacteristic it was."

This time around there will not be much time for taking in the sights, no matter what the weather, as his Timberwolves get down to the business of playing pantomime villains at the O2 Arena against a club with whom he is inextricably linked.

Last year the Utah Jazz threatened to spoil GB star Luol Deng's homecoming party, only for his Chicago Bulls to prevail with a dramatic buzzer-beating victory.

The NBA, who will host two regular-season games at the O2 in March, has pulled a few strings in an attempt to top that as they host a pre-season game in London for the fourth consecutive year in the drive to increase the exposure of the league in one of the few parts of the world it has so far yet to significantly reach.

The Lakers, who have not played an international game since 1991, are the biggest draw in basketball and, in guard Kobe Bryant, they have one of sport's most recognisable names.


LA won a 16th NBA title earlier this year, beating their great rivals the Boston Celtics to secure a second consecutive championship.

In contrast, the Timberwolves have only once made it past the first round of the NBA play-offs and last season posted the second worst record in the league.

If the script goes to plan they will be expected to play the role of fall guys - in a way the Washington Generals have to the Harlem Globetrotters over the years.

But Rambis is not in London to make up the numbers - that's not really his style.

Nicknamed Rambo during 14 years and 880 games as a player in the NBA, Rambis was one of the league's tough guys.

As Bryant once said: "If you told Kurt to run through a brick wall to win a basketball game, he would."

Rambis spent nine of those 14 seasons with the Lakers, doing the dirty work so Magic Johnson and co could wow the crowds with a brand of basketball that became known as "Showtime".

His hustling play, combined with his distinctive thick-rimmed black spectacles and moustache made him a fans favourite, as did his willingness to put his 6ft 8in frame on the line.

Rambis (right) had a brief spell coaching the Lakers and rebellious foirward Dennis Rodman
Rambis (right) had a brief spell coaching the Lakers and rebellious forward Dennis Rodman

"That was my job," he added. "I wanted to do whatever I could to get playing time and help the team win. A lot of players don't understand that aspect of the NBA - that they can do a lot to get time and make teams by fulfilling these roles.

"I figured that out early on in my career and got myself on championship-winning teams as a result."

Rambis was drafted by the New York Knicks but failed to make the team, opting to play in Greece before eventually being picked up as a free agent by the Lakers in 1981.

For talmost 28 years he stayed with the Lakers, winning four championships as a player and then another four titles in his roles as assistant to three different coaches (including two spells under current Lakers playcaller Phil Jackson). He also filled in as head coach, assistant general manager and the vice president of business and basketball integration and even met his wife through the Lakers.

But having helped them win the title in 2009, the chance to join the Timberwolves as head coach last August proved too tempting.

Swapping LA for Minnesota has not been without its struggles for the California-born 52-year-old, who had become so accustomed to winning.

Our players can probably walk around London and not have too many people recognise them. The Lakers have had a lot of exposure over the world

Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis

Rambis's only previous head coach experience was his brief spell in charge of the Lakers in the late 1990s when he set a new NBA record by winning his first nine games.

In contrast, T-Wolves lost 67 of their 82 games last year, but a major rebuilding programme in the off-season has brought with it renewed hope that they could be a different animal this season - starting in London.

"This will be a good challenge for our team," said Rambis, whose team go on to play the New York Knicks in Paris on 6 October.

"We have nine new guys still learning a new system and playing together and we are growing as a ball club. The Lakers are NBA champions so it's a great test to see where we are at and how far we have to go. But we have a competitive team and they have been great in training camp.

"Our players can probably walk around London and not have too many people recognise them. The Lakers have had a lot of exposure over the world; we are a young team and growing and inexperienced and trying to get to their level."

It will also be a good test for Rambis, who faces old boss Jackson on the eve of a season in which the former Chicago Bulls coach goes for a 12th title in what could be his last season.

"I know Phil Jackson and realistically pre-season doesn't mean anything to them - you can lose all your pre-season games and still win an NBA title," added Rambis. "We will be taking it a lot more seriously than them. LA see themselves playing late into June [when the NBA Finals take place] and our guys are trying to gain respectability and a foothold in the NBA.

"It's my old team and I understand the O2 Arena is beautiful. It'll also be nice to go back and see the city of London again."

Chicago Bulls celebrate their last-second win over Utah Jazz in London

Chicago Bulls beat Utah in final seconds at O2 Arena in 2009

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see also
Lakers limit Bryant's role at 02
03 Oct 10 |  Basketball
Bryant reveals football ambitions
03 Oct 10 |  Basketball
London to host NBA double-header
09 Aug 10 |  Basketball
LA Lakers set to play in London
13 Apr 10 |  Basketball
Deng inspires Bulls to London win
06 Oct 09 |  Basketball
NBA basketball eyes global expansion
26 Jan 09 |  Business
NBA teams put on London showcase
10 Oct 07 |  Basketball
NBA plans bright British future
10 Oct 07 |  Basketball

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