By: Jamie Trecker
LONDON— It was the matchup we all anticipated: Barcelona and Real Madrid in London for the Champions League final. And it did take place – but not at Wembley Stadium.
This weekend, the 02 Arena here is hosting the Euroleague basketball finals, the latest attempt to bring the game to England’s capital. Major soccer clubs boast basketball teams now – Olympiakos and CSKA Moscow are the other two sides involved in the four-team tournament — and the game’s increasing popularity has meant that England is involved in something of a tug-of-war. The NBA have been holding exhibitions here for several years and talk of a permanent franchise here has grown more serious than speculative.
Basketball has yet to make the inroads in England that it has across Europe. The fact that these games were held at all was treated as a bit of a comic footnote by the sports pack here, and a way to get “Barcelona” and “Real Madrid” into a headline for the web. But 16,000 people didn’t think it was a gag, showing up for the three-game series on a weekend normally given over to the FA Cup.