Knicks London Sellout Is NBA Record as Division Lead Lures Fans

The New York Knicks are bringing a reason for optimism to their fans in London.

The team, powered by forward Carmelo Anthony to a division-leading 24-13 record, meets the Detroit Pistons tomorrow at the O2 Arena in the U.K. capital. Fans bought all the tickets within four days, the fastest sellout for the National Basketball Association in seven games in London, said Ben Morel, who oversees the league’s business in Europe.

Todd Rothman remembers the good times of 1994, when center Patrick Ewing led the Knicks to the NBA finals, and the New York Rangers won the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup. The Manhattan native moved to London three years ago with JPMorgan Chase & Co., where he’s an executive director in the leveraged finance business. With the Knicks off to their best start in 12 seasons, expatriates and locals in London are starting to think about the playoffs again.

“Nothing beats ’94, with the Knicks and Rangers in the finals for a couple straight weeks,” said the 35-year-old graduate of Binghamton University in central New York. “The Ewing era is definitely my favorite. There have been some lean years since then. But it’s exciting to see them back on top and playing some exciting hoops again.”

The Knicks arrived in England yesterday with a two-game Atlantic Division lead over the Brooklyn Nets. Detroit, which is the home team, is nine games behind the Indiana Pacers in the Central Division.

Tomorrow’s game at 3 p.m. eastern will be the 16th regular-season NBA contest outside the U.S. or Canada, and Commissioner David Stern said this month there may be league franchises in Europe within the next two decades.

International Games

The NBA has held international exhibition games since 1988 including contests in Turkey, Italy, Germany and China in the 2012 preseason. The 15 previous regular-season games were played in Japan, Mexico and the U.K.

“The opportunities for growth outside the U.S. are phenomenal,” Morel said in an interview. “Basketball is a truly global sport, and an Olympic sport that everyone can relate to.”

Liam Smith, a Knicks’ fan from Islip, New York, now living in London, said Americans get excited to see U.S. sports in person even with ESPN and Sky Sports offering live broadcasts of NBA and National Football League games.

“It’s just the luck of the draw that this year the Knicks are going to play over here but even if it was two teams that I wasn’t too enthusiastic with I’d probably still go,” said the 28-year-old, who works in business-development and sales for CME Group, focusing on hedge funds and asset managers.

Smith said local fans are learning the ins and outs of American sports, and he expects to see shirts supporting many different players and franchises, such as Michael Jordan and the Washington Wizards.

Marbury Jerseys?

“You see the most random jerseys,” he said. “I don’t even know where they can buy these jerseys. I’ll probably see somebody who has a Stephon Marbury Knicks jersey. It’s not like they were good when he was on there. It was brutal.”

Marbury last played for the Knicks in the 2007-08 season, when they finished 23-59, last in the division.

Smith may be the guy wearing the Larry Johnson jersey, to honor the retired Knicks’ forward.

“That would be my guy,” he said. “If I can fit into it. The last couple of years, I don’t know. It’s been awhile and it’s getting tougher and tougher to put on.”

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