NOTE: Our colleague Dave McMenamin is with the Lakers in Europe. Here's his latest update:
LONDON -- Ever since Kobe Bryant was a little kid growing up in Italy, he dreamed of doing what he and a handful of his Lakers teammates did Sunday.
“I used to go to Serie A games all the time and I wanted to go watch a Premier League game and my mother never let me go,” Bryant said. “At the time I wanted to watch Liverpool and teams like that and she was like, ‘No.’ So now, to finally have the opportunity, 20-something years later, to go watch a Premier match is exciting.”
Bryant and his teammates sat in the Millennium Suites at Stamford Bridge stadium to see Chelsea beat their longtime London rival Arsenal, 2-0, thanks to goals by Didier Drogba and Alex for the Blues.
It was arranged for the Lakers to meet up with the Chelsea players after the game. It is unknown whether Bryant boasted to Drogba about beating his close friend, Kevin Garnett, in the NBA Finals.
Bryant shared the story in July at his basketball academy in Santa Barbara of how he used to go to a playground in Italy to play basketball but often times there were goals set up on the outdoor court and so he would play soccer until all the children got tired, then moved the goals away and played hoops.
“It’s fun to play,” Bryant said. “It’s like basketball in many ways. It’s just a team sport with constant movement and we get a chance to see two of the best [in Chelsea and Arsenal].
“You learn [about basketball by watching soccer] -- ball movement, spacing, things like that -- but ultimately, it’s just for the fun of it.”
Four Lakers -- Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Luke Walton --made separate trips to South Africa this summer to attend the World Cup and Gasol knows several of the players on Spain’s winning team personally.
“It’s a sport that I’m very familiar with,” Gasol said. “I grew up watching it since I was very young and played it too. I have an appreciation for it.
Like Bryant, Gasol had never been to a Premier League game before Sunday.
The passion for the sport has rubbed off on other players in the locker room.
“I’m just getting into soccer,” Shannon Brown said. “My teammates have, slowly but surely, dragged me into this soccer thing.”
Brown added that former Lakers Adam Morrison and Jordan Farmar were also big fans.
London’s Lack of Professional Basketball
When the two teams from the best professional basketball league in the world finish their visit Tuesday, the city of London will be without a pro basketball team. The PAWS London Capital team, which played in the British Basketball League, was ousted from the BBL in May because of poor performance.
“They struggled on a good day to have 100 people in their building,” said Mark Woods, editor of MVP Ultimate Basketball magazine and creator of Britball.com. “You think it’s the biggest city in the UK, there are 10 million people here, it is probably the hotbed of basketball as such if there is one in the UK but, because London is so big and the city is so spaced out, it’s very hard for one team in one corner of the city [to succeed]. But, when you’re playing in a horrible venue and you’re playing with no budget whatsoever, it’s really hard to do.”
Having a pro basketball presence in London would likely improve the UK's chances of receiving a complimentary invitation to compete in men’s basketball in the 2012 Olympics, when London will be the host city.
“[The BBL] knows to build the sport, they need fans and they need London and that’s why the NBA is here,” Woods said. “They want that kind of legacy and it’s something they’re very conscious that they’re going to have to address to get at least one pro team if not two or three pro teams playing in London.
“The big question right now is whether Great Britain actually goes to the Olympics. [The Olympic committee] will not confirm that [yet] and it’s not by qualifications strictly. FIBA has it in their gift next March to say, ‘You’re in,’ but what they’re demanding right now is the standard of the game here is raised. They look at the old system which clearly hasn’t worked professionally or grassroots. Rip it up and start it again. If they don’t get those assurances, then basically they have said, ‘We may not let you in automatically,’ and failing that, they’ll just have to qualify through EuroBasket next summer.”
Mastering the Triangle
While the Lakers look at this year’s training camp as one big classroom to teach the five new players on the team the triangle system, the learning curve is even more challenging for the Timberwolves. Minnesota has eight new players from last season and run a variation of the triangle offense that Los Angeles does under former Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis.
“There are two basic ways that you run the triangle; there’s a two-guard front and a one-guard front,” said Timberwolves assistant coach Reggie Theus. “We run the one-guard front. The two-guard front is much more complicated, it has many, many, many more options than the one-guard front but yet there are a lot of reads and a lot of cuts and a lot of things you can do off it.”
It is the point guard’s job to know all the permutations and much like Steve Blake is proving to be a quick study for L.A., free-agent signee Luke Ridnour is picking things up in Minnesota.
“The toughest spot on the floor is the point guard because he has to organize the offense, he has to get everybody involved, he has to make sure he’s making the right read from the beginning,” Theus said. “If that doesn’t happen, then everybody is messed up. [Ridnour’s] done a good job. His instincts are good.”
Ridnour will start the season as the starter while Jonny Flynn recovers from offseason hip surgery.
This and That
The Lakers were briefed by NBA Security before Sunday’s practice after the U.S. State Department issued a travel alert, warning American citizens traveling in European cities to be vigilant against a potential attacks in public, heavily-populated areas. … Training camp invitee Drew Naymick and Brown played at Michigan State together, once appearing together on the cover of Sports Illustrated in November 2005.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter. http://twitter.com/mcten.