Basketball: Leeds want supporters to come out in Force

Britain's Prince William, third from right, and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, sit with former Houston Rockets player Dikembe Mutombo, second from right, during the second half of an NBA basketball game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Leeds Force are aiming to build their own fan base.
Britain's Prince William, third from right, and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, sit with former Houston Rockets player Dikembe Mutombo, second from right, during the second half of an NBA basketball game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Leeds Force are aiming to build their own fan base.
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Beyonce and Jay-Z, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge – basketball is a sport that attracts the biggest names to courtside.

Just this week, British royalty rubbed shoulders with music royalty as the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers at Madison Square Garden.

Basketball at the highest level in America is a magnet for superstar fans.

Leeds Force would give anything to have such a pull.

Because basketball at the highest level in Britain is a hard sell, especially in an already cluttered sporting marketplace where a team is taking its first tentative steps into the professional arena.

Established clubs like Newcastle Eagles can attract 5,000 fans on a regular basis but a city that is growing a team and a product will be lucky to get a tenth of that number.

When Leeds Force hosted Sheffield Sharks at the Sports Arena at Leeds Beckett University last Friday night, there were barely 300 people in attendance.

The people behind the Force are not fooling themselves. They don’t expect to be playing to packed houses every night.

But privately they would have hoped for greater attendances as they embarked on their first season of what they hope is a long and prosperous association in the British Basketball League.

The low attendances are not believed to be jeopardising their sustainability. Leeds have one of the lowest budgets in the 13-team league so don’t need people rushing through the door to fund their challenge.

What they do need is bums on seats to lift the team on the floor and convince the people behind the scenes that basketball is a project worth investing in in the city.

Because the product is there. Not quite yet in terms of the home team, who, understandably are struggling to live week in, week out, with teams that have greater budgets and traditions.

Just to win a game, every man who sets foot on the court in a black or white vest of Leeds Force, has to be at the top of his game. Twice they have managed to do that, and on countless occasions they have come close.

But in terms of the sport as a whole, basketball is a non-stop 90 minutes of entertainment. With a shot-clock of 24 seconds, that means there is two chances a minute to either cheer a basket or an opponents miss, or boo a home miss, or a visiting score.

The skill-level is high, and to witness a guard in full flow or an ‘alley-oop’ which sees a ball thrown towards the basket for a forward to leap and dunk in one move, is enough to get those bums out of their seats applauding.

It is also a family occasion, and at £25 for a pre-booked family ticket (£30 on the night), a helluva lot cheaper than most sporting events these days.

A basketball game is entertainment for the whole family – whether you love sport, or just enjoy an evening out.

Leeds Force have two home games on the next two Fridays, against Durham Wildcats tonight and Newcastle Eagles next week.

Whether you’ve played basketball or never seen it, are a Leeds United or Rhinos season-ticket holder, then why not try something new this Christmas?

Force represent Leeds and therefore the people of the city. They can’t promise Beyonce and Jay-Z, but they’ll do their best to entertain you and convince you to come back.

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Explosive guard James McCann has warned the BBL that there is more to come from him and Leeds Force.

Force face a pivotal weekend against the only two teams they have beaten so far, with Durham in town tonight (7.30pm) before a trip to Surrey United tomorrow.

McCann led the way with 23 points in the defeat to Sheffield last week, when Leeds were wide of the mark with much of their shooting.

But the San Diego State graduate is confident progress is being made and can be accelerated.

“We’re getting better every week but being a young team it’s tough for us to close out games right now,” said McCann.

“But I’m confident we can get a couple more wins before the end of the month and as long as we’re competitive every night, that’s all we’re looking for.”

On his own development, McCann added: “I’m enjoying my time here and I think I’m finally getting used to the style of play.

“It’s a bit different to the States, expecially college with the 24-clock.

“But I’ve been getting more comfortable over the last month or so.”

Eric Curth hit 12 points for Leeds Force (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

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