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The NBA never rests, as my son and I were reminded on our quickie soccer-watching jaunt to England, but no amount of Brooklyn Nets chaos (in London or back home) was going to derail this trip
LONDON — The traveling party from Dallas could not make it through the fifth and final night of their brief August escape from the NBA without major news breaking in the middle of a glorious farewell dinner.
Suddenly there were tweets intruding upon the appetizers about a me-or-them ultimatum from Kevin Durant to Brooklyn Nets ownership. These were fresh demands from Durant that the Nets either trade him or fire both GM Sean Marks and Coach Steve Nash, all emanating from Durant's sitdown with Joe Tsai in the same capital city across the pond we were visiting.
You know what they say in times like these.
Now back on U.S. soil as of Tuesday night, I promise to swiftly return to the Durant beat by Wednesday morning. Yet I decided, for timeliness reasons, to forge ahead with publishing the lighter fare I had originally planned to go with on this Newsletter Tuesday, recapping for posterity what I knew would be a trip for the ages.
(Spoiler alert: Sadly there were no sightings of Durant or Tsai that will surprisingly pop up as you read on to make this a Travelogue for the ages.)
When someone asks me to name the best work assignment I've ever had in my career, it's one of the few "reflections" questions that can be sprung on me that doesn't leave me straining under live pressure to narrow it down.
London 2012. Kobe and LeBron and Durant all playing on the same U.S. men's Olympic basketball team. More than 30 consecutive days as an East Londoner, in my very own flat with all-new appliances and fixtures, because the roommate ESPN initially assigned to share the apartment with me — I can't even remember now who it was — dropped out of the trip at the last minute.
It will come as no surprise to those who have (patiently) read for me some time and are well-acquainted with my Wannabe Brit-ness that part of me will always wish I lived there. The summer of 2012 is the closest I've come yet ... for one unforgettable month and change after Team USA began that summer with a rather glorious exhibition tour in itself to prepare for those Olympics with stops in Manchester and Barcelona.
Then this past Sunday, one decade removed from that standout experience as an international correspondent, I amazingly made my return to the Olympic section of East London in different but equally happy circumstances.
The funky schedule for world football in 2022-23, thanks to a World Cup that starts three days before Thanksgiving in Qatar, pushed up the start of the Premier League season to the earliest date I can remember. The Prem thus began sufficiently early for my younger son Aaron and I to dash over from North Texas and take in the start of the Erling Haaland Dynasty in person ... and still get back home in time for the start of preseason volleyball practices and (yes, Mom) actual school.
Only once before, in nearly three decades' worth of trips to Inglaterra to watch Manchester City, had I made it here for the opening league game of the season. It happened in 2004-05 with one of my favorite players ever — Robbie Fowler — hooking in City's goal with a typically Fowleresque improvised finish in a 1-1 draw against Fulham in the club’s second season at the Etihad Stadium.
Fond as I am of Fowler, owing to his genius left foot and incredible eye for goal — plus the still-hard-to-believe opportunity to play alongside him in Nash's first-ever charity soccer game in 2008 — Sunday's 2-nil City win at West Ham will be recorded in family annals with even greater reverence. Haaland's first two official goals in a City shirt factor in there hugely, of course, but this was really all about Aaron's presence alongside me, partaking in all of my usual soccer antics because he loves a lot of the same stuff.
As mentioned in the recent recap of our trip to Houston to watch City on its American exhibition tour, Dad is not coping very well with how fast time is moving. Our older son Alex just graduated from high school. With Aaron himself down to his last few years under our roof, it's impossible not to (constantly) lament all the things I missed throughout their childhoods while constantly traveling to cover #thisleague.
This, though, is the glorious flipside, with Aaron old enough and eager to tag along as my running mate on a City trip that would demand back-and-forth flights overseas spaced less than a week apart and some time-zone havoc and body-clock challenges to manage both home and abroad as the school year draws near.
I was rooting for an away match in London to make the trip as easy as possible and so he could sit with the City crazies to experience first-hand how they sing on their travels. Then the fixture computer delivered West Ham away. Then we actually went to the game Sunday afternoon, scarcely believing that the planets had aligned so nicely, and Haaland rose to the moment to deliver spectacularly.
There is just something beautiful about watching sport with your children as they get older. They see things on the pitch and in the stands that you didn't see. They form their own strong sports opinions and staunchly defend them. They decide, with no input from you, to champion a Julian Álvarez or a Tim Hardaway Jr. in a refreshingly pure manner that doesn't heed analytics or the Twitter discourse. They like who and what they like just because.
Me? I was just giddy to watch him take it all in so wide-eyed. Watching City together on television is wonderful. The mid-July preseason friendly in Houston was special, too, but there is simply nothing that can replicate a game that counts in the real-life Premier League. I could certainly rant for a bit on what West Ham's move from Upton Park to a cavernous Olympic track arena has cost the Hammers (and now The Steins) in terms of atmosphere — especially since the modern seating configuration in their new home separates two sections of away fans in a manner which I've never really experienced before in England. But I won't. I prefer to savor the anticipation we felt in the taxi on the way to the ground ... and all the singing before, during and after the match ... and how firmly the sport seems to hold the country in its grip. Especially on a weekend in early August when the season has just begun.
The latest twists in Brooklyn's saga of a summer, which brought a jarring end to this mini-vacation, might have jolted me back to reality sooner than I wanted, but that's OK. It was a dream start to the season on this scorecard and is destined, on the same scorecard, to go down as one of the enduring chapters in our family's history: Three points at the London Stadium, those two delicious Haaland goals and one giddy father who brought home lots of memories and laughs.
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Excitement for this England trip was already crazy high for days before we left, knowing my son was lined up as my travel companion at last to divert from my usual norm of solo travel on football-watching expeditions. Then my Substacking colleague Craig Calcaterra added to the expectancy by taking his family to London about a week before we left and posting dozens and dozens of pictures on Facebook to whip me into even more of a frenzy.
I'm not posting all of our pictures here, because I suspect that I’m already pushing the limits within this ever-patient audience in terms of interest in what we did and saw, but I have assembled a fistful of three-shot strips along the usual lines featured in this space, focusing on the food, coffee and sport that we stuffed into five days on the ground.
One of my favorite dining aspects of any trip to England is the array of Spanish restaurants available. I haven't been to Spain since (gasp) 2017, so I am desperate for any restaurant that can replicate fare from the Home of Tapas and thus naturally couldn't resist the José Pizarro outpost right around the corner from our hotel.
Even more irresistible: When said outpost indulges your annoyingly specific pan con tomate preparation requests (bread extra-toasted and tomate on the side so it doesn't overwhelm the bread) and (as shown at the far right) offers a shady sidewalk vantage point on London's quaint Bermondsey Street.
In the middle is the first cappuccino I consumed on UK soil; you surely know by now that this coffee snob is always going to go overboard about a craft preparation (via WatchHouse) that comes with a notecard.
Did I pop into the Long Lane Fish Bar near our hotel to peek into the glass and assess the merchandise? Of course I did. Did I order a Turkish coffee at the posh haircut establishment I sampled on Day 2? Of course I did. Did you think I would leave London without trying the local chippy and posting a pic of what was sold to me as a "small" cod and chips portion? Of course not.
I didn't want to make this trip all about sport, but I convinced Aaron that it would be good for us perspective-wise to check out a lower-league game in the vicinity before our Sunday afternoon main event to help speed up the wait, since West Ham v City was the very last game of the weekend.
Our choice: Charlton v Derby in League One. Beyond the appeal of two big clubs that have fallen on hard times dueling at The Valley in Southeast London, it would give me another new stadium to tick off my Grounds Visited List (which I think is comfortably in the 40s now; official update to come if I can actually find the list). It also provided the chance to attend in honor of Sir Gordon Jago, my knighted Dallas neighbor and a legend in American soccer who turns 90 in October and began his lifelong career in the game as a Charlton center back in the 1950s.
Someday I hope to be in London at the same time as Stephen Curry so I can invite him out for a steak at Flat Iron, which serves its guests popcorn (as shown at far left) as soon as they sit down.
The Scottish bavette steaks Aaron and I had are pictured at right ... with one actual sightseeing shot of London Bridge (via Aaron) wedged in to try to advance the idea that we did something else besides eat and spectate.
On a day trip to Manchester to take a look around my home away from home, we walked into Size? in the city center and found this display of Air Trainer 1s in four colorways. Automatic posting of maybe Nike’s greatest shoe!
Then to the far right, next to the snap of the train that got us to and from London’s Euston Station, I continued my long tradition of celebrating the unexpected sight of NBA products on the shelves in a city far away from #thisleague by memorializing this selection of backpacks from a sports store called Decathlon. Winning it all in June still landed the Warriors at the bottom of the display beneath the Knicks and Lakers.
Just making sure you saw what I tweeted Saturday evening about the release of next season's full schedule, which is not expected from the league office before the third week in August at the soonest.
I noted in a recent piece that, entering my 30th season of full-time NBA coverage, only 12 franchises have won championships during those first 29 seasons. It turns out that titles are pretty exclusive in the other major North American team sports, too, if not quite as exclusive as in the NBA. There have been 28 Super Bowls since I started on the NBA beat in February 1994 … won by 15 franchises. Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League have lost a postseason (MLB) and a full season (NHL) to labor strife in the same span and have seen 15 and 14 franchises, respectively, win it all over the past 28 completed seasons.
Golden State brought the NBA championship to the Western Conference for the 16th time in 24 seasons — accounting for 66.7 percent of those available titles — since Michael Jordan's second retirement in Chicago after the 1997-98 season.
While we await the outcome of his extension talks with the Los Angeles Lakers that are now officially underway, don’t forget that LeBron James will begin his 20th NBA season in October just 1,326 points shy of passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 38,387 career points for the league's all-time scoring record in the regular season.
James averaged 30.3 points per game last season and shot 75.6% on free throws — his highest success rate at the line since 2011-12 (77.1%). That’s the good news. LeBron also missed 26 games through injury, marking the third time in his four Lakers seasons that he missed more than 25 (27 each in 2018-19 and 2020-21).
More than 100 free agents who ended last season on an NBA roster have secured new contracts since June 30 — barely. I tweeted these specifics Sunday night:
Bob Cousy, one of just two living Hall of Famers (along with Satch Sanders) who played alongside Bill Russell in Boston, turned 94 today. In an interview with The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy after Russell’s passing at age 88 on July 31, Cousy said: “He got there first. I got a hunch I’m going to be seeing him shortly. I don’t want to be morbid, but I’m not signing up for the marathon these days.”