Football may be the No 1 sport in England, but on these shores on Thursday night basketball reigned supreme, as the ninth installment of the annual NBA regular season game in London saw the Washington Wizards ‘host’ the New York Knicks at the O2 Arena.
While the match sold out in an under an hour when tickets went on sale back in October, that didn’t stop some famous faces attending.
There was a strong contingent of Arsenal players past and present inside as they took a break from their Premier League preparations against bitter rivals Chelsea on Saturday.
Defenders Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Carl Jenkinson and midfielder Lucas Torreira were all present enjoying the Eastern Conference spectacle, as were forwards Alex Iwobi, Alex Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The aforementioned septuplet could face Ruben Loftus-Cheek at the Emirates, and the Chelsea midfielder crossed paths with some of them – even stopping to have a chat with Arsenal midfielder Matteo Guendouzi.
The players will have been sizing each other up – maybe even some Marcelo Bielsa-inspired ‘spying’ – ahead of Arsenal and Chelsea facing off in the Premier League on Saturday.
The London rivals meet in a clash which could have a major bearing on Champions League qualification, which would have played on the minds of the players, even when the basketball was in full swing.
Loftus-Cheek’s team-mate Andreas Christensen attended the game alongside his girlfriend, Katrine Friis, while Blues left back Marcos Alonso and midfielder Ethan Ampadu also managed to secure tickets.
Former Arsenal centre back Per Mertesacker was also attending and even popped his head in to listen to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s pre-game press conference. Mertesacker is the head of Arsenal’s youth academy but snubbed their Youth Cup match against Tottenham on Thursday to be a television pundit at the O2.
There was a strong Premier League representation of London clubs with West Ham pair Michail Antonio and Lukasz Fabianski as well as Crystal Palace duo Patrick van Aanholt and Christian Benteke also spectators.
Footballers from the north west also ventured south, with the injured Joe Gomez back in his hometown. The Liverpool defender is currently out injured with a broken leg but took time out from his rehabilitation to enjoy an evening of NBA in person.
Fresh from keeping a clean sheet against Tottenham on Sunday, Manchester United defender Victor Lindelof was back in London to watch this encounter.
Lindelof has been in impressive form for the Red Devils and will be looking to continue that form on Saturday afternoon when the resurgent Red Devils host Brighton at Old Trafford. United legend Patrice Evra was another in attendance.
Watford captain Troy Deeney is a regular to these events and the 30-year-old was there once again – speaking often to Antonio and his friends during the first half.
Sitting just a few seats away from Antonio was Southampton winger Nathan Redmond, while new Fulham signing Ryan Babel was also spotted before tip-off. Babel’s new team-mate Calum Chambers was among the crowd as were Leicester’s Ben Chilwell and Demarai Gray.
Aside from the footballers there were other famous faces present. Comedians Michael McIntyre and Joel Dommett, magician Dynamo and model Lara Stone were among the British stars watching on. Boyband Rak-Su, winners from the 2017 X-Factor, were also in attendance – grabbing a meal at Las Iguanas beforehand.