Has European Professional Basketball Caught Up To The NBA?
Contrary to what many might believe, U.S. pro basketball squads and European teams have been actively competing for two decades in head-to-head competition other than at the Olympics. The competition began when in 1987 the Milwaukee Bucks defeated Tracer Milan of Italy, 123-111, in the opening game of the first McDonald's Open, located at the Milwaukee Arena. The Bucks crushed the Soviet National Team, 127-100, in the championship game of the tournament sanctioned by the NBA and FIBA.
The next year, in the inaugural McDonald's Championship to be held in Europe, the Boston Celtics vanquished Real Madrid 111-96 at the Palacio de Deportes in Madrid, Spain.
Also in 1988, the Atlanta Hawks became the first U.S. pro team to play in the Soviet Union when they edged the Soviet Georgia All-Stars, 85-84, in a pre-season game.
In its third year, the McDonald's Championship was shifted to Rome, Italy. There, the Denver Nuggets represented the National Basketball Association against the Spanish Champion F.C. Barcelona, the European Champion Jugoplastika Split, and Philips Milan. The Nuggets vanquished Barcelona in their tournament opener and went on to beat Jugoplastika Split 135-129 to earn the title.
In 1991 the 'city of lights' was the site for McDonald's Championship. The Los Angeles Lakers traveled to Paris, France to compete against the host team CSP Limoges, Joventut Badalona and Slobodna Dalmacija Split of the former Yugoslavia. With Magic Johnson running the point, the Lakers thumped CSP Limoges before eking out a win versus Joventut Badalona 116-114 to take the title.
It was 1993 which saw the first pre-season game between two American professional teams ever played in Europe, the Orlando Magic, with 14 fourth-quarter points from Dennis Scott, defeated the Atlanta Hawks 120-95 before a full crowd of 9,483 at Wembley Arena in the opening of the two-game NBA London Games series.
In 2003, the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies played an NBA preseason game in Paris, as part of the NBA Europe Games 2003, in front of a sell-out crowd of 14,480. The NBA Champion Spurs won 105-93 and Spurs player Tony Parker received a standing ovation when he received the MVP in front of his home crowd. After the game, the Memphis Grizzlies traveled to Barcelona where they played local team FC Barcelona on October 10. Memphis prevailed in the game 91-80 and big man Pau Gasol, former player for FC Barcelona, put his many skills on full display.
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