Wednesday 30 September 2020, 15:31

The NBA and the beautiful game

  • Miami Heat & Los Angeles Lakers will begin the NBA Finals tonight

  • Heat superstar Jimmy Butler recently spoke to us about our sport

  • Kobe Bryant features as we look at the links between basketball & football

If Thibaut Courtois, Alphonso Davies, Kevin De Bruyne, Antoine Griezmann, Eden Hazard, Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi, Neymar, Paul Pogba and Raheem Sterling are late to work tomorrow morning, or arrive weary-eyed, we know why.

Tonight at Walt Disney World, or in the early hours of Thursday morning for those based in Europe, Miami Heat and LA Lakers will begin the best-of-seven series to determine the 2020 NBA Championship. The aforementioned footballers are big basketball fans, and an abounding number of basketball players are football followers, including the go-to guys for both the Heat and the Lakers.

Lebron James, who said “I love Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Mbappe and everyone who plays on the Liverpool team,” supports and co-owns the reigning FIFA Club World Cup™ holders.

Meanwhile Jimmy Butler counts Neymar, Mbappe and Paul Pogba among his buddies, and fervently follows Paris Saint-Germain. ‘Jimmy Buckets’ recently spoke to about how he unwittingly became a huge football follower overnight as he was helping USA win gold at the Rio Olympics.

“I knew it was going to be crazy, because it was Brazil playing in Brazil in the final,” he said. “I knew it was going to be on a completely different level to an American football game or a basketball game.

“It was a high-level game and the crowd was just so into it. It felt like nobody ever sat down, nobody was ever quiet. It made me love the game.”

The one and only Kobe

Butler may have got into soccer in his 20s, but one American who was heavily into our sport during childhood was Kobe Bryant. The Lakers legend grew up in Italy, where his father Joe ‘Jellybean’ Bryant, a former NBA power forward, was playing basketball. Kobe fell in love with the beautiful game and AC Milan there.

The football world was devastated by Kobe’s tragic death earlier this year. had the immense pleasure of interviewing the ‘Black Mamba’, who won five NBA Championships, an MVP award, two Finals MVP awards and was, astonishingly, an 18-time All-Star, on a few occasions. Here are some of his responses, including a spot-on prediction. What's the main difference in the atmosphere at basketball and football games? (In the Arena Fonte Nova before the Italy-Brazil game at the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2013) Kobe Bryant: Passion for football is at another level, without a doubt. It’s clear to see the fans arriving at the stadium here today are making a point of demonstrating their allegiance to their team, or country in this case. That only happens now and then in the NBA – in the play-offs and finals. Football is different. It's more like a religion. Growing up in Italy gave me first-hand experience of the fans’ intense love of football from an early age. And I can guarantee you it’s unique.

You must be a huge football fan... I am actually. From the age from six to 14 I played soccer every day. It is actually my favourite sport.

Who is your favourite for the Trophy? _(In Rio de Janeiro at the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™) _Wow… It is hard to go against the home team in Brazil. It would be nice to see a Brazil versus Argentina final. Germany looks very, very strong too and it is hard to go against them as well.

FIFA MVP & football punditry

Another NBA star we spoke to was Clint Capela, who was the main piece in one of the biggest trades in history earlier this year. He discussed being star-struck at seeing Thierry Henry courtside, playing in the UEFA Ultimate Champions match alongside Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid and the likes of Cafu, Deco, Marcel Desailly, Luis Figo, Ryan Giggs, Roberto Carlos and Clarence Seedorf, being certain he’d beat the FIFA eWorld Cup champion and his desire to become a football pundit once he retires from basketball.

On the subject of Henry, the 1998 FIFA World Cup France™ winner presented for Sky Sports during the previous NBA Finals, in which the Toronto Raptors upset the Golden State Warriors.

Michael Ballack, David Beckham, Robert Pires, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo are other football greats who love the NBA, while former NBA players such as Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker and Luis Scola love football, as do current stars Carmelo Anthony, Luka Doncic, Paul George, Nikola Jokic and reigning two-time MVP Giannis 'The Greek Freak' Antetokounmpo.

MVPs invest

  • Three-time NBA MVP Ervin "Magic" Johnson Jr, one of the greatest players in NBA history, became co-owner of LAFC, alongside actor Will Ferrell and USWNT legend Mia Hamm, in 2014.

  • Lebron James, as mentioned, has a stake in Liverpool.

  • Steve Nash, who grew up a huge Tottenham Hotspur fan and whose brother Martin won 38 caps for Canada, is a part-owner of Spanish outfit Mallorca.

  • Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden, the NBA MVP in 2017/18, became co-owner of Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash in 2019. 'The Beard' was delighted to see the Rachel Daly-propelled Dash win the NWSL Challenge Cup in July.

  • Brooklyn Nets megastar Kevin Durant, a former NBA MVP, became a minority shareholder in MLS franchise Philadelphia Union in June.

The Holidays

Lauren Cheney and Jrue Holiday were All-Americans at UCLA together. At a women’s basketball game, a girl approached Holiday and, mistaking him for future NBA point guard Darren Collison, asked for his autograph. Holiday politely explained that he wasn’t Collinson and took his seat. Cheney, in the row behind him, brazenly popped her head over his shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, you’re cuter than Darren is.”

The two went on to marry. Jrue went on to become an NBA All-Star. Lauren went on to help USA win Olympic golds at Beijing 2008 and London 2012 and the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015™.

During her pregnancy in 2016, however, Lauren was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Jrue admirably took indefinite leave of absence from the NBA to care for her. ESPN documented their moving story.

Some extras from social media