WALTHAM, Mass. – On paper, Thursday’s matchup against the 76ers in London was merely another game on the Boston Celtics’ regular season schedule. In reality, however, it proved to be far more than just that.
The organization’s three-day business trip overseas gave it a unique opportunity to spread its wings and expand its brand to an international audience. And that’s the type of opportunity that the Celtics don’t take for granted.
“Anywhere you can touch globally is just awesome,” Kyrie Irving said Saturday afternoon following Celtics practice back home in Waltham, Massachusetts. “Just to be there with the fans, to be there for the support that we garnered over there from the Celtics organization to the NBA in playing against the Sixers was great.
“I’ve had the unique opportunity of going to a few places through the connection of basketball,” added Irving, whose C’s beat the 76ers 114-103, “and that’s a way of bringing people together and just to watch some individuals on the court put a ball in the hoop. And that makes it pretty awesome.”
The Celtics have always shown interest in spreading basketball globally and engaging with their international fan base by playing abroad. It’s something that team president Rich Gotham emphasized during the summer of 2015 before the team took a preseason trip to play in Milan and Madrid.
“A lot of NBA merchandise is sold in those countries, NBA games are broadcasted in those countries,” Gotham told Celtics.com. “So while there might not be an NBA league or affiliated team in those countries, there’s a huge NBA following and television audience over there. And so for the teams to go there and rub elbows and perform in person, that’s important to keep that flame burning.”
During the last decade alone, the Celtics have participated in eight preseason and regular season international games with trips to six different cities. This marked the team’s first game in London since their preseason tilt against the Minnesota Timberwolves ahead of the 2007-08 championship season.
Of course, no players that took part in that trip are still on the team, so it gave this group of Celtics a fresh taste of how dedicated their London fan base is.
“Obviously the NBA is extremely popular there,” said coach Brad Stevens. “I think people really enjoyed getting a chance to see both teams play. And then you see Celtics fans walking around all over the streets where we were. I thought it was a really good opportunity for our team, and I thought it was cool to see that reach.”
Diehard Celtics fans flooded The 02 Arena Thursday night in London, creating an atmosphere that was similar to what a gamegoer would experience at TD Garden in Boston. It was similar to the welcome the team received in other international cities, such as Istanbul, Madrid, Mexico City, Milan and Rome.
“Everywhere we go we get this amazing reception and all these arenas are filled with people in green,” said Gotham. “It’s a good opportunity for us to get out there, get our brand out there and get some exposure with this big fan base that you otherwise never really knew you had.”
Jaylen Brown traveled to London this past summer as Boston’s Global Games representative, so he had an idea of the Celtics’ enormous fan base that existed there. Still, the 21-year-old was impressed to see the turnout when he returned half a year later for the highly-anticipated game.
“It was quite surprising to see so many green jerseys in London,” admitted Brown, who scored a team-best 21 points during the win over Philly. “I think we’re pretty big over there already, but just to further expand it is great.”
The more on board the Celtics bandwagon the better, from the United States, across The Pond to London, and beyond.