Is London ready for Air Canada and the Answer? There are never any guarantees, especially in NBA preseason basketball, but there's a good chance much-hyped stars Vince Carter and Allen Iverson will see at least a small fraction of floor time when the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers tip off tomorrow at the John Labatt Centre.
Remember that no-guarantee rule when you whip out those $85 courtside tickets. The Raps and Sixers also played last night in Toronto and you never know when an awkward landing will drop the oft-injured Carter or a tattoo infection might slow the totally inked-up "A.I."
Carter, nicknamed "Air Canada" back in the day when his high-flying thunder dunks had basketball bigs thinking Baby Jordan, is an unhappy Hogtown camper right now.
The Raptors' biggest star requested an offseason trade and last night's exhibition tilt in Toronto was the first time he had faced local fans since going public.
"I have a job to do as a basketball player, to play basketball," Carter told the Toronto Sun.
"I have to come out here and put points on the board for my team, run the offence, defend my guy . . . I have a lot of things to worry about. And if I sit here and worry about (getting booed), then I'm not doing my job."
Interestingly enough, a June rumour surfaced that Carter would be dealt to Philly for fellow disgruntled multimillionaire Iverson, who has seemingly run out of answers and patience in the City of Brotherly Love.
If you think Carter has been responsible for a lot of coach firings in Toronto the past few years, "Answer" Iverson has recently rolled through more bench bosses than variations of his ever-evolving, corn-rowed hairdo.
Armed with a bad-boy image, gangsta punk background and controversial rap lyrics, the six-foot Iverson has, for years, rubbed shoulders with Kobe and Shaq as the NBA's marquee attraction.
If you want to see an athlete with courage, competitive spirit and tenacity, you watch Iverson on the court.
Of course, if you want to see an athlete who cares about practice, humility and hanging with his teammates rather than his homeboys, you look at someone other than Philly's No. 3.
In pre-game shoot-around, Iverson puts on his headphones, air-drums to his solitary beat, gets into a trance and takes a mental trip to his own personal planet -- a place where very good basketball is played.
Whether or not the two stars see much court time, the NBA's appearance in London should still prove an interesting exercise.
It'll be a rare event, but it won't be like someone introducing beach volleyball to eskimos -- the world champion Detroit Pistons are a few hours down the street and the Raptors aren't too far away, either. For the most part, London is basketball-literate.
But if you haven't been to a big-league game since Bill Russell and Wilt the Stilt battled under the boards in their short shorts, you're in for a culture shock.
Today's NBA is a basic study in direct marketing through sensory overload. When there's not men in gorilla suits dunking off trampolines, there's foxy dance packs strutting to over-the-top tunes or in-your-face ads for hoops-related products that promise to quench your thirst while improving your vertical jump.
Between timeouts, the boom-box music doesn't stop the second the play starts like in hockey. Big-league basketball is played to a pulsating rhythm, a playground symphony of dribbles, points, passes and rebounds.
That said, preseason hoops rarely displays the flair of a midseason, Christmas Day classic. At this point, individual ability usually overpowers any sense of team play.
That's why this game will be more a chance for new Toronto coach Sam Mitchell and Philly boss Jim O'Brien to evaluate players.
Though it's a Philly home game, it's also a good chance for the Raptors organization to convince Londoners that a T.O. trip to see Carter and Co. is a worthwhile excursion.
With hockey on the curb, some folks have some extra entertainment money in their pocket. The Raptors also know their televised games, under the league's 90-kilometre-radius rule, don't always make it this far past Kitchener.
Plus, it never hurts to expand your fan base and win some extra friends -- especially if your superstar player wants his only association with "Air Canada" to be the carrier that takes him out of town.
TORONTO RAPTORS VS. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre
Tickets: Lower bowl seats still available; visit JLC's Gate 1 box office today (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) or tomorrow (opens at 10 a.m.)
Block party: Admission free, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. outside the arena. Silent auction will bbe held to support NBA's Read to Achieve program. The initiative allows local businesses to buy books for donation to local schools and libraries.