LONDON, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Carmelo Anthony, fresh from an extreme self-imposed diet, is eager to help grow the NBA’s global brand and position his New York Knicks for a title run when they face the Detroit Pistons in London on Thursday.
The match marks the return of U.S. professional basketball to the O2 Arena, the same London stage where Anthony helped lead the United States to a gold medal at last year’s Olympics.
“How can I forget ... that was a special moment. It’s great to be back in this arena, having the chance to play here one more time in front of the fans who have been very gracious to myself and the game of basketball,” Anthony told reporters on the sidelines of a team practice.
Team USA went undefeated in London, beating Spain in the final to capture a record 14th gold medal in men’s basketball.
Anthony and New York team mate Tyson Chandler were both on the U.S. squad and have since led the Knicks (24-13) to second spot in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, half a game behind the defending league champion Miami Heat.
The Detroit Pistons (14-24), on the other hand, are treading near the bottom of the Eastern Conference in 10th spot, despite winning seven of their last 10 games.
The NBA, having had to cancel its international schedule last season due to a labor dispute between team owners and players, is keen to build on the high viewer numbers for basketball during the 2012 Olympics.
But British basketball is reeling following UK Sport’s decision in December to stop funding the game’s development after it spent 8.6 million pounds ($13.76 million) on the sport in the lead up to the Olympics.
Anthony, the Knicks’ top scorer, said the long-haul transatlantic flights and adapting to the five-hour time change would do little to dent his team’s championship chances.
“We’re trying to expand the game of basketball globally, especially here in the UK, so I think they did a great job of scheduling this game to give us time to settle in both here and when we get home,” he added.
Anthony said he adopted a strict diet free of meat and carbohydrates in late December to “get some clarity” and rebuild his body and mind.
But the five-times NBA All-Star ditched the regime last week after it left him sapped of energy.
“I‘m getting better. We’ll see this practice,” he told Reuters when asked if he had regained his trademark vigour.
Thursday’s sold-out game follows two regular season clashes in London in March 2011, both of which paired the Toronto Raptors against the New Jersey Nets, who have since relocated to Brooklyn.
The NBA has previously played 16 regular season games abroad in countries including Mexico and Japan. ($1 = 0.6252 British pounds) (Reporting by Michael Szabo; Editing by Frank Pingue)