Spotlight Stealing Squad

• Grew up in Bath but has New Zealand roots

• Covered England's tour of New Zealand in 2014 and Australia in 2016

• Was ESPN's man on the ground for the 2013 British & Irish Lions series and Rugby World Cup 2015

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The Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers put on an NBA show in London, but it was a game within a game.

For some in attendance, there was a wider objective of celebrity-spotting and soaking up the vibrant, claustrophobic atmosphere of The O2 as the NBA took over a small corner of freezing east London for one night only.

Stars of the Premier League watched on, prompting sporadic cheers as the big screen picked them up, as Nikola Jokic and his Nuggets outshined Paul George's Indiana at an event in which sometimes the off-court entertainment drew bigger cheers than some of the gravity-defying action on the court.

Consider the half-time interval. As Premier League stars attempted to battle their way from courtside seats to refreshments amid dozens of selfie requests, the NBA stars walked back to the court with barely a flicker of attention. It raised the question: Who were fans paying to see?

Arsenal's 6-foot-5 central defender Per Mertesacker blended in nicely alongside the Nuggets' 6-9 center Jokic. Mertesacker's teammate Alexis Sanchez sat down in his seat, craving anonymity, only for it to be shattered by his appearance on The O2's big screen. While Watford striker Troy Deeney sat glued to his phone, it was Thierry Henry, the strutting Adebayo Akinfenwa and the remainder of the Arsenal squad who were in the midst of clamour for those seeking visual keepsakes.

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Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, center, and Hector Bellerin, right, take in the NBA match. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

The Arsenal players' presence perhaps shouldn't be surprising, however, as American businessman Stan Kroenke is involved in owning both the London club and the Denver Nuggets.

Still, it was an intoxicating arena of celebrity and sweat. This was no place for the country air of good old British rugby or cricket. The pregame focus was around George -- the biggest draw on either of the two participating teams. Cheers and applause greeted him as he walked to and from the court and then delivered his welcome to the crowd. The noise peaked around the slickest of layups and slam dunks, the ease with which 3-pointers dropped.

Before the game, while the Premier League players enjoyed the sanctity of their various hospitality suites, fans draped themselves over the barriers attempting to persuade the Nuggets and Pacers players for selfies or autographs. The French interest was piqued in the Pacers' Kevin Seraphin. Henry was locked in conversation with the Nuggets' Danilo Gallinari. It was basketball's equivalent of the Formula One grid walk.

Midway through the second quarter, former NBA players Isiah Thomas, Marcus Camby, Ronny Turiaf, John Amaechi and ex-Denver, eight-time All-Star Dikembe Mutombo were introduced to the crowd. Each drew cheers and applause, but no one was quite sure what to do when the on-court interviewer tracked down ex-England and Manchester United midfielder Owen Hargreaves for his take on the game.

The crowd were entertained by the two mascots -- Indiana's Boomer and Denver's Rocky -- while the Nuggets Elevation Dunk Squad were also in fine form as they attempted the most outrageous of slam dunks with the aid of a trampoline. This was followed by rhetorical bellowing: "Who wants a T-shirt? Make some noise!"

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Nikola Jokic battles for the ball with Myles Turner as the Nuggets take on the Pacers in front of a packed O2 Arena. (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

But in a one-sided game -- Denver winning 140-112 -- what would the casual viewer have taken away? Would they remember the Union Jack socks some players wore? Perhaps the sheer size of the players? Or the star-spotting?

Pregame, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the league has much more to do in the U.K. to grow an appreciation and following of the sport.

"I will say that historically the U.K. has not been as big a market for us as some of the other Southern European markets. I was here for the London Olympics, and we saw a real surge in basketball interest while I was here," Silver said. "It's an ongoing effort. It's where we have our headquarters.

"We participate in an enormous amount of grass-roots activities. I think it's no secret that we appeal to a very multicultural audience. London, of course, is a very multicultural city, and increasingly, so is England. So it is very much a focus of ours on this market.

"I think that if you look at the data we have, whether it's from Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or YouTube or other social media services, we're seeing enormous growth. I mean, it's almost up 100 percent, but it's off a relatively small base, so we still have a lot of work to do here."

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