London Lions (basketball)
|League||British Basketball League|
|History||Hemel Hempstead Lakers
Hemel & Watford Royals
Milton Keynes Lions
|Team colours||Yellow, Black and Indigo
|Team manager||Christian Kumar|
|Head coach||Nigel Lloyd|
London Lions is a professional basketball team based in London, who compete in the British Basketball League – the top level men's basketball league in the United Kingdom. The club has previously been based in Hemel Hempstead, Watford and Milton Keynes prior to its relocation to London for the 2012–13 season.
The franchise’s only trophy success to-date is the BBL Cup title, won in 2008 as the Milton Keynes Lions. The club also operate the Milton Keynes College Lions Basketball Academy in partnership with Milton Keynes College, which was established in 2007 and remains running despite the professional team's departure from Milton Keynes in the summer of 2012.
- 1 Franchise history
- 1.1 Hemel Hempstead
- 1.2 Watford
- 1.3 Milton Keynes
- 1.4 Move to London
- 2 Home arenas
- 3 Season-by-season records
- 4 Trophies
- 5 Players
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
The franchise that would become London Lions initially started out in the town of Hemel Hempstead, as the Hemel Hempstead Lakers. The team was named after one of the NBA’s most famous teams, Los Angeles Lakers, and even adopted the LA Lakers' colours of Purple and Gold. In 1977, the Lakers entered the National Basketball League’s Division 2, and enjoyed a rather successful first season, finishing fifth (from 11 teams) with a 10–10 record. Their second season would be even more successful, with the Lakers finishing second in Division 2 (15–3) and winning promotion to the top-level league Division 1.
With entry into the country’s top league ensure, the club received a major sponsorship deal from beverage brand Ovaltine, and as part of the deal were known as Ovaltine Hemel Hempstead. The franchise became a formidable force in Division 1, regularly finishing at the top-end of the table and making many appearances in the Play-off semi-finals at Wembley Arena, finishing third in 1981. Following the end of the Ovaltine sponsorship and a one-year deal with retailers Poundstretcher, the franchise was rebranded as the Hemel Royals in 1985. Meanwhile, on court, the team failed to reproduce the performances of the past few seasons and often settled for mid-table positions. This was a golden period in British Basketball and Hemel regularly brought top American talent from the States. Dick Miller is the greatest defensive player in the franchises history and probably the game as a whole in the UK. The enigmatic Harvey Knuckles is considered one of the greatest players ever to play in Britain. Steve Hale was a fourth round draft pick, Sam Smith scored big points from all round the court and Daryl Thomas was a prolific scorer.
For the 1989–1990 season the franchise opted to leave the top-tier (now known as the Carlsberg League due to sponsorship from the Carlsberg Group) and return to the second-tier league, which had been renamed as NBL Division 1. After only one season, and a fourth-place finish (14–8), the Royals returned to Carlsberg League. The team finished bottom of the league in the 1992–1993 season with a 4–29 record, and were subsequently relegated back to Division 1, however they were later reinstated and returned to the rebranded BBL for the following season. A dismal spell ensued and over the next decade the team wouldn’t finish outside of the bottom three, but with the removal of the promotion/relegation system between the BBL and Division 1, this had little consequence.
The lack of fortunes and an ageing venue prompted the franchise to look at relocating and found a suitable, yet temporary solution in the neighbouring town of Watford. In preparation for the move, the franchise was rebranded as Hemel & Watford Royals in 1996 and made the move from the Dacorum Centre to Watford Leisure Centre in 1997. The move had little luck on the team’s playing performance and they finished 13th out of 13 in the 1997–1998 season (3–33). Royals' stay in Watford lasted just one season and, in 1998, with the promise of a future purpose-built arena being offered in the town of Milton Keynes, the team packed up, moved and renamed themselves as the Milton Keynes Lions.
Lions' on-court performances were an instant improvement and the franchise began a slow but noticeable turnaround, reaching the Semi-finals of the National Cup and also the end-of-season Play-offs for the first time in eight seasons in 2000. After a hugely successful run, the franchise reached its first major final in 2002 with an appearance at the SkyDome Arena in the BBL Trophy. The Lions fought valiantly but eventually lost to the all-conquering Chester Jets, losing 90–89 in a close contest. From then on, the Lions remained a competitive force in the league often qualifying for the post-season Play-off’s, though having little impact on the final outcome, and an appearance in the BBL Cup Semi-final in 2005 was considered to be a major landmark.
It was announced on 8 May 2007 that coach Tom Hancock would not coach the Lions for the 2007–08 season, after just one term at the helm. On 17 May, the club declared owner Vince Macaulay-Razaq, a former player and coach of the franchise, would be appointed head coach for the proceeding season. The signing of Yorick Williams during the pre-season was a massive coup, and for many fans signalled the dawning of a new era for the club. During this exciting time and in preparation for a planned move to a new arena, the club also undertook a rebranding initiative, redesigning the logo and changing the kit colours from the traditional purple and gold, to a more dynamic black, gold and white, as well as the establishment of a new Academy in partnership with Milton Keynes College. The Milton Keynes College Lions Basketball Academy is headed by Lions' player Mike New.
With Macaulay back controlling the club on court as well as off it, the team's standing in the league was immediately matched to his own ambition as the clubs' owner. The veteran team performed sensationally and by the Christmas break they were well in contention for the league crown, resting in second place behind title-rivals Newcastle Eagles, who coincidentally they beat in their first-ever BBL Cup Final appearance at the National Indoor Arena (NIA), on 13 January 2008. Milton Keynes led for most of the game and sealed the 69–66 victory when New scored the final points of the game to end a Newcastle resurgence, handing the Lions franchise its first piece of silverware.
After finishing 4th in the league (19–14), Lions qualified for the post-season Play-offs with a seeded home-court Quarter-final tie against Scottish Rocks. The home team eased past the Rocks, 105–93, with the game filmed live in front of Setanta Sports cameras. For the first time in its history, Milton Keynes progressed to the Championship Finals weekend at the NIA where they defeated league champions Newcastle Eagles (63–72) on the way to the final eventually succumbing to Guildford Heat, 88–100, again live on Setanta Sports. The incredible achievements of the season, earned coach Macaulay-Razaq the accolade of BBL's Coach of the Year. Another highlight of the Lions' most successful season in history was the development of players through the new Academy with 18-year-old Greg Harvey progressing onto the roster in the latter stages of the season.
As of 2008, Lions expected to be playing at the brand-new 4,500-seat capacity arena:mk adjacent to the new stadium:mk (home to Milton Keynes Dons football team). The move to their new home would have seen the Lions play in one of the BBL's biggest, modern venues, rivalling the homes of the Rocks and Newcastle. Unfortunately, the completion of the arena has been delayed due to the deferral of proposed commercial developments around the site (which would have funded the project). With the demolition of Lions' current home, Bletchley Centre, scheduled for November 2009, the lack of alternative venue raised question marks as to the future of the franchise remaining in Milton Keynes.
On court, there were big expectations following the successful campaign previously, but the 2008–09 season didn’t start off too well for the Lions, with defeat to Guildford in the Cup Winners' Cup. After losing 91–89 in the first leg at Guildford, the Heat rolled over the Lions to a 68–60 victory at the Bletchley Centre, and a 159–149 series win. Further woe was added with a BBL Cup Quarter-final exit at the hands of visiting Everton Tigers, coupled with an exit at the 1st Round of the Trophy. The disastrous season came to an abrupt end in April, with a 14–19 record and 9th-placed finish meaning the Lions missing out on the end-of-season Playoffs.
With the demolition of the Bletchley Centre looming, the club sought to find an alternative venue for home games and on 31 July 2009 announced that from January 2010, the Lions would be playing out of Middleton Hall at thecentre:mk as a temporary measure until the new arena:mk is completed later on in the year. The Lions played their last game in front of a packed Bletchley Centre crowd on 18 December, with a dramatic 98–97 victory over Guildford Heat. Robert Youngblood scored the winning point from the free-throw line and thus scored the last basket for Lions at their former home.
After Middleton Hall decided upon changes that would no longer make it suitable for basketball, the Lions were forced to seek out yet again for another new home venue for at least the 2010–2011 season. The club secured a three-game lease for an out-of-town venue at Stoke Mandeville in Aylesbury to begin their 2010–2011 campaign, and decided upon renovating a site in the centre of Milton Keynes to host home games for the duration of the season. A three-year deal was agreed upon to use a warehouse in Winterhill and convert it into a 1,400-seat basketball arena and practice venue. The venue opened as the MK Lions Arena at the end of November 2010.
In his first season as head coach, former Lions player Mike New led the team to a disappointing 10th-place finish in the British Basketball League. Despite now boasting a fantastic full-time basketball venue, which featured two permanent courts – allowing the teams throughout the Lions banner to train more than ever before, the club missed out on qualifying for the play-offs. One of the few highlights of the season was the play of American guard Demarius Bolds, who was among the league leaders in several statistics as he was named Lions' Player of the Year.
2011–12 saw the Lions miss the play-offs for a second successive season, as they finished 9th in the Championship table – one place and four points behind 8th-placed Guildford Heat for the last post-season berth. A heavy 102–67 defeat to Leicester saw elimination at the first hurdle in the BBL Cup, however the team would later go close to making the BBL Trophy final. After topping their group in round robin play, Lions won the home leg of their semi-final against Plymouth Raiders in front of a sold-out Prestige Homes Arena, before suffering a 188–186 defeat on aggregate (after OT) in the return leg. Success was however found on a personal level, as Nathan Schall won the BBL dunk competition as part of the BBL Cup Final festivities and Stefan Gill completed the dunking double as he was crowned dunk contest champion at the World Basketball Festival.
Departure from Milton Keynes
Following the conclusion of the 2011–12 season, the owners of Prestige Homes Arena triggered an opt-out clause in the lease to let the building as a retail outlet. A planning application to change the building from a sporting facility to retail unit was approved by Milton Keynes Council, thus leaving the club without a home venue for the third time in as many seasons. Owner Vince Macaulay searched during the summer of 2012 to secure a new base for Lions home games, which included public pleas to local businesses for help in finding a new home as offers from cities around the UK poured in to relocate the team. On 17 July, a local newspaper revealed negotiations to secure the Lions future in Milton Keynes were ongoing, with Macaulay hoping to finalise a deal with sufficient time to begin preparation for the new season, slated to begin away to the re-formed Manchester Giants on 21 September. On 30 July, with the country's interest in basketball heightened by Great Britain's participation in the London 2012 Olympic basketball tournament, Macaulay revealed his search to find a home venue had been unsuccessful and the club would be forced to leave Milton Keynes.
In addition to the loss of professional basketball games, the move is a big blow to Milton Keynes residents who have enjoyed extensive community and schools basketball programmes since the Lions arrived in 1998. It is not yet known what effect the team's departure will have on the many school teams and community projects, but Macaulay has stated he wishes to remain involved in the development of youth basketball in Milton Keynes in some form. Questions also remained on the future of the Milton Keynes Lions College Academy which enables young adults to attend basketball practice five days a week whilst furthering their education – several of whom have gone on to sign professional deals with the first team.
Move to London
On 8 August 2012, an article in the Milton Keynes Citizen newspaper revealed the Lions would be moving to London for the 2012–13 season, taking residence at the Copper Box in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. As the Copper Box is being used for handball during the 2012 Summer Olympics and goalball during the 2012 Summer Paralympics, the venue needs to be converted for basketball use, the Lions will begin the season playing home games at Crystal Palace National Sports Centre. Owner Vince Macaulay-Razaq revealed the Lions would maintain links in Milton Keynes by keeping the Milton Keynes College Lions Basketball Academy open.
Following the Lions' move to London, head coach Mike New elected to remain in Milton Keynes and continue his work as head coach of the Milton Keynes College Lions Basketball Academy. Lions owner Vince Macaulay coached the team for the 2012–13 season. London Lions played its home games at Crystal Palace National Sports Centre until the Copper Box had been converted for basketball use following its role as handball arena during the London 2012 Olympic Games.
London Lions was successfully launched as the only professional basketball club in London. The team finished 6th in the regular season before losing to Worcester Wolves in the playoffs quarter-finals.
The two previous seasons' BBL MVPs, Drew Sullivan and Zaire Taylor, were recruited for the 2014-15 season. The Lions reached the semi-finals of the BBL Trophy, losing to Leicester Riders. They finished 6th in the regular season. In the playoffs, the Lions defeated Worcester Wolves in the quarter-finals and Cheshire Phoenix in the semi-finals. The final, played in front of 14,700 at The O2 Arena, was won by Newcastle Eagles, who completed the clean sweep of British basketball titles.
Nigel Lloyd took over as head coach for the 2015-16 season. Joe Ikhinmwin, the only senior player retained from the previous season's run to the play-off final, was made captain. Olumide Oyedeji would later rejoin in October following a serious injury to Demond Watt. Alex Owumi signed in December following further roster changes. The season ended with defeat to Sheffield Sharks in the play-off quarter-finals, on their way to winning the trophy.
A more stable summer saw Nigel Lloyd remain in charge, bringing back Alex Owumi, Andre Lockhart, Jamal Williams, Joe Ikhinmwin and Kai Williams. Zaire Taylor also returned after a year away, along with Derek Hall and Rashad Hassan. A 9-1 start to the season in all competitions suggested great promise, but the departure of Hall after only 3 games and a season-ending injury to Jamal Williams disrupted the team's form. Defeat to Newcastle Eagles in the BBL Cup followed shortly afterwards. Reinforcements arrived in the shape of Navid Niktash and Zak Wells but the early season form couldn't be recaptured.
- Dacorum Leisure Centre (1977–1997)
- Watford Leisure Centre (1997–1998)
- Bletchley Centre (1998–2009)
- Middleton Hall (thecentre:mk) (2010)
- Prestige Homes Arena (2010–2012)
- Crystal Palace National Sports Centre (2012–2013)
- Copper Box (2013–present)
- Between 1998 and 2002, some home games were played at Planet Ice Milton Keynes for TV broadcasting purposes.
|Hemel Hempstead Lakers|
|1977–1978||NBL 2||5th||20||10||10||20||n/a||-||1st Round|
|1979–1980||NBL 1||4th||18||12||6||24||4th place||-||Quarter-final|
|1980–1981||NBL 1||3rd||18||13||5||26||3rd place||-||2nd Round|
|1982–1983||NBL 1||3rd||24||18||6||36||4th place||-||Quarter-final|
|1983–1984||NBL 1||11th||36||12||24||24||DNQ||-||2nd Round|
|1984–1985||NBL 1||7th||26||15||11||30||Quarter-final||Semi-final||2nd Round|
|1985–1986||NBL 1||9th||28||13||15||26||DNQ||2nd Round||2nd Round|
|1986–1987||NBL 1||8th||23||8||15||16||Quarter-final||2nd Round||Quarter-final|
|1989–1990||NBL 1||4th||22||14||8||28||Semi-final||Semi-final||1st Round|
|1990–1991||BBL||8th||24||4||20||8||Quarter-final||1st Round||2nd Round|
|1991–1992||BBL||7th||30||13||17||26||Quarter-final||1st Round||3rd Round|
|1992–1993||BBL||12th||33||4||29||8||DNQ||1st Round||3rd Round|
|1993–1994||BBL||12th||36||3||33||6||DNQ||1st Round||3rd Round|
|1994–1995||BBL||10th||36||9||27||18||DNQ||1st Round||4th Round|
|Hemel & Watford Royals|
|1996–1997||BBL||13th||36||2||34||4||DNQ||1st Round||4th Round|
|1997–1998||BBL||13th||36||3||33||6||DNQ||1st Round||4th Round|
|Milton Keynes Lions|
|1998–1999||BBL||10th||36||10||26||20||DNQ||1st Round||1st Round|
|1999–2000||BBL S||4th||34||15||19||30||Quarter-final||1st Round||Semi-final|
|2000–2001||BBL S||3rd||34||21||13||42||1st Round||Quarter-final||1st Round|
|2002–2003||BBL||8th||40||12||28||24||Quarter-final||1st Round||1st Round|
|2010–2011||BBL||10th||33||13||20||26||DNQ||1st Round||1st Round|
|2013–2014||BBL||6th||33||16||17||32||1st Round||1st Round||1st Round|
- From 1999–2002 the BBL operated a Conference system. Milton Keynes competed in the Southern Conference.
- DNQ denotes Did Not Qualify.
- NBL Division Two Runners Up: 1978/79 2
- BBL Play Off Runners Up: 2007/08
- BBL Play Off Runners Up: 2014/15
- BBL Trophy Runners Up: 2001/02 1
- BBL Cup Winners: 2007/08 1
- BBL Cup Winners' Cup Runners Up: 2008/09 1
London Lions roster
Notable former players
- Shawn Hawk
- Shawn Jamison
- Harvey Knuckles
- Mike New
- Jelani Gardner
- Jayson Obazuaye
- Tony Windless
- Dru Spinks
- Leon Noel
- Nigel Lloyd
- Ray Schultz
- Jason Seimon
- Sam SRifler
- Marcus Session
- MK Lions (8 May 2007). "Lions end Hancock hour". Milton Keynes Lions. Retrieved 17 July 2007.
- MK Lions (17 May 2007). "Macaulay in charge – All back". Milton Keynes Lions. Retrieved 17 July 2007.
- Rob Dugdale (14 January 2008). "Milton Keynes end 20 years of hurt". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 November 2009.
- Simon Downes (15 February 2007). "Winkleman can’t guarantee arena". Milton Keynes Citizen. Retrieved 20 November 2009. Check date values in:
|year= / |date= mismatch(help)
- Simon Downes & James Chard (31 July 2009). "Lions to play games at thecentre:mk". Milton Keynes Citizen. Retrieved 20 November 2009.
- "Bletchley frozen finale". Milton Keynes Lions. 31 July 2009. Retrieved 19 December 2009.
- MK LIONS IN SEARCH FOR NEW HOME – Milton Keynes Lions
- New den and new era for Lions – Milton Keynes Citizen Tuesday 24 May 2011. Note that the report says 'Grafton Gate' which is nearly but not quite correct.
- New Home For Lions – Milton Keynes Lions. Note that this item gives the correct location.
- BBL standings – Milton Keynes Lions
- Awards Signal Season End – Milton Keynes Lions