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London Lions’ Vince Macaulay wants to make his community better through basketball

Copyright: Stephen Wright / BBL

One of the most successful basketball coaches in the UK, London Lions’ Vince Macaulay, talks about basketball, the meaning of the community, racism, diversity, the lockdown, and how sports can help the society to become better.

By Nikos Papanikolaou

If someone searches on the web about the most popular sports in the UK, they will discover that basketball is not one of them. Football and cricket take the pie’s juiciest slice, a fact that reflects on the constant absence of British basketball in tournaments.

In a country that is all about football, someone who wants to invest time and money in a basketball team is either crazy or passionate. And in the case of Vince Macaulay, the London Lions’ coach, it’s probably both.

A former player for Brixton TopCats, Tower Hamlets/London Towers, and Hemel Royals, Macaulay has been involved in UK basketball for more than three decades, as a player, as a coach, as an owner. And even if he could have been a successful cinematographer, after studying at London International Film School, Vince Macaulay dedicated his life to the orange rubber ball. And he never thought about it twice.

“I think you must follow your passion whichever way it takes. You know filming was a great part of my life for many, many years. I was fortunate to do a lot of work with the BBC Panorama program, with News Night. But, no, I haven’t regretted anything about it,” Macaulay says.

By the way he’s talking you can quickly understand that he is a man full of life and joy for what he’s doing. Sometimes, however, we tend to overlook things when we’re passionate about something. Some call it ego. Some others call it naivety. But Macaulay is not one of them. He loves basketball with all his heart, but he also knows that he’s doing it in a country that keeps ignoring the sport for decades.

Looking back to his playing years, Macaulay is not really sure that things have changed that much. Surely not at the level he wanted to. “I took over my first club, which actually was in 1989, at the London Docklands. I just wanted to play,  trying to have fun, you know, trying to make sure we had a club in London to play,” he says.

“But now we’ve moved to a position where there are social media, and we can shout about what we do. We can show people that we all care about is the development of young British players. What hasn’t changed is the mainstream acceptance of the sport, particularly in television and in mainstream media.”

When all team sports leagues halted during the pandemic, the Government decided to give emergency funds to sports teams. Rugby teams received more than £15 million and non-league football teams £250 million. Basketball only got £3 million.

“It’s really is a kick in the teeth. Basketball is a game that’s inclusive for everyone, male, female, black, white, brown, Chinese. It doesn’t matter. The game is loved worldwide, and we don’t see that in this country. I believe that the people who are making the decisions don’t know anything about basketball. We do much more community work than rugby, and yet we are ignored year after year,” Macaulay says.

Born in Liverpool, Vince is proud of his Nigerian descent. And even if he says that basketball is not inclusive, the numbers show that it’s the second most popular among Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic communities. Vince is proud of his community and his ancestors’ history. His father’s grandfather was a slave, and he considers himself a product of that.

But during the past months – especially during the Black Lives Matter marches – people wanted to erase the slaving and racist history in the country. But erasing history doesn’t erase the facts. And living in a world that continually changes, Vince thinks that the keyword is education and not denial.

“We need to stand up and say what they did was wrong. We should create a museum people can go to to understand our history. We don’t leave it out there in some sort of celebratory position on top of a plinth as something that we should be looking up to. That should never be the case,” he says.

Macaulay does not consider himself just a basketball man. He’s vocal about social issues, about Nigeria and the police brutality in the country, racism, and discrimination. He feels that this is his duty, as a black person with some sort of social status, to talk about things that are wrong in his community. “We have to keep our voice and let them know that no one is going to keep your voice down,” he explains.

Vince Macaulay is not an ordinary man by any means, even if he thinks otherwise. In a world full of rage and hate, he still feels that we can all change the world together and sports can become a significant way to achieve this. He feels that the thing he loves most – basketball – is much more than a sport. It is a way to be more diverse, to offer himself up to the community, and form a better world for everyone.