Part 1 :From the Lakers to the Royals
The history of the Lions goes back to the Hemel Lakers, established in 1977.
In 1993 Vince Macaulay, formerly a player for the pioneering London Towers in the British Basketball League, took over the team and continued to run it out of the Dacorum Leisure Centre.
An opportunity arose with Watford Football Club and Watford Council, with potential of a new 3,000 seated indoor facility at the Watford FC Vicarage Road venue, which would house the Lakers.
With this in place, in 1996 the team renamed itself Watford Royals, playing out of the Watford Leisure Centre.
Part 2: Lions Arrive in Milton Keynes
In 1997 the Watford Football Club earned promotion to the Premier League and the plans were abandoned, leaving the Royals to stay in the Centre or relocate once again.
This time it was off to Milton Keynes, the fastest growing city in the UK, with the promise of a home alongside the yet-to-be named football club, in a new Arena. The team became known as the Milton Keynes Lions.
The team started to gain credibility as good quality players arrived, Tony Windless, Eric Burks, Nigel Lloyd and many more.
Lloyd took the team to a final, the BBL Trophy at the NEC in 2000, a valiant effort ended in a one point defeat to the Chester Jets.
However it was not until Macaulay took the reigns again in 2007, that the club would claim it’s first every title and it’s best ever season performance in the League, winning the BBL Cup at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham, defeating the Newcastle Eagles.
Part 3: A Difficult Road Ahead
However plans for the long awaited Arena fell through, and the Lions’ home – Bletchley Leisure Centre – was scheduled to be knocked down, so in 2009 the Lions were without a venue.
Creative thinking led to the team setting up home in Middleton Hall, the centre of the Milton Keynes Shopping Centre. A fantastic set up saw the team playing in front of 1200 spectators. However the move was short-lived when the Centre decided they needed to carpet the open space, effectively removing the Lions.
Not to be beaten, the club acquired a warehouse, disused for 7 years and converted it into a training court and home court. A fantastic move, all the Lions Junior teams were brought into the same venue and the club had a home, live games on Sky TV and 24 hour access.
This move though coincided with two poor seasons under Head Coach Mike New. The team failed to make the Playoffs in either season. As plans were afoot for another challenge, the club were informed that they had to leave as the landlords had sold the land.
Increasingly it looked like Macaulay had come to the end of the road. Unable to find anywhere else to play or acquire to build a home for the team, the club faced closure.
As the season approached Macaulay announced if a suitable venue was not found, the club would no longer be able to remain in Milton Keynes after 15 years. Eventually the club withdrew from the League. All this in 2012 – the year London hosted the Olympics.
Part 4: We Are London
But unwilling to accept defeat, Macaulay saw an opportunity and was able to persuade London that if it needed a tangible Olympic Legacy then basketball, in an Olympic venue, was what was needed and they enthusiastically agreed.
The London Lions were born, playing out of Crystal Palace National Sports Centre in year one, the team qualified for the end of season Playoff’s with an all English squad.
Following renovation at the Park the team moved into the Copper Box Olympic facility in August 2013, and duly sold out 7,000 seats for their first ever game against US College side, Iowa University.
In the spirit of legacy, the club is forging partnerships whilst building a truly community club in London, in association with GLL (the largest leisure provider in the city), and now the Youngblood Lions, Hackney Community College, Epping Forest College, Raines School, Right Development Foundation and many more.
Under new company branding and contributory ownership the club had a hugely successful 2014-15 season. The team qualified for the BBL Trophy Semi-Finals before losing to the Leicester Riders and then having finished joint fifth made the end of season Playoffs, that road led all the way to the O2 Arena for the Final after victories over Worcester Wolves and Cheshire Phoenix. At the O2 in front of 15,000 fans the Lions fell to clean sweep champions, Newcastle Eagles.
Lions have made the Playoff’s every year, made semi-finals 6 times in London and won the inaugural British Basketball All Stars Trophy in 2017. With a fantastic venue, dedicated fans and a growing all-start roster, all is set for continued progress with London’s only professional basketball team.
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