Bulls, Jazz enjoy soccer before NBA preseason

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LONDON (AP) -- Big Ben and Buckingham Palace took a back seat to Premier League soccer when the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz arrived in London.

The two NBA teams will play a preseason game Tuesday at the O2 Arena, but several players were still giddy about seeing a soccer match Sunday.

True to their colors, a group of Bulls players went to see Arsenal beat Blackburn 6-2 at the Emirates Stadium, while a few Jazz players took in Chelsea's 2-0 win over Liverpool at Stamford Bridge.

"Extremely exciting game to watch," Bulls rookie Taj Gibson said Monday. "We got a taste of overseas, how they love their football."

The British public also has shown how it likes basketball, with the arena expected to be sold out for the third straight year. And this year, there's an added bonus -- London-raised Luol Deng on the Bulls.

"It's going to be a lot of faces in the stands that I know," said Deng, who lived in London after his family fled war-torn Sudan and then attended Duke. "I grew up here."

The NBA shortened its European tour this year, with only two teams and two games. The Jazz will play Real Madrid on Thursday.

The NBA is intent on spreading the game to all corners of the world, and it has a good example in Bulls center Joakim Noah, the son of 1983 French Open tennis champion Yannick Noah.

"I remember when I was 11 years old, I lived in Paris and I remember watching Chicago Bulls plays against Golden State in Paris, and 12 years later I'm here playing in London," Noah said. "It's an unbelievable feeling."

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, however, is already worried about how his team will respond to the travel.

"I had a team that went to Japan, and when we got back home it took us probably three weeks to get our feet back under us," Sloan said. "Our players looked like they played 80 games, and the season was just starting."

Several players on each team are used to the back-and-forth travel between the United States and Europe, so they offered their less-experienced teammates some advice.

"I tried to explain, 'Guys, do not sleep when we get back here. Try to get away from room. Just go out, hang out,"' said Jazz center Mehmet Okur, who also plays for Turkey's national team. "So far, so good."

Okur was one of the four Jazz players to see Chelsea -- teammate Andrei Kirilenko's favorite team. Deron Williams and Kyle Korver also went.

Not everyone was as enamored with the Premier League, though. Especially Jazz rookie Eric Maynor.

"I caught it on TV for a second," Maynor said, "and I fell asleep."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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