But that's Kingston, and it's still only 900 people. The London tabloids give basketball less play than they give a financial symposium, and such sports as snooker, darts and badminton have elbowed English hoops off the telly since the early 1980s. Andy Jacobs, a television sports editor and basketball junkie, has to battle just to air national-team highlights. "You know how hard it is to score a goal in soccer?" says Jacobs. "It's exactly the opposite in basketball, and you know how much we love soccer. So we may speak the same language, but there's a bit of an ideological difference when it comes to sport."
Another obstacle for Byrd is that the British appreciation for fair play and the good show undermines his more American aim: winning. Even when he plays for fun, he wants to win—that's how he learned to play the game. "The hardest thing is trying to get guys here to believe they can be successful, that it's all right to be on top," says Kevin Cadle, who played at Penn State from 1975 to '77 and now coaches Byrd on both the Kingston and national teams. "There are so many non-believers. They think if you come close to someone who's a big name, like the Russians or the Yugoslavs, that's good enough. Uh-uh. It's about winning and losing. Alton has helped change that, because he's a winner."
As he drives from Leicester to his south London home, Byrd pauses to reflect on the game. "To a great extent I feel like I have helped contribute for 12 years to what happened tonight." he says. "The magnitude of beating the Bulgarians. To someone in the States, it's like, So what? It's not winning the NBA. It's not even winning the NCAA. But for a country where basketball is deemed a second-tier sport, it's the biggest victory we've ever had."