Colm Heaney is a Belfastian basketball blogger for the UK’s Daily Mirror. Over the next few days he’ll be covering the first-ever regular season NBA games in London as the Raptors and Nets slug it out and talk trash in Cockney accents, guvna.

The NBA has been kicking the tires (or tyres if you want to really get in the mood) on European expansion for ages, but with the Nets and Raptors in London for a couple of days, the idea seems more relevant than ever.

Addressing the subject late last year, Commissioner David Stern said:

“I think we’ll have a division and I think the Heat will play in Boston one night and then they’ll go to Paris and spend a couple days on the Champs-Elysses shopping and relaxing. And then they’ll go and play five teams. And when they finish that, they’ll play them again. Then they’ll come home, having had a nice trip to Europe and they’ll be finished with their European obligations.”

Champs-Elysses? Please. They’ll probably just end up playing beer pong with the other Yanks in their hostel like every other American abroad. But that issue aside, there are several questions that need to be answered.

For instance, do you put teams in markets that have NBA-style facilities (London, Paris, Berlin) but lack basketball pedigree? Or do you turn to places like Belgrade, Athens, Madrid and Barcelona which already support teams domestically and in the Euroleague?

The first option seems the most likely. The O2 in London and O2 World in Berlin — the mobile phone giant has the naming rights for both — are the kind of modern superstructures that Stern has deemed necessary for any would-be NBA locale no matter what the continent.

However, any European expansion would lead to someone, whether it be FIBA, or an established Euroleague club, getting their toes stepped on in some manner. The global governing body and the NBA have a cordial relationship at the moment. How would that change if the League decided to cross the Atlantic?

Not to mention, one NBA player has already spoken out against the idea. Funnily enough, he’s European. Phoenix’s Polish Hammer, Marcin Gortat, said in the same story Stern was quoted in:

“That’s impossible. In my opinion, that’s impossible. That’s just too much travel. I would just want it just to stay the way it is right now.”

And there’s the rub. The nicest charter plane in the world isn’t making a flight from Oklahoma City to Berlin any shorter. Plus, marketing a couple of games to Euro fans is one thing. Asking them to come out and watch 40 other NBA games a year is another.

So what’s the answer? Selling the game of basketball and growing the NBA in Europe is going to be the League’s strategy no matter what, but do teams on this side of the Atlantic need to be in place for that to work?

Perhaps the answer lies in the middle. What about a Final Four featuring the previous year’s NBA and Euroleague finalists for the World Club Championship? Stage it at a neutral venue (Barclays Center, Mr. Prokhorov?) during NBA All-Star weekend. Have the eyes of the entire planet focused on basketball for five days in February and give the sport (with all due respect to FIFA’s World Club Championship) the only global club competition that matters.

Whatever the future holds, the NBA’s presence in some shape or form is in Europe to stay. But, for starters, how’s about sending us a playoff team or two next year?

Comments (24)

  1. The Euro-Expansion will be known as Stern’s Folly. He needs to get over this dream. Nevermind that it is not feasible (the Euroteams have to be home at the same time and then all go on some monster road trips) but they already can’t get people to sign with Toronto; you think people are going to want to go to Belgrade? Players don’t like Canada’s higher taxes; can’t wait to see them react to France and Germany’s 50+% rates.

  2. The commute will just be too much for west coast teams. Unless there are greater gaps between games, it seems a bit ridiculous.

    Also, i agree with the previous poster. American players won’t want to play in Europe.

    • I think that it’s a little ignorant to assume American basketball players won’t want to live in Europe. Have they been asked? Belgrade might be a difficult sell, but Berlin? Paris? London? Madrid? Amsterdam? How many US cities are more fun to live than these? Do you really think European stars like Dirk wanted to go to Texas, where they kill you for selling drugs? Or great cultural centers like Oklahoma City? Milwaukee? Minnesota? The more basketball becomes a global sport, the more they need to be in the most important cities in the world. We could debate what those are, but some are in Europe. Oh, and one more point: Europe is in a better time zone for Africa and the Middle East to watch. Millions of Africans watch European Soccer. Why not give them the option of NBA basketball? The NBA wouldn’t necessarily have to collapse existing teams to do it: the presence in new markets would eventually mean basketball would become more popular in these markets. The talent pool from Europe (and maybe Africa too) would deepen. I’d go with London (huge media presence and one of the world’s most important cities), Paris (besides being large itself, much of Africa knows French as a second language. The media advantage would be huge). Madrid (Spain is already quite good at baskeball and the Spanish national team is the only team that could possibly beat USA). They could be competitive with Spanish players only. Finally, Rome and Berlin would be good choices. I wouldn’t go farther east because the time zone changes. 6 hours difference from NY is enough.

  3. Exactly. There are so many reasons why this could not work. Why has Stern spent the last couple of years talking about it so much?

  4. Colm Heaney: Derry-est name ever.

    But back on topic…

    The football (soccer) World Club Championship is a joke. Maybe a full-scale Champions League, to justify ‘World Champion’ bragging rights might be in order, but I can’t imagine the NBA players Union signing off on the extra games, or the owners taking the insurance risk unless the prize is really rich.

  5. Why? Right now, the EU as a whole has a population of over 500 million, compared to a scooch over 300 for the U.S. Thats 500 million people to sell crap to, 500 million people that turn into massive TV rights, and 500 million people that can be disappointed when their new team gives a max contract to Joe Johnson, or signs Eddy Curry.

    Players won’t like playing there, but who cares? The checks are still good, and they can always collude to play on U.S. teams after they become free agents.

    • Exactly. And think of market rights in Africa, Middle East, ect… that European soccer benefits from and American leagues don’t.

  6. I’m all for european expansion. As a potential college basketball player, my goal had always been to p lay in the nba…marketing would totally blow up, and the europeans really only have soccer to look to right now…stern and europe is the perfect match and I think that an expansion would be awesome for fans and payers alike. The idea that payers would be annoyed by the travel is ludicrous; who would deny the opportunity to play basketball in some of the best sports venues in the world while getting international exposure…the move is inevitable, and I just think it should happen sooner rather than later

  7. Even if they could make the regular season work, how in the world would a 7 game playoff series or championship series work. The season is already way too long. Having a championship series span a month so team can get acclimated to the different time zones in order to have a fair series would be crazy!!!!

  8. Stop thinking at Europeans like it’s a cohesive group of people. It’s around +30 countries that all culturally vary drastically from others. Furthermore, in a majority of these cultures, basketball is not very popular.

    Whatever market that is in Europe is not ready for basketball, because it is being dominated by other sports. My assumption would be that countries like Lithuania and Serbia would be very much open towards this, Spain possibly too. But, I doubt Stern has any plans for a team in Vilnius or Belgrade.

  9. and.. “is not ready for [NBA] basketball”

  10. First, in Germany we don’t have “50+% rates”. It’s never higher than 42% (the so called “Spitzensteuersatz”). Second, an NBA Team in Berlin or London or Paris or whatever will never have any chance to succeed. Europe is football territory (yes, the real football where you actually have to use your feet).

    • Freundliche Grüße aus Österreich. But I disagree that NBA expansion would find little support among European cities. Football may be the lead sport in Europe and indeed the world for a very long time to come. However, for the NBA Europe Conference to succeed, it would only need to do well in five cities. Any support outside of those cities could be nurtured over time. NBA success would beget success at local levels and a deeper awareness of basketball, eventually leading to more television and merchandise revenue. This eventual success would benefit from Europe’s time zone advantage and connectedness to Africa and the Middle East, something North America lacks. But this would take decades to develop and certainly wouldn’t matter right away. In the meantime, basketball wouldn’t even have to be the second most popular sport in any city. London is huge. US American ex-pats living there alone could provide for a strong base of support. It wouldn’t have to challenge Cricket or Rugby as the Brit’s second favorite sport. Paris has basketball already. The French league is quite good. One NBA team supported by the existing basketball fans in Paris would be fine. In Spain, basketball is the clear number two sport. Spain has many very good basketball players. Either Madrid or Barcelona or both (to create a great rivalry) would be possible. Of the other cities, I would prefer Berlin or Rome. However, the point has already been made that there is more support for basketball in Istanbul and also Belgrade. Istanbul wants to be seen as a global city. Turks already think of basketball as a second sport. Having an NBA team that plays in the same league as Paris, London, NYC, and Los Angeles would get turkish support from the secular turks that don’t even like sports but want to be firmly rooted in the West. An NBA team would make basketball number one in Vilnius and whatever area they’d have would be sold out every night. However, in the end, Vinius is too small and the Lithuanian TV market not worth the effort, despite the many very, very, very attractive Lithuanian girls who already go crazy for basketball. Belgrade is still too politically unstable, despite a similar opportunity to make basketball the number one sport there with an NBA team. Regardless of what cities would get teams if any expansion ever occurred, I think the NBA could make it work if they took the time and effort to support European basketball cities, time and effort to help spread basketball courts and knowledge of the game in countries with teams, and the patience when only 500 fans showed up in a major city like Paris.

  11. I kind of hope the NBA won’t expand to Europe. Keep the NBA where it is doing well and where it was founded.

  12. The talent pool is already too diluted. With several teams in the NBA currently claiming they are losing money… how would this be helped by further dilution?

    The ‘London Bangers’ vs the ‘Paris Potatoes’, both starring current NBA bench players is not going to help strengthen anything including TV numbers… other than the NBA cash grab of millions in expansion and TV fees.

    Hard cap.
    Franchise tag.
    Cull a few of the weaker seeds or relocate them.
    Done deal.

  13. Sounds like the AFL in Australia, except we’re on a domestic level. Clubs are struggling and losing money so the CEO, inexplicably, shells out a couple of new teams and pushes them into a market that is already indicating (by the teams struggling for attendance) that the current number of clubs was enough. David Stern is attempting the international replica of this plan. Weren’t we just talking about contraction? Now we want to push new teams into Europe?

    So the already struggling teams will probably lose lottery picks when these new teams are given exceptions so that they can get off the ground? Maybe having it overseas will help, but further spreading draft talent is going to adversely affect the struggling clubs (The Cavs, Timberwolves at this point in time). If every NBA team was raging, going well financially and there wasn’t a care in the world then maybe I could understand how this would be a good idea. But if Stern’s plan to extend to Europe really does include establishing new international clubs, at this point in time, he’s an idiot.

    If not then yeah, time difference is a bitch. People already say the season is too long and that players need more of a break. So Stern wants to throw flying to Europe for little excursions into that already busy schedule. Yeah, great plan.

  14. Wouldn’t mind seeing a preseason exhibition tournament.

  15. FIFA WORLD CUP is bigger than All Star Weekend, PO and Superbolw.

  16. “FIFA WORLD CUP is bigger than All Star Weekend, PO and Superbolw.”

    Can people read at all? He was talking about the FIFA’s World Club Championship, not the World Cup itself.

    As far as this whole expansion to Europe thing, I’m not so sure. I live in Europe and LOVE the NBA (best sport there is, period) but are there enough people who can come out for 41 home regular season games + preseason and playoffs? At NBA-prices? No.

    So I wouldn’t mess with a good thing by creating an European division.

    As far as playing preseason games and a few regular season games over here every now and then I’m ALL FOR IT..it’s great because it gives us NBA fans in Europe the chance to attend an NBA game and, at the same time, it gives the league international exposure, more money and it brings basketball to as many people as possible, even non-fans who can become potential fans if exposed to the game.

  17. By the way, I forgot to add, I’m attending both games in London today and tomorrow. Should be fun.

  18. The NBA is the american sports league with the most international appeal. While it may not be americas favorite sport, I doubt that any league makes more money overseas. Over the years, Stern has talked about teams in Mexico, China and, of course, Europe.
    I don’t think he really beleves that it is a possibility, but sayin’ it is, probably doesn’t hurt.

    Why should he slam that door shut? He has to say something at those international games’ press conferences and keeping our hopes up, that maybe one day, we europeans could watch live games on a regular without risking our jobs because of sleeping disorders, certainly creates some media buzz.

  19. What about something with a little bit of an NIT/Europa league kind of flavour to it.

    You send over the top 8 NBA teams (four from each conference) who did not make the playoffs over to europe to do a 16 team single elimination tournament with 8 teams that the Euroleague chooses – at the same time as the NBA playoffs are going on. Call it the NBA-Euroleague challenge, or whatever.

    The NBA has those games at different European cities, and then they have the championship game, the same day as game one of the NBA championship, prime time in Europe (3pm EST), setting up a TV doubleheader.

    When the NBA teams are over in Europe, they can do a lot of events and stuff to promote the game. Additionally, players on these eight non-NBA playoff teams get a chance to get some extra exposure, and perhaps get some “playoff-like” experience to help develop some of their young talent.

    It may not be a huge success, but it is a low risk initiative to try and promote the NBA in europe.

  20. One/possibly two words: Rollerball!

  21. @Micky C

    For some incentive if those teams are the middlings then they can battle it out for draft pick positions in the middle of the first round. Obviously can’t give them lottery picks because the lottery teams need them, but at least it’s an incentive. Any incentive would probably be needed to make the teams care enough to create a playoff like atmosphere.

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