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?