NBA Commissioner David Stern has been down the road of international expansion before.
So it wasn’t a complete blast from left field when he told ESPN Radio’s “SVP and Russillo Show” on Thursday that he sees an NBA that includes teams in Europe within two decades. (Click here for the full audio, but be warned … it plays automatically).
In short, Stern said:
“I think so. I think multiple NBA international teams. Twenty years from now? For sure. In Europe. No place else. In other places I think you’ll see the NBA name on leagues and other places with marketing and basketball support, but not part of the NBA as we now know it.”
That makes sense. It’s one thing to put a European division in place of four to six teams. It’s only about 90 minutes longer to fly from New York to London than it is to fly from New York to Los Angeles, so if a team were to have to go on a European road trip for several games, it could make sense within the framework of an NBA schedule.
Of course, many of the doomsayers who detest the idea of the NBA expanding beyond the North American footprint immediately point to a situation where a team would “have a game in L.A. one night and in London the next.”
Seriously, folks—teams aren’t asked now to play in the Pacific Time Zone one night and the Eastern Time Zone the next. So why in the world would the NBA schedule makers put together a slate of games that had a team in Sacramento on Monday night and in Berlin on Tuesday?
The fact is that flights to Europe aren’t prohibitively long, provided it’s for more than just a single game. Add to that the potential for technological advances that could make travel even faster in the future and you have a scenario that is, at least logistically speaking, viable.
Then again, anyone who watched “The Jetsons” 30 or so years ago is still dealing with the sad reality of not yet being able to own a flying car, so many those technological advances won’t come so quickly after all.
That’s not to say there aren’t questions aplenty to answer before considering taking the logo across the pond.
There are several markets in North America that are still struggling to establish themselves. Charlotte, N.C., is on its second attempt to grow an audience both in the arena and on local television. Vancouver, British Columbia, didn’t make it a decade before the Grizzlies had to abandon ship for Memphis, Tenn.
The Toronto Raptors have trouble drawing American talent in free agency, despite the fact that Toronto is a very modern, very large city where English is spoken everywhere.
Throw in the problems that European soccer leagues are continuing to have with racism, both in the stands and on the pitch itself, and there is even more potential for problems with a move to the Old World.
Then there’s the issue of the European economy. If the U.S. recently found itself on the precipice of a so-called “fiscal cliff” recently, then the old continent has been in the throes of a fiscal abyss for most of the last decade.
Stern had a plan in place to expand to London already, according to the Boston Globe, before the international economy nosedived.
The other problem is the lack of NBA-type arenas in Europe. According to Stern, there are only two facilities—the O2 Arena in London and O2 World in Berlin—that could house an NBA team. But many of the venues that currently house Euroleague teams aren’t up to NBA standards.
It’s not as if this is something that is happening tomorrow or even next week. Incoming commissioner Adam Silver has a lot of priorities to deal with before broaching the subject of European expansion.
But at some point, the idea could be viable.
Maybe we could all pile into our flying cars to go to the games.