Why A Possible NBA Expansion To Europe Is a Terrible Idea For The League

On ESPN’s SVP and Russillo show Thursday afternoon, NBA Commissioner David Stern was asked whether he believes the league could expand over to Europe at some point in the future.

“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.”

Commissioner Stern will step down from his position on February 1st, 2014. Heir apparent Mike Silver will then take over from there.

In an interview with the Boston Globe back in October, Stern discussed why having one standalone European franchise would not work in the grand scheme of things.

“I don’t think having a single team in Europe is practical. I never have. What I’ve said is if we’re going to have an NBA presence here in terms of the league, it should be five teams.”

In order for this plan to really work, a five-team European division consisting of teams playing in major markets and cities (Barcelona, London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid) would need to be instituted, rather than having the lone team which would make travel all the more cumbersome.

It’s an ambitious idea. I’ll give him that.

The NBA/Europe connection is nothing new. European clubs have been traveling over to the states in recent years to do battle with NBA squads in preseason contests and vice-versa. For example, the Boston Celtics opened up their preseason this year by traveling to Istanbul to take on Turkish basketball powerhouse Fenerbahce Ulker at Ulker Sports Arena.

In fact, one of Sterns shining achievements over his tenure as league commissioner is his marketing of the NBA product across the Atlantic.

However, even though the NBA product has never looked stronger than it does now overseas, does that make it plausible and even practical to integrate actual European club teams (or brand new franchises) into the current NBA system down the road?

Of course not.

Let’s just state the obvious right off the bat; it’s called the “National Basketball Assocation” and not the “International House of Basketball”.

I understand this newfound trend amongst all american pro leagues with bringing their respective games to new parts of the world, but at the end of the day, the United States have their game and Europe/China and the rest of the globe have theirs. I have no problem with having meaningless preseason games or showcases now and then when nothing is truly at stake, but it should begin and end with that.

It also doesn’t help matters that recent dives into expansion franchises have been mediocre at best. The Vancouver Grizzlies (created in 1995) lasted an entire six seasons before having to make the move to Memphis, Tennessee. The Charlotte Bobcats sit in the bottom third of the league in attendance numbers (currently rank 22nd, 25th in 2011-12) and the Toronto Raptors struggle to lure american-born players to come join their roster, even though the city is just across the border and widely considered to be “the poor mans New York City”.

Would NBA free-agents be motivated to sign with a team in London or Madrid, rather than cities like Miami, Los Angeles or Chicago?

I doubt it.

The travel concerns could become a problem, but when you look at how long a trip from New York to Los Angeles takes (six hours) and a trip from New York to London takes (roughly seven hours), I suppose the difference is miniscule.

What the NBA would need to do is set up weeklong road trips that consist of games against every team in this European division. There is no way teams would be willing to play one night in America and then make a one-night road trip to Europe on a back-to-back. That wouldn’t make any sense, and it probably wouldn’t be able to work time-wise anyways.

Racism is also a major issue. When you look at some soccer games overseas, there are those select fans who lash out at black athletes to either get under their skin, or just to be rude or ignorant. Those problems haven’t presented themselves in NBA preseason games just yet, but it wouldn’t shock me to see something along those lines occur if NBA action were to slowly integrate itself more into European culture, especially if this expansion were to (eventually) occur.

The NBA is the second-most globalized sport in the world, right behind soccer. It’s not crazy to envision the league evolving to house teams from other countries and continents.

20 years is a long time though. Heck, David Stern more than likely wouldn’t be alive to see the fruits of his labor if such an expansion existed.

Personally, I don’t ever seeing it happen, but that’s just me. The NBA can barely fill arenas as it is. Besides, who knows what the landscape of the league will look like so far down the road.

It’s all a big “what if” at the moment.

To me, it’s more like a “what the….?”.

Chris Walder is the Lead Editor for Sir Charles In Charge. You may follow him on Twitter at @WalderSports

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