It is getting close to a year before David Stern steps down from his perch as the NBA's commissioner. For as much as Stern has accomplished, there is still the feeling that a lot of work is left to do.
One of Stern's biggest legacies in his quarter century as the league's commissioner is the growth of the game globally. Assisted by the growth of international brands buoyed by Nike and Michael Jordan and the growth of quicker means of communication, basketball is probably the most popular American sport in the world.
Still, Stern has not realized one dream. It is the idea that he trots out every so often -- European expansion.
The idea continues to be at the front of what Stern would like to see the NBA grow into as he prepares to step down. Last week he was on the SVP and Rosillo Show on ESPN Radio and again stated his belief that NBA squads in Europe will be the next logical step in the sport and the league's growth.
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.
Stern, of course, will not be the one overseeing that expansion. That would seem likely to fall to his successor, Adam Silver. And, obviously, 20 years is a very far way ahead.
The NBA though continues to expand its presence internationally. Thursday, the Pistons will take on the Knicks at the O2 Arena in London, continuing a series of regular season games the NBA has played in London during the past four seasons.
The idea still seems like a pipe dream however. There are logistics to work out -- the Pistons and Knicks have both been off since Sunday in preparation for their game on Thursday, the time in between has been spent touring the city and setting up community outreach programs in and around the city. The trans-Atlantic road trip would be a much bigger challenge for tired legs than the annual Spurs' Rodeo Trip or the Bulls' Circus Trip even.
Travel technology might advance to eliminate that problem. We were supposed to have teleporters by now, right?
The big hurdle for European expansion is the arena issue. Few teams have arenas that would live up to NBA standards. The stadiums have been built up in the last few years -- most notably in London and Berlin -- but many of the top European teams play in glorified college stadiums.
For now, the NBA will continue holding exhibition games overseas in the preseason and doing these yearly regular season games in London.
London seems like the most commercially viable place for the NBA to expand, but it is not exactly basketball crazy. The Olympics and the NBA exhibitions have raised the sport's profile in the country, but it has not exactly been a driving force in making England basketball crazy.
So there is still work to do to grow the NBA brand and the NBA game overseas to make it comercially viable to have a European Division. Indeed, the European expansion plan seems as far out . . . and still a pipe dream.
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