Could The NBA Expand Into Europe?

The concept of a European NBA team has often been discussed, but would it be possible?


When Adam Silver let that hilariously-awkward "manifest destiny" line slip concerning the league's potential to expand into Europe, it was obvious he shared his predecessor David Stern's view that the NBA should be a global sports entity, odd language choice aside. What arguably started with the 1992 Dream Team's arrival in Barcelona (highlighting a god-like popularity of the league's all-stars/revealing an untapped market) has, to use Silver's words, 'manifested' into dozens of popular, talented, non USA-born players enriching the league and a number of regular season games in Japan, England and Mexico, as well as the exhibition friendlies played across Europe.

Silver definitely wants to continue the global expansion, with the next step possibly being an All-Star game in Europe; he admitted as much during a discussion concerning the most recent All-Star game, which not so coincidentally had occurred outside of the United States for the first time in its history.

It's a bold step, but he's realistic about it. The biggest hurdle to the NBA becoming fully international is the sheer amount of travel time players would endure on a European road trip, compounded by the effects of going through multiple time zones. To a league that is becoming increasingly concerned with the health of its players, the thought of a bleary, fragile team trudging through France presents an immediate issue.

"We're becoming more sophisticated about the impact of fatigue on our players, and the direct correlation of fatigue and injuries. We want to talk to the player's association about it. As we all know, when you change time zones.. it's often difficult to sleep when you've had quick changes in time zones", Silver said in his press conference ahead of an Orlando vs. Toronto match at the O2 Arena in London recently.

That's fair, and the logic's great from a fan's perspective too. When you already have a regular season that goes for 82 games, and quantity being a non-issue, would you really want that potential drop-off in game quality? It isn't worth much to Silver, the players or the fans to have a team endure a 12-hour flight from Europe only to come home and have jet-lagged shooting performances.

Another possible roadblock is the fact that multiple teams would have to be formed in Europe in order to make the expansion work logistically. That afore-mentioned 12-hour flight occurring a couple of times a year just to play one game wouldn't make any sense. A single trip for each team, playing multiple games in what would be a European division (four to be specific), would be much more in the realm of possibility. Which still couldn't happen, not right now at least, due to the lack of suitable arenas that could house an NBA crowd.

This is also in addition to the fanbase you would have to grow and cultivate in order to make the expansion work financially. Sure, there may be floods of people attending matches in the beginning, but (especially in a continent obsessed with football) the novelty will wear off quickly, and how invested in the NBA is in making overseas fans truly care about their respective potential franchise teams will determine how often those fans come back.

With that being said, the idea of the NBA being a global organisation with enduring worldwide appeal is still not that far-fetched. The continuously sold-out performances whenever the NBA goes abroad can attest to that. The hardest part seems to be figuring out a way to make it all work, both in terms of money and personnel. Barring incredible improvements in travel, the players will have to be coaxed into having their body clocks disrupted and play effected by long flights. At least 4 non-US franchises would have to be established in order to make the whole road trip feasible. Oh, and the actual arenas that the games would be played in still have to be built.

It's still a possibility, but we may be waiting a while.

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