NBA Commissioner David Stern has long desired adding a division of teams in European cities. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
The David Stern farewell tour hasn't unofficially started, but between now and his scheduled Feb. 1, 2014 exit, the NBA commissioner will likely be asked to weigh in on his past accomplishments, the current status of the league and what he envisions for its future.
Among the predictions Stern offered on ESPN Radio's SVP and Rusillo Thursday is the NBA's expansion to Europe -- an overseas move he doesn't see happening during his tenure, but a move that he's sure will occur in the next 20 years.
"I think so," Stern said when asked if he sees a team in Europe at some point. "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's desire for an NBA foothold in Europe is nothing new. London has long been considered the favorite to land an expansion team, though the commissioner has dreamed of a division full of teams in European cities such as Barcelona, Berlin, Madrid, Paris and Rome. Stern's original plans for a European invasion were sunk by unstable European financial markets and the lack of NBA-ready arenas capable of reaping a profit over a full regular-season and beyond.
“I don’t think having a single team in Europe is practical,” Stern told the Boston Globe in October. “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. It’s safe to say that there aren’t enough buildings, there aren’t adequate TV arrangements, we don’t have owners, and I’m not sure we could charge the prices that would be necessary. I don’t think our fans are that avid yet.
The league that's second only to soccer when it comes to a world-wide fan base appears to be the most likely U.S. professional league to permanently bridge the Atlantic Ocean in the future. Television rights providing NBA action to more than 90 international outlets, Internet and social media -- more than 278 millions likes and followers -- have helped expand the league's international presence.
Whether or not Stern's heir apparent Mike Silver will still be commissioner when European cities modernize their arenas remains to be seen. In the meantime, NBA exhibitions and regular-season tours of Europe have been financially successful and slowly but surely make an overseas team and division more palatable for fans and the players union. Travel demands to China are likely behind Stern's belief that the NBA won't expand beyond Europe. The league is taking advantage of China's growing basketball fan base with a licensed NBA China league.
More NBA franchises will open slots for more NBA players who might be willing to accept a seven-and-a-half hour flight from New York to London that's just an hour and a half longer than flying from Los Angeles to New York.