When asked whether he foresaw NBA teams playing in Europe at some point in the future, 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.
According to Stern, a move to include major European cities such as Barcelona, Berlin, Madrid, London and Paris in an all-Europe division is the only way to pull off the ambitious expansion plan.
"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."
Obviously, there are significant obstacles to creating a branch of the league across an ocean. For starters, the travel times and scheduling issues would be a nightmare, especially considering that teams already complain about too many back-to-back sets and lengthy road trips.
Will the NBA have European teams in 20 years?
The commissioner’s reign has been marked by a number of focal points, including the marketing of stars, wider television syndication and a firm disciplinary structure.
But international expansion, at least in terms of the NBA’s popularity, is probably Stern's most notable achievement as commissioner. With that in mind, it shouldn’t be surprising that he is optimistic about parlaying his product’s massive appeal into actual NBA games being played on other continents.
By the time the league eventually sorts out all of the logistics and finds enough viable arenas and owners to make expansion practical, Stern’s gig will have long since ended, with his retirement reportedly coming in 2014 (via ESPN.com).
But make no mistake about it; if the NBA starts playing games in Europe, it will be the culmination of a long-time vision of one of the most ambitious commissioners any sport has ever known.