On October 5, former NBA player Vlade Divac led a group of potential investors, representing the best basketball teams in Spain, before David Stern to propose the idea of a European division of the National Basketball Association. Even though recent most observers have panned the idea, Divac and his associates are pushing their plan forward.
This hypothetical new division would feature five teams in Europe's major basketball cities. Madrid would be a good bet, since Real Madrid is building a new basketball facility, and Berlin looks like another lock.
Stern says that the Euro model is just a possibility, calling it "a dream of his." He did note that the league's research found the idea unfeasible on all levels, but unfeasibility has never stopped Stern from dreaming. (Don't forget, this is the guy who thought basketball would fly in Vancouver.) Furthermore, noting that any move would be years away, the Commish says that the primary problem is the lack of quality facilities, not the scheduling or travel concerns.
Can I just say that the NBA needs to nip this conversation in the bud right now? The whole thing reeks of those USFL/XFL/World Baseball Classic-style ventures guaranteed to fail and peeve the American sports community. It seems gimmicky, like something from a video game in the 80s. Chicago Bulls versus Moscow! I can see the Cold War shout-outs coming on ESPN already.
Why is this such a bad deal? Here are two reasons out of many:
The Monopoly Rule. Businesses thrive and offer the best product to consumers under the stress of competition. For the last couple of decades, European basketball has become so competitive that the NBA sees it as a potential threat - especially the continental Euroleague, which has had average attendances as high as 18,000-20,000. If basketball's popularity continues to rise in Europe, the funding will rise as well, and top European players will be more inclined to stay in their home leagues.
David Stern doesn't like this prospect one iota. So he's likely to be receptive to Divac's proposal, which would essentially give him the top five European teams and monopolize top-tier basketball on both sides of the Atlantic. The NBA and Divac's group would profit like old-fashioned robber barons, but the level of play would suffer.
Take soccer as an example. One of the main reasons European football is so intriguing is that there is no "top league": there are three or four of them. They compete with each other, and the result is great for fans. One of the main reasons baseball is such a great game now is because of the century-long competition between the National League and the American League. Sure, the ABA collapsed and the NFL has stiff-armed potential competition, but facts are always going to be facts; if there's another viable league in existence, the result is better basketball for everyone.
Scheduling and Travel. Despite Stern's claim, this is still a ridiculously large issue. There are, at present, 30 teams in the NBA. Adding five from Europe would make 35. Retaining the current format, that would mean the NBA season would jump ten games for each current team, to 92 per season. Considering that most players can't make it through the marathon 82-game schedule, why on Earth would you add more? The NBA's percentage of marquee match-ups is already low, and adding five more teams to the shuffle makes it even worse. As it stands, the campaign begins in football season and lasts well beyond March Madness.
Does the league really want to add games? Or are they going to subtract teams? Do we want to watch a "contraction" debacle a la the Minnesota Twins?
Okay, choose five teams to die tomorrow.
Not easy, is it?
Plane flights are another issue. Since I don't see them shortening the schedule, how is the NBA going to account for the jetlag you get from bouncing back and forth across the Pond? Will the European teams go on ridiculously extended tours of America? Are the American teams going to tour Europe five cities at a time? It's maddening to think that any league would add five new teams, several transatlantic flights, and ten more games to the current schedule. Heck, the last twenty games are usually filler anyway, and they want to throw more on the pile?
I feel two key things should happen in terms of the NBA-Euro relationship. First, everyone needs to convert to the same rules. Frankly, I don't care who moves anymore, but it needs to happen. (Although Americans did sort of invent the game, which would make one think that our way might be the winner by default.) Second, the NBA Champion should play a series at the end of the year against the Euroleague champion - a "World" series, let's call it.
Perhaps down the road, NBA teams could join the Euroleague regular season, but as of right now, that idea is ridiculous... just like EuroDisney is ridiculous. And the same goes for the idea of bringing five European teams into the NBA - either today or fifteen years from now.
That said, there is reason for hope, reason to believe that cooler heads will prevail, and that there won't be any trans-Atlantic realignment anytime soon: Vlade Divac is leading the charge. Somehow, I'm not too worried.