The world is shrinking, but not fast enough for some NBA devotees in Europe.
Of the questions NBA commissioner Adam Silver fielded in his news conference prior to the 2016 Global Games London Thursday – Orlando vs. Toronto at The O2 Arena – most of them had something to do with geography, distance, time zones and the logistical challenges of staging North American basketball games on other continents.
As Silver answered, he stood five times zones and approximately 3,500 miles away from NBA headquarters in Manhattan. Both the Magic and the Raptors had crossed “the pond,” a.k.a., the Atlantic Ocean, to participate, and both teams had been given four open days before their game Thursday and three more after to adjust to jet lag and otherwise re-acclimate.
Travel issues, more than financial opportunities or hoops missionary work in fertile markets, remain the top challenge to All-Star Games staged overseas, European expansion or other international flag-planting by the league, Silver said. Disrupting the routine of finely tuned athletes locked into the grind of an 82-game regular season is something around which the NBA treads lightly.
“We’re becoming more sophisticated about the impact of fatigue on our players,” Silver said deep into the media session, “and the direct correlation of fatigue and injuries. We want to talk to players 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.”
Just scheduling NBA teams for matinee tipoff times in the States – to provide live televised games overseas – is challenge enough, Silver said. Coaches routinely circle afternoon games on their schedules as potential trouble, given how disruptive it can be to players’ habits and body clocks.
So while it’s easy enough for a player such as Toronto’s Luis Scola to suggest that the NBA send four teams to London or Paris to boost efficiency – playing three regular-season games against three foes, rather than the single Raptors-Magic game – there is a much bigger picture involved.
“I’d love to hear [Scola’s] views on the travel,” Silver said, eliciting some laughter. “Ultimately that is our desire, to bring more teams and be able to play more games. We have a fairly dense schedule throughout the season. We’re playing roughly, over 165 days, 82 games. It’s an average of roughly 3 ½ games a week.”
Clearing out sufficient time for multiple teams –including those from the Central, Mountain and Pacific U.S. time zones – to make the trip, getting All-Stars from as many as 24 franchises to adapt and play, venturing to France and beyond for regular-season games or anchoring a division of NBA expansion teams in Europe all would pose challenges the league is studying, Silver said. For now, there are no simple solutions.
“The next step is to continue to work on grass roots basis here in Europe,” the commissioner said of Thursday’s event. “What’s important for us – while selling out a game in an hour and bringing in a tremendous media interest, that’s all fantastic for us – but it’s got to be part of a larger program. These games can’t just be viewed as one-off experiences.
“We want to make sure we’re part of a larger platform to grow the game. So we’re going to continue to play these regular-season games. We’re working closely with FIBA, closely with the Euroleague to continue building the game of basketball here. And as I said, we to make sure it’s not just a spectacle to come in with two teams and then have interest drop off tremendously once we leave – we want to make sure we have an ongoing impact.”
Among other topics Silver touched on Thursday:
- The news of Brooklyn owner Mikhail Prokhorov firing his GM (Billy King) and head coach (Lionel Hollins) in a major resetting of the Nets is life in the NBA, Silver said. Referring to a “very steep learning curve,” Prokhorov tried to win big sooner rather than later, signing expensive veteran players and trading away assets such as draft picks. “He’s acknowledged ‘lesson learned’ on his part,” Silver said.
- Kobe Bryant’s ongoing retirement tour has been good for both the league’s ticket sales and for fans’ ability to see one of the NBA’s greatest players one more time. If Bryant is involved in All-Star Weekend in Toronto next month, Silver said, it will be “a showcase for him” and an “opportunity for the larger NBA community to say ‘thank you’ for his service.”
- Silver remains optimistic that the owners and the National Basketball Players Association can continue making progress in collective bargaining talks “behind closed doors” and avoid a lockout or strike that would cost games and revenue in 2017-18.
- Silver agreed with one reporter who wondered if young basketball players might be at risk of overuse injuries related to the number of games they play outside of high school or college programs. Unlike youth baseball, which strictly limits kids’ pitching turns and pitch counts, “you often have these young players playing eight games in a single weekend,” Silver said. He said the NBA, along with the NCAA and USA Basketball have a responsibility to study and establish protocols.
- No sooner had Silver mentioned that approximately 100 foreign-born players were among the 450 or so on NBA rosters to open the 2015-16 season, he was asked about the eventuality of a player one day representing Austria. “We can’t wait to have the first Austrian in the NBA,” the commissioner said. “ And your next question, ‘When will be playing the first NBA regular season game in Austria…’ ”