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PostPosted: Thu Mar 25, 2004 10:03 pm    Post subject: nba in europe

The NBA in Paris? Commissioner David Stern believes it is inevitable.

He's a staunch believer that the league he's guided the past 20 years is destined to expand across the Atlantic and into Western Europe.

And if anyone thinks scheduling and travel concerns might nix the idea before it's implemented, they haven't talked to the NBA's resident optimist lately.

"If you can schedule the Portland Trail Blazers in Orlando," Stern said, "you can schedule the (Los Angeles) Lakers, who would not be flying from L.A. but from Boston, to do their European trip."

Global expansion was just one of the topics Stern addressed Wednesday morning during a 50-minute meeting with reporters and editors at The Star.

In town for a daylong tour of the city as the guest of the Indiana Pacers, Stern attended Wednesday night's game between the Pacers and Dallas Mavericks, a team that boasts five foreign-born players on its roster.

Stern's mission to help the game grow beyond its boundaries will be one of his lasting legacies, though he doesn't expect it to happen within the next few seasons.

"That's the great part of my job at this point in my career. I get to make all these projections and let someone else see if the expectations become a reality," he joked. "Yes, I think we will see an NBA franchise in Europe someday and NBA-sanctioned leagues on other continents."

The NBA has hired a firm to explore the possibilities. They're analyzing facilities, marketing possibilities and potential fan interest.

For economic reasons, the NBA would target Western Europe for growth, Stern said. It also helps that several international stars come from countries in that region.

"Tony Parker was the athlete of the year in France on the basis of leading the San Antonio Spurs to a championship in a sport that isn't widely followed (there)," Stern said. "I think we're talking about some place among Spain, France, Italy, Germany and England (for potential expansion)."

In the meantime, there are plenty of topics to keep Stern and his staff occupied in the United States, including the future employees of the NBA and the WNBA playing in the men's and women's NCAA tournaments.

When he took over the NBA in February 1984, the league was in bad shape. Creeping toward bankruptcy with all but six of the league's 23 teams reporting financial losses, the only thing shakier than the finances was the NBA's public image.

Reports of drug use by players piggybacked on the notion that the league lacked the diversity (not enough non-black players) to appeal to the "masses."

But on Stern's watch, the NBA reversed its fortunes through shrewd marketing and a renaissance on the court led by superstars such as Magic Johnson, current Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird and Michael Jordan.

The NBA has evolved into a sports entertainment industry -- from its marketing of superstars to its flashy pregame arena introductions to producing its own television show -- that trails only the NFL in terms of its global appeal.

"It's a bit of a double-edged sword," Stern said. "I made the judgment call on behalf of the NBA that if we didn't do enormous amounts of marketing and continuously evolve in a quest for the time and space that is allotted, we would be marginalized. So in addition to this wonderful notion of a sport, you have this other business next to it."

Instead of the romanticized version of professional sports that existed, say, 40 years ago, the NBA has managed to stay a relevant entity that appeals to the finicky masses that make up today's consumer public.

"We've replaced that (old model) with a more entertainment-oriented, commercialized version," Stern said. "But that's just necessary to allow the game to continue to survive in an environment that loves to take the fad of the day and drop it into the trash bin of consumer preferences."

Call Star reporter Sekou Smith at (317) 444-6053

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