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NBA / Sep 22, 2010 / 3:30 pm

The NBA’s next expansion: World Tournament vs. Euroleague

Kobe Bryant (photo. Nike)

Globalization has been a theme of the early part of the 21st century. The NBA and Commissioner David Stern have not been shy about their intentions to join in this phenomenon.

Specifically, Commissioner Stern has targeted basketball hotbeds like Europe and Latin America for NBA expansion. Preseason games in Europe and Asia have been played over the past few years and this year, for the first time ever, two regular season matchups have been scheduled in the UK between the Nets and Raptors. Stern is also sending out a vast contingency of ambassa-ballers this preseason: Lakers vs. Timberwolves in London, Wolves vs. Knicks in Paris, Nets vs. Rockets in Beijing, and Spurs vs. Clippers in Mexico City.

More interestingly, NBA teams will be tipping off against some of the best teams the Euroleague has to offer. The Knicks will play Armani Jeans Milano (Danilo Gallinari and Mike D’Antoni‘s former team) in Milan on Oct. 3. The defending NBA champion Lakers will face-off against the defending Euroleague champion Regal FC Barcelona (Pau Gasol‘s former and Ricky Rubio‘s current team) in Barcelona on Oct. 7. A few Euroleague teams will be coming to play stateside as well. CSKA Moscow will throw down with the Miami Heat, OKC Thunder, and Cleveland Cavs on their U.S. tour; Maccabi Haifa of Israel will travel to Newark to face the Nets; and Caja Laboral from the Basque region of Spain will head to Memphis to play Marc Gasol and the Grizzlies, then to San Antonio to face the Spurs. This experiment began a few years back with interesting results.

So where is this all leading? To begin, Euroleague Basketball recently changed their rules to be more like NBA rules. Among these rule changes are an altered key from that awkward trapezoid to a good old-fashioned rectangle, and an extended three-point line. The changes were made to move basketball closer to a single set of rules, presumably to make it easier for NBA teams to play European teams. Who knows? Maybe the games will eventually start counting.

I wouldn’t expect an organization as rich and powerful as the NBA to want to even the playing field, but entertain this idea:

What if the NBA sent its four best teams (the two Eastern Conference Finals teams and two Western Conference Finals teams) to play against the best teams the world has to offer?

Europe already does it. Leagues from Spain, Israel, Germany, Italy, Greece, France, Turkey, etc., all send their best teams to compete against each other in the Euroleague — Tournament of Champions-style — to decide who the true champs are. With the way these internationally flavored exhibition games have been set up, it seems like the NBA is interested in following suit. The only European teams the NBA has scheduled exhibition games with are Euroleague-affiliated teams, the European Champions League of Basketball.

Now, I’m going to talk about soccer for a second, so sit down, just don’t freak out, this will just take a second. Besides the Super Bowl, the other most-watched sporting event in the world is the UEFA Champions League Final. That’s the championship game of the soccer version of Euroleague. People want to see the best teams from different countries and different styles compete against each other.

Imagine the Lakers win the NBA title, but then (along with three other NBA teams) they go play meaningful games against Euro squads like Regal FC Barcelona, Olympiacos, or Real Madrid to decide the literal world championship. Who wouldn’t want to see that? Even if our teams trounce them, how cool would the city and cultural matchups be, especially when they would be real and meaningful? L.A. vs. Barcelona. New York vs. Moscow. Miami vs. Rome. Even Milwaukee vs. Istanbul would be cool. The games don’t have to be every year. They could start at once every four years. Thirty-two team tournament, round robin. Hell, let’s do a 64-team NCAA-style tourney and we’ll really see some upsets. Why not?

People could say this would dilute the importance of the NBA regular season (yawn) and the playoffs and Finals (better argument). The NBA Finals would essentially still be the “world championship,” because even if they actually created this post-Finals world tournament right now, it would probably take decades for a non-NBA team to win it.

Right now, there’s virtually no competition between an NBA squad and a Euro team. That will be evident this preseason. Kevin Durant and Team USA Jr. just cleaned up at the FIBA World Championships. While the team wasn’t always dominant, they were clearly more talented player-for-player than any team in the tourney. A cohesive, experienced unit that trusts each other, forged and tested in the fires of the NBA playoffs pitted against a gritty, upstart European team with nothing to lose would be a fascinating display of competitive spirit and national pride. The likes of Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Rudy Fernandez, Tony Parker, and countless other European players came to play in the NBA for the advanced competition, coaching, and, of course, pay.

However, recently the reverse situation has become true as well. Starting with Brandon Jennings, some high school studs have been looking to get their checks in Europe instead of going to some small college town to play a year of ball for free. Also, big-money Euro teams have begun poaching NBA free agents to supplement their burgeoning rosters. Remember a couple of years back when Josh Childress got a big contract from Olympiacos in Greece? He took that paycheck instead of being the sixh man on the Hawks, gained some experience as a starter in a different setting, and now he’s back in the NBA with a fat contract in Phoenix. Even if Europe is just poaching American players, the level of competition there has increased. The waters of international ball are becoming more brackish and coupled with the Euroleague rule changes, now may be the beginning of the rest of the world catching up to us in basketball.

All that being said, I don’t think the NBA is interested in letting players from European or Israeli leagues showcase themselves and their talents against NBA brand names like the Lakers, Celtics, and Knicks, without making a nice chunk of change from it. But who says they wouldn’t be even more profitable by being pioneers? Untapped markets in Japan and Turkey would likely be very lucrative for the NBA’s growing brand. In fact, the argument can be made that NBA stars are already global brands (even “stars” like Damon Jones and rookie Evan Turner have landed shoe deals in China).

Commissioner Stern has seen what the World Cup has done for soccer around the world. He has seen and fostered international interest in his league through exhibition and cultural infusion. The next step is to introduce the best his product has to offer to the international commercial and competitive markets. The only way to expand now is globally, but not expansion like we’re used to, like the Hornets and Heat in ’88 or the Bobcats in ’04. That model of expansion has become dated, mainly because we’re running out of American cities to put teams. The NBA would be investing in, or possibly even buying a good chunk of Euroleague and its affiliates. Expansion for the NBA would now be incorporation. With travel becoming faster and communication becoming easier, it’s not that far-fetched. The NBA is ready to take the world by storm, something the NFL and MLB wish they could claim.

Remember what JaVale McGee wrote on Twitter: “In 1200 yrs it’s not gonna b USA vs Brasil it’s gonna b mars vs earth….imagine how hard tryouts for earth r gonna b… Wow.”

He’s right, but let’s start with just Earth.

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  • lax inc

    this would b ridiculously off the chain

  • BRUCE

    If a scrub like Anthony Parker can dominate the Euro League or Tel Avi or whatever league dude played in………imagine what the Lakers, Boston, Orlando, and San Antonio would to them ever a 7 games series.

    If you send the Clippers, you would dominate RIGHT NOW!

  • BRUCE

    When was Damon Jones considered a star?

  • Taj

    I get giddy just thinking about it!!!

  • Steve Nash

    NBA would dominate… cause not one single player will be better than any player on the NBA side… Ginobli, Nowitzi, Yao are all NBA… so who would challenge… idea sucks

  • Flip

    @ Bruce: Youre exaggerating! There are exhibition games between NBA and Euroleague teams every now and then and mediocre teams like the Raptors or Clippers get beat fairly regularly by their Euroleague counterparts. So its not like you could just send a D-league squad overseas and easily win it all…

  • TL

    Would you want to see an MLS team in the UEFA Champions League? Gross

  • bill

    we used to have something like this.. the mcdonalds championship or something. i remember in 1995 my perth wildcats taking on the houston rockets in some international comp where all the champs from different countries battled it out

  • http://www.dimemag.com Celts Fan

    This idea would be amazing. And to the everyone talking about scrubs and shit, basketball’s a team game. A good team can beat a more talented team (think Pistons Lakers in 04.) It’s what corporate dbags call synergy. We been hearing about the Euros having better fundamentals and playing better as a team for years. Let’s see.

    @flip – I agree w/ you, but remember, our preseason games w/ them are right in the middle of their seasons. Not the same thing…

  • Arno

    The real thing would be a bball equivalent of the golf Ryder’s Cup: USA vs Europe. Bryant, LBJ, Wade, Howard vs Gasol, Nowitsky, Parker or Teodosic.

  • Shiptar

    this is a great idea…
    But I have to tell you this, Armani jeans Milano and Macabbi Haifa suck on euroleague level, so them playing against NBA teams is not really good idea to showcase euroleague talent!

  • QazQami

    i dont know if the guy who wrote wanna look arrogant or is just ignorant…

    there’s not 4 nba teams right that can matchup vs barcelona in a 7 games series.

    it’s also stupid to compare what the national team did in turkey with what a CLUB like lakers, heat etc… could do.

    i agree the lakers (heat?) are right now the best “club team” in the world but i seriously question your objectivity when u say stuff like :

    “Right now, there’s virtually no competition between an NBA squad and a Euro team. That will be evident this preseason”

    and even better … ^^

    “The NBA Finals would essentially still be the “world championship,” because even if they actually created this post-Finals world tournament right now, it would probably take decades for a non-NBA team to win it.”

    u wanna bet on that? i mean … lol

    u should know that just the fact that the nba champ is called “world champ” here in usa is just pathetic.

    i’m a huge fan of the nba and basically dont give a fuck about euroleague but u should show some more respect imo.

  • JAY

    This has been on my mind for about… forever. Lol

    The NBA unfairly calls its’ champion the ‘World Champs’ when it’s not true. The NBA finalists (or conference finalist if you want) should automatically get bids to a world tournament. Then the winner can rightfully call itself the champions of the world.

    I hope the tourney is a lose-once-and-you’re-out type of tournament. No “best-of-x” series.

  • Matt

    i don’t like the 3 nba teams vs. 1 euroleague. how about euroleague, nba, chinese (probably the 3rd best in the world) and some other league’s champions face off.

  • http://www.PrideMMA.com Pride FC

    no different than boxing in my opinion and trust me boxing is more deadly

  • Phileus

    “there’s not 4 nba teams right that can matchup vs barcelona in a 7 games series.”

    That’s total BS, and I can’t believe that you’re actually an NBA fan. How about a five-game series? Oh wait, they lost one already last year. They were SWEPT in the Spanish league finals. Nice try though.

    Could Barcelona be competitive in the NBA? Maybe. But playoffs? Semi-finals? Chip? No, no, no.