Column: London still the best option for NBA regular season

After Thursday’s rather drab NBA Global Games showpiece in London, a usual pre-game press conference question directed to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver ended up with me actually thinking about the future of a regular season contest in the UK.

The moment the Milwaukee Bucks raced into a 14-0 lead over the New York Knicks, the large quantity of Knicks fans slumped into their seats, almost knowing that their team would lose, even if there was still 6:25 left of the first quarter left, plus three quarters still to be contested.

Despite the final four minutes of the game seeing New York show some signs of life and the near 19,000-pro Knicks crowd shouting “defence” in unison whenever the Bucks had the ball, the game as a whole was played out with fans that looked disinterested. The celebrities that were walking around media row at periods of the game and who were introduced on the big screen also looked bored.

It then had me thinking on my way home about a question asked to Mr. Silver about the possibility of playing a regular season game in Europe, away from London? The NBA play a regular season game in Mexico but the Commissioner, who wants at least four European franchises in Europe, something I feel is a long way off certainly wants to continue promoting the brand in Europe.

The bore-fest on Thursday certainly isn’t the NBA’s fault. When the fixture was announced back in May of last year, the Knicks, who are, as it stands the richest franchise in the league according to Forbes at a net worth of $1.4billion were expected to improve on last season, when they failed to reach the playoffs and the Milwaukee Bucks, who certainly don’t possess the value of the Knicks were also expected to progress beyond their NBA-worst 15-67 mark. Little did we know it at the time, but the prestige of the London game was heightened when Carmelo Anthony re-signed for the Knicks and the Bucks drafted Jabari Parker, the latter of which was quickly sunk when he tore his ACL earlier in the season.

The NBA’s top brass also certainly did not expect the Knicks, the owners of the worst record in the league at 5-36 to tank this season and ultimately stink the entire O2 Arena up on Thursday. The fans in attendance mainly came to see Anthony and the instantly recognisable Knicks franchise. All across the world – you see New York Knicks merchandise on sale – but it’s rare that you see Milwaukee Bucks gear on show around Europe, unless you buy it online.

The question though about playing a regular season game in Europe, outside of London comes up every year. Guesses are that former NBA Commissioner David Stern had an already prepared answer written on a napkin every time he visited the United Kingdom in January. That was until Silver took over the reigns in February 2014.

Silver, like Stern, says that it is possible but with the facilities London has in the O2 Arena, quite possibly the best arena in Europe, and certainly the best in the NBA’s eyes plus the reasonably close proximity from London to the New York-New Jersey areas allows one team to already be pencilled in every year, and since the regular season games came into place at the O2, teams from New York [Knicks, Nets] and New Jersey [Nets, before relocating to Brooklyn] have all played in England.

It is understandable that Western Conference sides don’t want to touch London, purely because of distance and time difference, for which the UK is eight hours ahead. And that would be the problem for most countries around Europe. For Eastern Conference sides to get to the places that have the best facilities in Europe is a challenge, especially when you consider the teams involved will have to make more sacrifices then they would have to going to London.

Flight times going from New York (East) and Los Angeles (West).

Istanbul [Ulker Arena] – East: 10 hour flight [7 hours ahead]. West: 14 hours (10 hours ahead).

Turkey straight away is out. While for pre-season, the Ulker Arena is perfect. The regular season has a tighter schedule, with the flight time and time difference; that would be too much.

Madrid [Barclaycard Center] – East: 7 hour flight [6 hours ahead]. West: 12 hours [9 hours ahead]. 

The main focus of Thursday’s question to Mr. Silver was a regular season fixture in Spain, and the Barclaycard Center in Madrid isn’t a bad option for the East teams. The arena would be a big step down from the O2 Arena though, as the facilities off the main arena are not up to NBA’s high standard.

Barcelona [Palau Saint Jordi] – East: 8 hour flight [6 hours ahead]. West: 13 hours [9 hours ahead].

The best arena, for me in Spain it’s also good for an NBA game. But again, doesn’t touch the facilities in the O2. The extra hour along from Madrid would be tough as well. Western Conference sides wouldn’t touch this at all.

Lille [Stade Pierre Mauroy] – East: 7 hour flight [6 hours ahead]. West: 11 hours [9 hours ahead].

This venue I’m sure is on the NBA’s radar. As a basketball venue, it’s yet to be tested, but with the Eurobasket 2015 final rounds being held here and a capacity crowd of 27,000 that can be held, it’s something that could replace London, but again, the West will be unlikely to travel.

While it might be explored – London’s location is kind to the NBA. It would be hard to envision it going anywhere otherwise it might damage the team’s progression for a playoff or even championship shot.