Dear Commissioner Stern:
I'm not gonna lie. I'm not really an NBA guy. Hockey, baseball, college basketball, college football, and two different kinds of professional football get my attention before the NBA does. I've been over the reasons why I don't like you so many times they've become like the lines to any movie we've seen too many times. Knowing exactly where they come up and learning them by heart. No defense. Spoiled millionaires. Music piped in during the run of play. Too slow-moving.
I can probably count the number of NBA games on one hand I've watched from start to finish since finishing grade school. I can't bring myself to care during the playoffs, or the regular season, much less during the preseason.
But this preseason, my head had turned. This NBA European experiment has caught my eye, and while it hasn't brought me back into the fold, it has made me curious. I'm not an NBA fan, and to quote Ferris Bueller, "I'm not European. I don't plan on being European. So who cares if they're socialists? They could be fascist anarchists, it still wouldn't change the fact that I don't own a car."
OK. The last part wasn't too relevant, and I'm not sure if you've done this for years, but whoever dreamed up this NBA-teams-take-on-European-teams is a genius. Even if it's just in the preseason, the most meaningless preseason of all, I turned and looked. Even though I knew the likely outcome, I legitimately wanted to see if the New York Knicks could knock off Maccabi Tel Aviv. I wanted to see how Spanish Champions Real Madrid would do against the Toronto Raptors.
Why? For the last several years, it has been universally regarded that the NBA is the best basketball league on the planet. However, whenever NBA players represent the Stars and Stripes in a major international tournament, they seem to come up short against foreign national teams that maybe have one or two NBA players, and "collection of stiffs." Well, those guys are never really stiffs. They're stars in their own right, just not in the NBA. Toni Kukoc was a well-established international star in Europe before moving to the Bulls in the mid-90s.
I can only hope these pre-season exhibitions are the start of something. It's no secret that the NBA seems to have more or less tapped out its market potential in the U.S.. Disagree? Where else would you put a new team? If the first cities that come to mind are Louisville and Kansas City, then there's nowhere else to go. It's also no secret that David Stern is looking to Europe, saying that London's O2 Arena could be the site of a future NBA regular season game. European stars like Tony Parker, Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, (or any assortment of Eastern Europeans who have succeeded over the past 10 years in the NBA) are making their mark on the NBA, and the next generation is looking to follow their lead.
What I'm proposing is a regular competition at the beginning of the season at a neutral site. Let's say...Madison Square Garden this year and O2 or some other European arena next year. Take 4 NBA teams based on results from the prior season and play them over a week against the Final Four of the Euroleague or four invited international teams to guarantee a good gate draw (ie: Bring in Maccabi, Panathanaikos, Real Madrid, Treviso, or some other big European team.)
Offer a big prize to the winners. Use it as a way to kick off the season. You could even play it in the summer, during both offseasons. It's not like the WNBA is drawing anything besides red numbers on your balance sheets. It would essentially become the Ryder Cup for Basketball. NBA scouts would get increased exposure to how up-and-coming European talent would do against NBA competition. The NBA players who may be representing Team USA would get increased exposure to international tactics and international rules. It would be new. It would be different. It would be exciting and interesting. It would reflect the growing international influence in basketball. Make tickets cheap if you're worried about low gates. Do it for charity. It couldn't hurt.
If it was done this past year, let's just set it up for shits and giggles using the NBA Finalists, the league's best regular-season record, and the host team (Let's say it's at the Garden) along with 4 invited Euro teams.
CSKA Moscow (Russia, Euroleague Finalists)
Panathanaikos (Greece, Euroleague Champions)
Cleveland Cavaliers (USA, NBA Finalists)
New York Knicks (USA, Host team)
Real Madrid Baloncesto (Spain, Spanish Champions)
Maccabi Tel-Aviv (Israel, Israeli Champions)
San Antonio Spurs (USA, NBA Champions)
Dallas Mavericks (USA, Regular Season Best Record)
Group stage games in Cleveland, New york, San Antonio and Dallas. Top two in each group advance to semifinals at the Garden. Winners move on to Final. You could finish the whole tournament in a little over a week if you start on Friday and end the following Sunday. Sure, for the first few years, the best of the NBA might trounce the best of Europe, and we end up with 3 or 4 NBA teams in the semifinals, but isn't that what we have already in the pre-season? Just NBA teams playing each other? But there, it's in meaningless games. Here, let's make it interesting. Let's put something at stake.
Call it stupid, but I think it's a great idea. And I think whoever came up with your NBA Europe Live is on to something.