Cancellation of Season Beneficial for NBA, Expansion to Europe?

Since the lockout began I have had a hard time finding inspiration to write. It seems to take quite a bit to actually get me to sit down and work through a longer piece of writing that isn’t cut-and-dry news. It seemed that every day there were countless articles blaming the players, the owners, or anybody that seemed at fault, and I couldn’t bring myself to doing the same. We all know that the lockout sucks, and that for people that depend on it for a living but have no control over the situation it isn’t fair. Unfortunately there’s nothing to do but wait it out.

This was the approach I had chosen to take. Wait it out. I try not to get too emotional in these situations and make a rash decision for one side or the other. There are always going to be people at fault on both sides of the argument. I decided early on in this lockout that I wasn’t going to get involved.

For awhile this was difficult. Obviously I have had many different thoughts and opinions on the lockout, and ways I think it could be fixed. But it seemed that every time I sat down and tried to put together my thoughts they came out to nothing different than what I saw on a daily basis from others, like me, hopelessly waiting for this madness to end.

After finally reaching peace with my decision to let the lockout pass me by without getting overtly involved, at least as involved as a 23-year-old blogger can actually get, I received a letter from my grandmother. Inside this letter was a brief personal message and a clipping from the local newspaper.

Now, before I dive into this article head first a little background information is needed. My grandmother lives in the town of Sierra Vista, Arizona. It is a small town practically on the border of Arizona and Mexico, and has a booming population of approximately 43,000 people. Needless to say, the small town where my grandparents chose to retire isn’t exactly the hub of humanity.

The clipping that she sent was written by a local sportswriter named Matt Hickman. In her letter my grandmother disclosed that he has a reputation for being a bit of an instigator. That sounded familiar. There was one quote in particular that she shared that I found amusing.

“(Hickman) is kind of a rebel. Sometimes I think I’m never going to read him again – but then I do.”

This instantly had me intrigued. As a fellow instigator I know how it feels to get under the skin of a reader, and that almost every time it’s done on purpose. I picked up the newspaper clipping and read the title aloud, “The real reason the NBA has no interest in having any season at all.” Perfect.

I read through the article three times. Finally I had some inspiration.

Several of the points brought up in Hickman’s article were a tad farfetched and off the wall, but he also made some very reasonable observations. His point was that unlike the NHL, MLB or even the NFL, basketball is a truly global sport. The emergence of basketball in countries in Europe, Asia and South America is unlike anything we have seen in other sports. Outside of Latin America, Japan and the United States baseball is practically irrelevant. And while the NFL may have a game in London every season, Europe really isn’t looking to start up their own American football league. But basketball is different. It is a sport that the entire world has adopted and begun to love. And the NBA, especially David Stern, knows this.
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As Hickman pointed out in his article, the lockout may be the best possible scenario for the league to increase their global branding. While the NBA owners and player representatives are trading verbal haymakers in suits in front of a microphone, the league’s biggest stars will be overseas selling NBA basketball to millions of fans. Disagree? Let’s take a look at the situation.

Take into consideration Deron Williams, who was one of the first NBA players to sign a contract with an overseas team for the lockout. He is currently signed on in Turkey, where he is on the court several times a week. Do you think any of the fans are looking at him and referring to him as Deron Williams, Turkish basketballer? Of course not. He is Deron Williams, NBA superstar. The same goes for Pau and Marc Gasol in Spain. Dirk Nowitzki in Germany. Kobe Bryant in Italy. Each and every time a fan looks at or thinks of one of these stars the first thing that comes to mind is American basketball, and in turn the NBA.

So then is Hickman right? Is it plausible that losing an entire season might actually be beneficial to the NBA? I’m not suggesting that the league is trying to sabotage the season, but after the recent thermonuclear explosion that Paul Allen caused in the mediation room there is speculation that they’re not trying their hardest to reach a deal. Still, from this perspective it certainly seems possible. But if that’s the case it means that the NBA has much broader goals. It means that down the road they will be looking to add teams from around the world, especially Europe, to their brand.

Suddenly this realization hit me. Is it possible that this is ultimately what we’re working towards? Could the NBA as we know it today ultimately become one conference in a global basketball league that stretches across the ocean? Honestly, why not? There are obviously dozens of roadblocks in the way of this happening, but circumstances are always changing. For instance, when the NBA originally expanded from the east coast out to California many said it would never work. It was too far to travel. Players, owners, and fans would never go for it. Isn’t that the same sort of scenario we’re facing here but on a wider scale?

The more and more I thought about this the quicker my brain began to try and hammer out the details. Imagine 30 new teams comprised in a league in Europe that was merely a new branch of the NBA. You could still have the same NBA schedule you have now but with a long road trip that would allow you to play a small variety of the European teams each season. Hickman compared it almost to Major League Baseball’s interleague play or the NFL’s out of conference schedule, meaning you wouldn’t play every team but a new batch each season that rotates annually. Then, at the end of the NBA U.S.A. playoffs the champion would face the champion of NBA Europe for a true world championship. For a game that has taken the entire planet by storm, what more could you ask for?

While I’m not rooting for the lockout to erase the whole season or for this outlandish idea to quickly become reality, it’s something to seriously consider. Throwing around words like sabotage is unfair and rather idiotic, but it could be that missing a whole season could benefit the NBA on a global scale, even if it comes at the expense of the hometown fans.

Personally I think it’s a very interesting idea, and could be something that the future may have in store for us. There will be those who say it can’t be done, and those who will say that it would ruin the NBA. Ruin it? Maybe not. Change it? Absolutely. And while there are those that claim you don’t fix what isn’t broken, take a quick look at the current state of the National Basketball Association and tell me it doesn’t need to be fixed.

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