NBA stars aligning for NBA basketball in Europe

Updated: 2007-10-10 10:39

LONDON - The NBA could begin playing regular season games overseas as the sport grows in popularity, with a European franchise team a distinct possibility, according to league commissioner David Stern.

Ten-time All-Star Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics take on the Minnesota Timberwolves in a sold-out pre-season game at London's O2 arena, part of the NBA's 2007 Europe Live tour and the first visit of the NBA to London in 12 years.

"We've played in Istanbul, Rome and now London... They've been overwhelming successes," Stern told reporters on Tuesday.

The 12-day tour includes seven pre-season games across six cities in four countries.

According to Stern, a European NBA franchise team may not be far off.

"With a sold-out building and the publicity (being generated), it seems we're coming into a much more receptive audience," Stern said, referring to the London game.

"I've been around long enough to see when the stars move into alignment. They're not there yet but you're beginning to sense it."

The commissioner said the 2012 Summer Olympics, being hosted by London, would be a good indication of the sport's potential in the British capital.

"We would love to see the UK basketball team playing in the 2012 Olympics and doing well," Stern said.

"It will set a new standard... We think that the UK is going to join the basketball world and that's pretty exciting for us."

Stern told Reuters that London would be on the short list of prospective franchise cities but probably would not receive a NBA team before 2012.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone backs the idea regardless.

"We'd be delighted," Livingstone said when asked whether London would welcome a NBA franchise.

"I will do anything the league wants me to do to support it," he added.

London has recently become a popular destination for American sports.

The NHL played its first two games of the season at the O2, and the NFL will play a regular season match at the newly rebuilt Wembley stadium at the end of October, all of which were quickly sold out.

Player reaction to the prospect of playing for a European NBA team is mixed.

Paul Pierce, captain for the Boston Celtics, was reluctant when asked if he would play overseas.

"That's hard to say. I'm so used to being close to my family and friends," he told Reuters during a practice.

"Maybe when my career is over."

Mark Blount, center for the Minnesota Timberwolves, seemed more receptive to the idea.

"I'll be the first one to sign up... Let's go!"

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