The NBA is less than three days away from its inaugural game on African soil. Could this exhibition be a harbinger of bigger things to come in the future? Adam Silver said as much during a chat with reporters in Johannesburg on Thursday.
“Stay tuned. This is an experiment of sorts,” the commissioner told the Associated Press.
“Part of why I’m here is to continue to investigate new facilities,” he continued. “We would want a larger, more modern arena for a regular or pre-season game here. And it’s also to test the response here. These things just take time, but I’m very confident that in the not-too-distant future we will be playing, to begin with, a pre-season game on the continent of Africa.”
No professional sports league has done a better job of spreading interest across the globe than the NBA. It mostly began with the Dream Team in 1992, then continued as European stars began flooding the league during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Yao Ming’s ascent only furthered its burgeoning presence in China, and the rise of multinational players like Jeremy Lin and Giannis Antetokounmpo has helped ensure the steady growth on which basketball prides itself.
Silver’s predecessor, David Stern, deserves a lion’s share of credit for globalizing the NBA. He openly expressed a desire to establish non-North American franchises until his retirement in 2014, and Silver’s work in the interim has kept that dream alive and well. As part of the NBA Global Games initiative, five preseason and two regular season contests were played outside the continent in 2014-15.
Could Africa be the league’s next frontier?
It’s certainly pretty to think so. But the inevitable logistics of a regular season game at least 4,000 miles from American soil makes Silver’s talk ring hollow – for now.
Players are already exhausted from the grind of back-to-backs and incessant travel during domestic play. The former issue isn’t a concern regarding a potential game in Africa, but the latter one absolutely is. The New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks faced off in London on January 15 of last season, and each team enjoyed four days off prior to the game and three days off following it. But the effects of a seven-hour flight and major time change loom for days, and that’s before considering the corollaries of what that wholly necessary “time off” did to each team’s schedule.
Couldn’t the Knicks and Bucks have had two fewer back-to-backs if they weren’t forced to travel across the pond?
Travel and schedule concerns would only be amplified by teams taking a midseason trip to Africa. As Silver indicates, however, those aren’t the only problems such a game would present. Do major African cities feature the venues necessary to host the NBA? Would local interest be as big as the league seems to be anticipating? The league is no doubt extra cautious on that last front after a 2013 game between the San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves in Mexico City was cancelled last-minute because of smoky conditions inside the arena.
That’s why the NBA Africa “experiment” is such a prudent move by Silver and company. Not only will Saturday’s exhibition further ingratiate the league with natives, but it will serve as a fact-finding mission, too. No matter what the commissioner discovers during this trip, however, regular season games in Africa are most realistically a somewhat long way off.
[Via Associated Press]