Assessing the viability of an NBA franchise in London

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Rapturous applause erupted from the packed crowd at the O2 Arena on Thursday night as Jason Smith's mid-range jumper clanked off the backboard. The 2016 NBA Global Game was going to overtime.

Nobody wanted the annual spectacle to end, and fans inside the arena were treated to an extra five minute of exhilarating play as the Toronto Raptors triumphed 106-103 over the Orlando Magic.

Selling out in an hour, the sixth regular-season game in the British capital was another example of the league's rapid growth outside of North America continues.


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It was an action packed night in London that will go down as one of the best Global Games since its inauguration in 2011 and left fans licking their lips in anticipation for the next instalment of the 'European All-Star game'.

That was the term coined by commissioner Adam Silver in his pre-game press conference, as he faced the media that had assembled from all corners of Europe.

The 53-year-old faced a number of questions about the NBA's expansion on the continent, a topic that appears every time the league hits these shores.

Silver has previously said the idea of a European franchise has been discussed but insisted he was not actively pursuing the venture.

With the excitement surrounding the London game still fresh, there's no better time to discuss exactly how viable a European franchise would be.


Thursday's event proved there is definitely a market for a London-based team in the future. The sheer speed of ticket sales highlights the incredible interest. Not just in the United Kingdom, but across Europe.

Supporters come in huge numbers to back their favourite players, and Lithuanian centre Jonas Valanciunas' reception was a testament to that. With over 100 non-US players on opening day rosters, the European influence on the league is huge right now.

However, selling out one game a year is easy, but questions would have to be asked over the support of the game over a prolonged period.

If the likes of Cleveland Cavaliers or Golden State Warriors came to town, there would be a clamour for tickets, but can that level of support be sustained over a whole season? That is the golden question.

The support of the game in London is growing, and its popularity across the continent is incredible. Selling out every time may be a push, but fans would flock in their droves to see their favourite teams and players from both conferences. 


The O2 Arena is one of few venues on the continent that meets the requirements to host a regular-season game, and London is a city that many players love visiting.

"This arena is unique in terms of its ability to meet all the NBA specifications that are required for a regular‑season game here," said Silver.

"I will say London, in terms of logistically, in terms of the trip from the United States, it's a fairly convenient place to fly to.

"And I think lastly, culturally, certainly our teams embrace London, and to me, it's a cultural sort of launching pad for ultimately additional games in Europe."

However, beyond those points, there is not much to make fans hopeful of an NBA team arriving in London anytime soon.


Logistically, there are many obstacles standing in the way of a franchise calling London their home, but the biggest problem would be travel.

Sports science has become a huge part of the NBA, as the league continues to search for new ways to protect players from what is already a stacked schedule.

Both Orlando and Toronto will not play again until Monday as they are given time to recover from a lengthy trip back to the east coast.

There is also a reason the last eight teams who have competed in a regular-season London game are from the east. The showcase event is not exclusive to the conference, but flying teams over from the west will cause even more problems with the increased time difference.

"In terms of our schedule, we have a very dense schedule throughout the season. Roughly three and a half game a week. So when you take the time out to travel, it creates a denser schedule at other parts of the season.

"Given what both our players are telling us and the best medical science that is available to us, in terms of the need for rest, the impact of travel and crossing multiple time zones, it’s our view that they need the rest on both sides of the matchup here."


London may be one of the easier places to access from the United States, but fitting travel around an 82 game schedule - that would only increase if a franchise expanded the league - seems near impossible.

The commissioner insisted now was not the right time for an expansion out of North America and the growth of the league will continue with grassroots projects in the United Kingdom.

For now, fans will have to be content with the annual event, but if games continue in the fashion of Toronto Vs. Orlando, the desire to see more in Europe will only increase.

Will there ever be an NBA franchise in Europe? Leave your opinion below

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