Excerpts from The Salt Lake Tribune's interview with NBA Commissioner David Stern on Monday at the league office in New York.
Expansion into markets such as Seattle, Kansas City or Las Vegas: I don't see it, honestly. There are franchises that might turn out to be candidates for moving through relocation. I won't rule it out because the owners always consider it. But we don't consider that we need to have an even number [of teams]. We had 23. But, really, economically given our prospects — which are very bright — for a new television contract, significant digital revenues and expanded international operations, what we end up doing is we take in cash but we give away a lot of our revenue stream. And so that would be looked at very, very intensely and I'm not sure there's a majority of owners that would want to go for expansion in the near future.
Expansion into Europe: That's a different kind of expansion. That's a — we decided that's something I should start talking about again. Because I said at first, 10 years ago, I said in 10 years. Now I've got to start it again in 10 years. [Laughs] Because, and the reality is, you cannot do this stuff free of discussions about the economic situation in the world. So, Athens wouldn't come to mind as a city for an NBA franchise right now. It might in some future time. It's a great place. They have an arena that's left over from the Olympics. They probably can't afford to carry it, OK? But I guess what I would say is, you could step back and see where we played our last exhibition games in Europe. And they were in London in the O2 Arena; they were in Paris at the Bercy, which is the subject of some discussion about a total renovation; they were in Barcelona with FC Barcelona, which is one of the world's most wealthy and well-run basketball clubs; and they were in Milan, where the mayor of Milan suggested that they would be in connection with the 24-team World's Fair. … And then, when you think of the fact that the 02 World is in Berlin and the 02 is in London — two newish arenas — the notionality was at some point, at some point — I don't know when — there'll be a reason to seriously consider multiple franchises in Europe because that would enable you to play a schedule. … Five [teams]. We currently have six five-team [NBA] divisions. And so, I laugh, because someone proposed to me some years ago, a European, that here's the way you do it: You take the European division and you move it between [NBA] conferences. So, in the year that it plays in the East, then you would have the Eastern teams play more in Europe. And the year Europe plays in the West, you have the Western teams play more. You could justify almost anything. It's not the schedule and the traveling which is the problem. It's the arenas, the ownership, the television arrangements, the pricing structure and the fan avidity. And it doesn't pay to take anything for granted. It's a nice thought. But basketball is not going to vend in Europe quite yet. It's just growing. And it's growing slowly but it's growing nevertheless.
Brian T. Smith