NBA boss Adam Silver explains why a worldwide basketball league would fail

Photo by Simon Cooper/PA Images via Getty ImagesWashington Wizards beat the New York Knicks in the final second of the NBA London game.
  • The wild popularity of the NBA’s annual pilgrimage to London raises questions about the league’s potential for expansion.
  • The NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in the past that because of logistics and flights, if the NBA expanded into Europe, it would have to create four new franchises.
  • But speaking ahead of the Washington Wizards vs. New York Knicks match at the 02 Arena in London on Thursday, Silver said the league is still not yet ready to grow.
  • Silver has concerns about the effect fights and timezones could have on athletes, and believes a small European division that eventually travels to the United States could dilute the overall quality of the NBA.
  • His focus, for now, remains on the 30-team league.

The Washington Wizards came from behind to beat the New York Knicks 101-100 in the NBA’s annual showpiece in front of 20,000 fans in London on Thursday, raising questions about the league’s potential for expansion.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver previously said in 2015 that the league was not ready to expand because of logistical challenges like game frequency, facility quality and availability, and travel. “We’d have to put both feet down,” he told The Guardian at the time. “That would mean having four franchises in Europe.” But he did add: “I believe it’s our destiny to expand.”

Four years on, the sport is becoming increasingly popular in Europe, and the question of league expansion continues to be put to Silver. But the timing for a worldwide NBA league is still not quite right, according to Silver, who is concerned about the travel, the timezones, and the “impact on a player’s body.”

At a pre-game NBA press conference on Thursday that Business Insider attended, Silver said: “We now know the impact on travel, and the change in sleep patterns can result in injuries to our players.”

Adam Silver, NBA London, expansion franchisePhoto credit should read GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty ImagesSilver spoke to journalists before Thursday’s match.

An interesting workaround, Silver suggested, could be a “European division that plays itself,” similar in structure perhaps to the Eastern and Western Conferences that already exist in the United States, albeit on a far smaller scale.

“Maybe there is a way where we have a European division that plays itself, then they travel [to the US],” he said.

But another possible problem that concerns Silver is that adding too many teams in a new territory too soon could end up compromising the overall quality of the NBA.

“We have made progress in the NBA… we have several really good teams,” he said. “One of the issues with expansion, with a whole division in Europe… rosters have 15 players. That means 90 players coming into the league [with six new teams]. We’re not quite there yet.

“We don’t want to dilute the quality of NBA talent,” he said. “My focus is on a 30-team league.”

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