After three years of absence, the NBA is making a return to Europe. January 19th, 2023, the Detroit Pistons will face off against the Chicago Bull in Paris at the Accor Arena. This marks the league’s 12th game in Paris since 1991. Four of those previous games were pre-season games, while the 2020 and 2023 fixtures will be regular season games. Clearly the NBA has set the framework of building a close relation with the French fans. Or so it seems. Even though the NBA markets itself as such a global league there are still simple mistakes they continue to make which hamper it’s growth.
NBA Should be in Paris
The NBA heading to Paris makes sense. In fact, they should be in Paris more. There are several French talents playing in the league. The first name that comes to mind is all-star centre for the Utah Jazz, Rudy Gobert. It is actually somewhat surprising that this 3x all-star, and 3x Defensive Player of the Year, has never played an NBA in his home country of France. There are 14 French players in total in the NBA. Some of the notable French talents are: Evan Fournier of the New York Knicks, Nicolas Batum of the Los Angeles Clippers, and Killian Hayes of the Detroit Pistons. As you can see the NBA is sending over a French talent, it’s just the wrong one. Hayes is not necessarily a bad player, but he is far from a dominant over head-turning player as well. This brings me to my point of what the NBA is doing wrong with their global games.
The last four MVP awards have been won by two European players. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Greek, in the years 2019 and 2020, followed by Nikola Jokic, Serbian, in 2021 and 2022. Rudy Gobert, French, is one of the best centers in the league, and Luka Doncic, Slovenian, is arguably the best young talent the NBA has seen since LeBron James. So why is the sending the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons?
NBA is Stuck in the Past
The answer is The Last Dance. The NBA and Netflix landed a major hit with the launch of this
Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls documentary. The main rivalry that is focused on is the Chicago Bulls vs the Detroit Pistons, and more directly Michael Jordan vs Isiah Thomas. While I understand why the NBA looks to capitalise off this old NBA rivalry, the problem is exactly that. It is an old NBA rivalry. The Pistons have been one of the worst teams in the NBA for years now, and have not finished with a winning record since 2015-2016. To put it simply, nobody cares about the Pistons. According to statista.com, as of April 2022, they have the least followers on Twitter of all NBA teams, and the second lowest of all NBA teams on Instagram.
My point is the NBA needs to stop putting their feet into international waters, and instead dive in. Send over the big teams, play important games, send the stars over, and play more often. There are 30 teams in the league, each play 82 games, which means there are 1,230 games a season. Why is there only one being played internationally? Of course excluding Canada who has their own team, the Toronto Raptors.
NFL Has Set the Blueprint
The NFL plays 272 games in total a season and will be playing three games in London this upcoming season. The NFL has played at least one game in London every year since 2007. In 2007 the NFL sent the Miami Dolphins, and the New York Giants to play in Wembley Stadium, the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl that year. It is pretty safe to bet that the Chicago Bulls and definitely not the Detroit Pistons will have a presence in next year’s NBA Finals. The Patriots, Packers, Seahawks, Rams, and Saints are all teams with major success in recent years in the NFL that have played in London.
The NFL has shown commitment to London, and it has paid off. Consistently selling out large stadiums like Wembley Stadium and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Playing games every single season has built a fan base overseas. The NFL is also playing a game in Munich, Germany this upcoming season. Who is playing in it? German fans will see the Seattle Seahawks vs the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This means that, Tom Brady, arguably the greatest NFL player ever will be playing in Germany.
How to Fix the NBA Approach
The NFL has almost 1,000 less games than the NBA, but has three more international games. If the NBA is such a global game, they need to prove it. They had played games in London and Mexico City almost every year since 2011 (minus 2012), but stopped in 2019. I know you’re probably thinking due to the Covid pandemic, but no in 2019 it was announced the NBA would not be playing in London.
I am not stating that the NBA needs to show commitment to London or Mexico City, because honestly there are much larger basketball cities in the world, especially in Europe and Asia. Real Madrid and Barcelona have arguably the best two basketball teams in the world outside of the NBA, why is the NBA not annually playing games in Spain by now? NBASpain has over three times the twitter followers of NBAUK. France has plenty of NBA talent, why is there only one game a year in Paris? Australia even has plenty of NBA elite talent, and the New Zealand basketball league has recently produced two NBA players, one of which being Charlotte Hornets guard, Lamelo Ball, one of the most popular young talents in the league, but no Oceania NBA games are in discussion.
The NBA needs to commit to countries and cities that have genuine interest. They need to commit to sending their elite and premier talent overseas to continue to grow the game. Overall, the NBA needs to commit to playing internationally just like the NFL has. There’s more than 1,000 games to chose from, the NBA needs to choose wisely.