Scheduling issues hamper NBA's European expansion plans

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, left, and Boston Celtics' Aron Bynes in action during the NBA London Game 2018 at the O2 Arena in London, Thursday Jan. 11, 2018. (Simon Cooper/PA via AP)

LONDON — If Adam Silver learned one thing from his latest trip to London, it's that the appetite for more NBA games remains huge around Europe — and the rest of the world.

And while the league commissioner would love to satisfy that appetite, there is still an Atlantic-sized gap between the NBA's desire for overseas expansion and what's actually doable.

So while the NFL continues to stage multiple regular-season games each year in London — albeit cutting the number from four to three next season — European basketball fans may have to continue to settle for just one.

"We're considering bringing additional games to Europe," Silver said ahead of Thursday's game between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers at the O2 Arena. "It's just the logistical challenges for us are so much greater (than for the NFL). . The demand is there and the interest is there. It's really more a question of our schedule and whether we can make it work."

The NBA has been staging regular-season games at the O2 since 2011 in an attempt to grow the game both in Britain and worldwide. And the interest in this latest edition was sky-high. Tickets sold out in under an hour and were going for multiple times their face value from online re-sellers, with a multitude of soccer stars and other celebrities sitting court-side.

And it was clear from Silver's pregame news conference that other countries want an up-close look at the spectacle as well. Journalists from Australia, France, Germany, Turkey and Africa all had the same question: when will the NBA bring regular-season games to their part of the world?

"We would love to do it," was Silver's universal answer — before outlining the scheduling difficulties that are currently hampering any such plans. The Celtics and 76ers, for instance, both had at least four days off before and after this game in order to cope with the travel. That's one reason the Celtics have played the most games of any team in the league so far — 44 — as their schedule was compressed to make room for this trip. The 76ers have played the fewest games of any team — 39 — and have the busy part of their season yet to come.

"When you build some buffer around this game in the middle of the season, it requires compressing the schedule in other parts of the season. And the more teams we bring, the more scheduling difficulties we have," Silver said. "This game, as you all know, sold out in less than an hour, and the reason it even took 52 minutes was the limitation of technology in terms of how fast people could enter their credit cards and buy the tickets. We could easily sell out two games, three games, four games."

Silver pointed to state-of-the-art arenas in Paris and Berlin as possible venues for future regular-season games, but said he couldn't offer a "specific calendar" for when it might happen.

Sixers center Joel Embiid hopes it happens soon, though. The Cameroon native said he loved the experience of playing internationally, despite having a sub-par game with 16 points in Philadelphia's 114-103 loss.

"For me to come here, I appreciate these types of moments. I'm really (upset with) myself that I didn't have a good game," Embiid said. "I really want to come back to change that. But I feel that it's a good opportunity, and the last couple of days that I've been here I loved it. I hope in the future we get the opportunity to come back for another game so I can have a better one and win the game."

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