Stern lays out vision for NBA expansion in Europe

LONDON -- More fans, more NBA-style arenas and, of course, more money.

Those are the keys to putting an expansion team in Europe, possibly within the next 10 years, according to NBA commissioner David Stern.

"That's something that can happen," Stern said in a conference call Thursday to discuss the NBA's preseason tour in October. "We need the buildings. We need the increase in affinity in terms of television. And we need an economic model that works."

The NBA is returning to Europe for the third straight year, with the Miami Heat, New Jersey Nets, New Orleans Hornets and Washington Wizards playing two games each to prepare for the 2008-09 season.

The Heat and Nets will play each other in Paris at the Bercy arena on Oct. 9, and then again on Oct. 12 at the O2 Arena in London. The Hornets and Wizards then play each other on Oct. 14 in Berlin at the O2 World, followed by another game between the two on Oct. 17 at the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona, Spain.

Unlike previous years, however, the NBA teams will not play local teams on the tour.

"We want to move beyond having to have a particular player from a particular country in a particular game," Stern said. "We think the appeal of our sport is much broader."

According to the NBA, 46 of the 85 non-American players in the league are from Europe, including Tony Parker of France and 2007 MVP Dirk Nowitzki of Germany, the first European-born player to win the award.

"They are great players," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. "They're showing that our game has developed over the last five, six years since I've been in the NBA with a lot of foreign players from different parts of the world."

Wade, who is out for the rest of this season but is expected to be ready to play for the United States at the Beijing Olympics, is staying away from the political controversy surrounding China and the situation in Tibet, where protests turned violent and sparked waves of unrest in surrounding provinces.

"My job is to play basketball, to worry about the game. We'll let the [International] Olympic Committee worry about everything else," Wade said. "To us, it's all about going over there and playing basketball as a team and hopefully bringing back the gold."

The NBA is also working out details of another preseason trip to China, where the league is hugely popular. Both preseason tours would be less than two months after the Olympics.

But Stern, like Wade, prefers to stay away from the politics.

"We believe, however, naively ... that sports has something enormous to offer the world," Stern said. "And we also believe that the Olympics is a sporting event, and indeed, has a history in ancient times of being a time when war stopped so that people could play together."

For the European tour, the teams will fly in for about a week to play their two games and then head back to the United States instead of basing their training camps in Europe.

Both Heat head coach Pat Riley and Nets counterpart Lawrence Frank wouldn't have minded a little bit of an extra stay, however.

"When I coached the Los Angeles Lakers, we used to take our players to training camp to Honolulu, in Hawaii, which was a five-hour trip," said Riley, who has won five NBA titles with two teams. "Of course, it's not in Europe, but it's a great distance away.

"We'd have a training camp where there were not a whole lot of distractions. We could get together, get our mind on the game, and at the same time bond a little bit."

Frank said having his practice camp in Europe would have given his players a chance to experience something new.

"I think training camp is such a great opportunity for your team to bond, and especially when you're going to another country," he said.