Stern: Best players will stay; regular-season games in Europe likely

NEW YORK -- The NBA will keep going to Europe, perhaps soon for real games, and David Stern isn't concerned his best players might decide to stay there.

Although Stern said logistics would make an All-Star game in Europe difficult -- he said players have asked him about staging one -- fans there might not have to settle for exhibitions much longer.

"To the extent that we're asked the question, what about a regular-season game, we decided, 'OK, with the lead-up to the Olympics, we'll pop a regular-season game or two or more, I don't know exactly how many, over there by the 2012 Olympics," the commissioner said Thursday during his annual preseason conference call.

London will host those games.

But Stern played down the idea that top talent would leave the NBA for outrageous dollars overseas, following a summer in which some lower-level players bolted for contracts they could never get here.

"I guess if they want to induce NBA players at salaries that exceed the budget of the team to play in games that 1,000 to 5,000 people will go to, they're free to do that and there will be one or two players that will benefit greatly from it," said Stern, who will be in Oklahoma City on Wednesday for the Thunder's first regular-season home game since the franchise relocated from Seattle and changed its name after last season.

"And it's good if you're a player to know that that option exists," he said.

Forward Josh Childress left the Atlanta Hawks for Greek club Olympiakos and a three-year deal his agent said was worth about $20 million after taxes. Several other players also made the move to Europe, and clubs with the resources might try to land more significant talent next time.

"The fact that a billionaire who wants to open up an office to have NBA stars play under those circumstances, you have to ask yourself, well, whether that's something our players will want to do," Stern said. "It's not something that we spent a lot of time on."

During the Olympics, All-Stars such as Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony said they'd at least listen if offered a deal for say $40 million a year, tax-free. But Stern said average attendance in Europe was only 6,000, so "the system will not support it."

"It's important that we study the global world of basketball," he added. "The economic model does not exist that would support such contract, and we don't mind the competition. It's probably good for our players."

And playing in Europe is good for the league, says Stern. Even with the current financial crisis, he said the NBA sold out four preseason games in Europe and two in China earlier this month, and doesn't expect the economic slowdown to have any real affect on the league's overseas plans.

"We don't think that that's going to impact us in any harsh or painful way other than perhaps our rate of growth," he said. "But growth it will be."

Stern held the call after completing the league's Board of Governors meetings, where he said the owners discussed the economy at length. The commissioner recently said the league will eliminate about 80 jobs in the United States because of the turmoil.

The league recently extended sponsorship agreements with four key partners, and Stern said he had no fears of any franchises falling into significant financial difficulty.

"We are comfortable there," he said. "That does not mean that businesses won't be subject to bumps and some franchises won't be affected more than others, but right now our comfort level is pretty high.

"We're pretty optimistic that this will be a season that will be better in our industry than it will be in some other industries."