For years, soon-to-be-outgoing NBA commissioner David Stern has said that he would love for his league to eventually expand to London, or Paris, or anywhere in Europe, really. This has always seemed overly optimistic, if just for travel reasons: This Thursday, the Knicks will be the next NBA team to play a regular season game in London, and they're essentially needing full week off surrounding the game just to recover. But the issue has always seemed deeper than that: Is the game really as popular in England and France as Stern has always wanted it to be?
In a big USA Today story previewing the game and surveying the land over there, the writer points out that the NBA has a long way to go to be as popular in England as soccer is. Good point! Particularly if by "long way to go" you mean "will never, ever happen." In fact, the better way to look at it -- and a strike against Stern's grand plan -- is to compare the NBA over there with soccer over here.
Turn on ESPN at anytime, and you'll see EPL scores; you're more like to see those than NHL scores, frankly. The NBC Sports Network has signed a big TV contract with the EPL, and while Major League Soccer isn't huge here, it's certainly larger than any British basketball league. Meanwhile, for many Brits, it's difficult to even find NBA on television over there; a friend says he had to buy a subscription to watch the games on Christmas Day, the most high-profile day on the NBA calendar. The question isn't whether Brits are embracing the NBA more than soccer; that's obviously not happening. The question is whether they're embracing it more than we're embracing soccer. The answer to that would seem to be no as well.
It doesn't mean you stop trying, though, particularly after the success of the London Olympics. The game Thursday is sold out, after all. You should leave work early to watch it too, at 3 p.m. ET. The main reason is because weekday afternoon basketball is rare, but also because the game is almost surely going to feature the return of Iman Shumpert, who hasn't played since tearing up his knee in last year's playoffs. Since then, Shumpert has not only worked way all the way back, he has also grown a terrific, epic hi-top fade that makes us wish it were 1994 again. If that won't get the Brits into this great game, nothing will.