NBA news has been filled with doom and gloom lately. Lockout rhetoric, decertification votes, the league buying the struggling Hornets, superstars getting traded -- or not.
Allow me to introduce you to a breath of fresh air and beam of sunlight in the otherwise depraved basketball news cycle: George Karl.
The day after he became the seventh NBA coach to reach the 1,000-win plateau, the Nuggets’ coach sat down with me after practice in New York City to discuss a variety of topics: Carmelo Anthony’s future, his own cancer fight, and what he’d do if David Stern made him King of the NBA.
The entire interview can be seen Friday in the latest installment of CBSSports.com’s “In the Moment” series. (Check out last week’s episode with Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews.) In this teaser clip, Karl talks about the growth of basketball internationally and what he’d do to capitalize on it if the commissioner put him in charge.
Call it the George Karl Plan for World Basketball Unification.
“International basketball and European basketball and Olympic basketball and NBA basketball, I’d like to unify it,” Karl said. “Does that mean merging a league? I think if that’s a 10-year plan, let’s have a 10-year plan. If that’s a five-year plan, let’s have a five-year plan. I would probably like to make it totally and completely international. Now is that a possibility of adding China and India to that and Australia maybe? I have no idea.”
Stern has spoken often of globalizing the game, a dream that was advanced immeasurably by the success of the original Dream Team and enhanced by the Redeem Team’s gold-medal performance in Beijing in 2008. In October, Stern reiterated his prediction that the NBA will have a European division within 10 years. Speaking to Miami business leaders, Stern took the opportunity to poke fun at himself; he made the same prediction, oh, about 10 years ago.
The quest for globalization comes at a delicate time for the NBA, which claims it has lost nearly $400 million in each of the past two seasons and is seeking radical reductions in player salaries and benefits to the tune of $750 million to $800 million a year. Finances are grim in many cities, especially small markets like New Orleans, where it was so bad the league had to step in and buy the team. Key figures on both sides of the labor debate are entrenched for an anticipated work stoppage after this season. When confronted with the fact that the league enjoyed record revenues last season and expects to do the same again this season, Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver counter that revenues aren’t the problem -- expenses are.
Well, guess how expensive it is to have NBA offices throughout Asia, Europe and Latin America, with plans for offices in Africa and India by 2012? Guess how expensive it is for NBA teams to schlep to Mexico City, Milan and Beijing for meaningless preseason games? Very, very expensive. But as Stern and Silver will gladly tell you, it is necessary to spend money to make money. There is a fine line between keeping the electricity flowing at the league’s Fifth Avenue office tower and investing around the globe to grow the game and capitalize on its international appeal. The NFL is still the king of American sports, but it’s merely a curiosity internationally. When the NBA goes to Latin America or Asia, everyone speaks the same language -- basketball.
A European division? Lofty goal. A World Basketball League, as Karl proposes? That’s dreaming big. Really big. Even Karl admits he doesn’t have all the answers.
“Well, I don’t know how you do that,” Karl said. “But that would be someone I would hire to try to figure out what the best plan is, because I think the game is great and it’s been an amazing game. Soccer is still No. 1 in the world, but I still think basketball is growing and progressing. And I actually think the more we make it international, the better it will be.”
Viewed through the prism of the sport’s current labor stalemate, maybe this can be part of the answer of a long-term financial plan for the NBA. If nothing else, there would be more jobs.