NBA Commissioner David Stern has confirmed that the Toronto Raptors will face the New Jersey Nets at London’s 02 Arena on March 4 and 5.
The pair of regular season games are the first time the league has taken competitive fixtures to Europe after over 20 years of friendlies. And although he is making no absolute guarantee that it will become an annual event, it fulfils Stern's promise to bring a regular season game to the UK before the 2012 Olympic Games.
"We'll need to assess how we do in March," Stern said. "It would not surprise me if this becomes an annual event. But I don't want to make a commitment on it."
The NBA has been criticised for pushing its own product at the expense of British domestic basketball, which has been damned by comparison in the chase to attract both fans and paying sponsors. Stern, understandably, is looking for a profit from the trans-Atlantic diversion but he is hoping for longer-lasting spin-offs in the lead-up to the 2012 Olympics and beyond.
“It’s always about the games themselves and the activities around the games,” he said. “Last year with our friendly in October, we did community service, we did clinics, we did court dedications. You can expect there will be a dramatic build-up towards March, that we begin to demonstrate to people that basketball – in particular NBA basketball but we hope all of basketball – has drawing power, especially for kids.
“It’s a very inclusive sport. When you have rosters that demonstrate the impact of globalisation in the NBA, that together with the focus that LOCOG will be putting basketball, it is going to be a very catalytic series of events that will keep basketball in the public eye.”
This game will be the Raptors' first visit to the United Kingdom. Toronto faced the Boston Celtics and Lottomatica Roma in Rome, Italy and Real Madrid in Madrid, Spain in pre-season games in 2007.
"The entire Raptors organisation is pleased to be representing the NBA in these historic regular season games in Europe," added Raptors President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo.
NBA regular season games have previously been played in Mexico and Japan but the league has previously resisted calls to bring a competitive game to Europe.
However, the National Football League has staged an annual regular season game in London for each of the last three seasons and the National Hockey League has also held in-season games in London before.
Stern admits it is unlikely other cities in Europe could host a similar fixture at present, with the 02 Arena's facilities, capacity and price policies making business sense. And having franchises across the Atlantic, on a full-time basis, remains unlikely in the short-term.
"I think one franchise doesn't work. It needs to be multiple franchises," Stern said. "We need buildings, we need owners, we need a better economy. It's certainly something that I and my successors will be considering."
Tickets will go on sale on September 1.