David Stern has a date set for his retirement, but when it comes to a concrete time-table for the NBA expanding to Europe you might as well throw the calendar out with the commissioner.
If the NBA ever goes all-in on taking the game to Europe by eventually creating a "European Division", that global accomplishment will come under Adam Silver's guidance and hopefully with a more substantial end date in mind. Believe it or not, that has been the plan over the last few years, for Silver to get the job done. Sure, Stern will forever be applauded for pushing the overseas agenda but Silver will be the one to actually receive the standing ovation if we reach the point where we're discussing how Berlin's starting five are going to defend Paris' pick-and-roll as they battle in the five-team "European Division."
The key word here is "if", not "when."
Over the last nine years Stern has both implemented and recited his 10-year plan when fielding questions regarding the NBA establishing a playing presence in Europe and in the process sucked the minutes and years out of the deadline that once appeared so close, but in reality is so very far away.
Today's 10-year plan has been a 10-year plan since 2003.
It might as well be called a 20 or 25-year plan once you consider all of the factors involved in exporting the game and importing a successful model for NBA basketball in Europe.
Earlier this week at Beyond Sport United - "a gathering of global team, league and industry executives...that focuses on social responsibility" - Stern once again discussed the vision and realities the NBA faces in expanding the game overseas, but there is one comment in particular that should raise some eyebrows.
"I think for us the thing that would make the most sense would be a division in Europe at the time that it comes," Stern said. "I don't see that for another decade at least. Not one team.
"It's not something we've done a lot of looking at, but it's something that we've had people approach us with," Stern said. "We obviously keep pretty close tabs on how our attendance is in our overseas games, what the pricing structure is, what the fan affinity is, what the television arrangements are, what the ratings are, all of the metrics of the business in a place or places. It's a pretty sophisticated enterprise."
There is no doubt this is a delicate and sophisticated endeavor. No one is disputing that, especially knowing Stern can control a lot of elements in the business of basketball, but one of the factors out of his control is solving the downtrodden global economy the world is facing. That creates a whole different obstacle for the NBA to overcome by expanding overseas. But while the canned answer of "another decade" in regards to the NBA in Europe is in line with Stern's message dating back for years now, are we really supposed to buy European expansion is something Stern and the league have not "done a lot of looking at"?
Can we all agree no one is hearing that noise?
The league has looked at taking the game international and placing franchises across Europe long before the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks faced Euroleague teams Alba Berlin, EA7 Emporio Armani, and Fenerbahce Ulker back in October as part of the NBA Europe Live 2012. The Euroleague and NBA have partnered together since 2006 in order to not only increase exposure between the two leagues, but also to grow the partnership to a point where they can honeymoon on the hardwood all across Europe. Because if Stern, Silver and the NBA are seriously committed to establishing a "European Division" at some point in the future, the Euroleague will factor in some how, some way.
Strategically playing games in Berlin, Istanbul and Milan was simply part of a bigger plan.
The stats to keep in mind from the NBA: over 450,000 fans have attended 32 Europe Live games in 12 European cities since the inaugural NBA Europe Live series launched back in 2006. In total, 25 NBA teams have played 60 games in 18 cities around Europe since 1988.
Granted, these games in the late summer and early fall are designed for week-long events and not an 82-game regular season, a small model is in place and shown to be successful. The problem is the idea becomes more diluted when you sprinkle in arranging the venues, mix in the broadcasting rights, add some ticket sales and the fan friendly promotions.
It's a fine line between delicious and leaving a bad after-taste.
"It's not the schedule and the traveling which is the problem. It's the arenas, the ownership, the television arrangements, the pricing structure and the fan avidity," Stern said last February.
"And it doesn't pay to take anything for granted. It's a nice thought. But basketball is not going to vend in Europe quite yet. It's just growing. And it's growing slowly but it's growing nevertheless."
When Stern steps away from the NBA on Feb. 1, 2014 and enters retirement he will leave behind an impressive legacy in the game over the last 30-plus years. But you have to believe that Stern - despite his never-ending "10-year plan" - will continue to champion the cause of overseas expansion long after he's turned the controls over to Silver. Back in 2003, Stern said the league would start to investigate placing teams in Europe within a decade, but that agenda was suddenly pushed to the back burner when the NBA switched the focus to developing their relationship with China.
So why not Europe?
"It (European expansion) is something I plan to bequeath to my successor," Stern joked back in 2009.
The punchline grows less funny the further the NBA distances itself from going global.
Maybe instead of picking-up golf as a retirement hobby or doing speaking engagements, Stern will keep his focus aimed solely on expanding the game to Europe and won't stop until London and Moscow are playing for the division title in another 10-years.
Better make it 20.