MIAMI (AP) — In less than six months, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens will be on the sideline in six different countries.
He’s perhaps the best current example of the NBA’s international reach.
Stevens’ itinerary: He was an assistant for the NBA’s game in South Africa in August, will take his Celtics to Italy and Spain for preseason matchups in October, and his club will head to Mexico in December for a regular-season contest against Sacramento. So those, combined with the normal locales in the U.S. and Canada, means Stevens will get a real feel for the game’s global following.
“We’re very focused on the health of 30 franchises,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said this summer, “and continuing to build our fan base outside of the United States.”
The league has long placed importance on growing the game in markets outside North America are to them, and this year’s lineup for the Global Games – with NBA teams heading to six different countries, plus welcoming clubs from Turkey, Israel and Brazil to the U.S. for preseason games – probably will only enhance those efforts.
And for the teams going abroad – the Celtics, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Charlotte Hornets and the Orlando Magic will in the preseason – it’s a good chance for some bonding.
“I believe that you can have good moments together,” Stevens said Friday at the Celtics’ media day. “I think the more dinners you eat together, the more flights you take together, the more time you spend together, the more places you travel to are all positives.”
Miami has long valued its international flavor. The city is a Latin American business gateway, the Heat have a star in Dwyane Wade wearing shoes made by Chinese company Li Ning, have a starting point guard from Slovenia in Goran Dragic, and have a Filipino-American coach in Erik Spoelstra.
The Heat aren’t going overseas this preseason. If Spoelstra had his way, they would be.
“I love it,” Spoelstra said. “I’m all for it. If we could do it every year, I’d do it every year. … Stay tuned, we’re going to try to go somewhere next year.”
The league tries to accommodate the teams that will be traveling more in the preseason by allowing them to start camp early; the four heading abroad in this year’s preseason all had media day – the prelude to camp – on Friday, while the rest of the league will get started on Monday.
How much the NBA teams will actually benefit basketball-wise from this year’s trips, if at all, remains to be seen.
“I’m not sure,” said Orlando coach Scott Skiles, whose team faces Brazilian team Flamengo in Rio de Janeiro on Oct. 17. “I guess one thing, if I could wish something it was that we were playing an NBA team. Nothing against Flamengo or anybody. I’m not sure of the area where we’re staying or how much we’ll be able to leave the area. So I don’t know.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers, whose team plays Charlotte in the Chinese cities of Shenzhen and Shanghai on Oct. 11 and 14, said he would rather have taken his team to Brazil – for the simple reason that he’s already seen China. But both teams figure to be a big draw; Clippers guard Chris Paul has drawn huge crowds in China in the past, and Hornets owner Michael Jordan still has enormous popularity there.
“More people play basketball in China,” Clippers forward Blake Griffin said, “than play basketball here.”
Stevens said the experience of traveling abroad as a team – he’s been part of overseas trips as a player and coach before – can be “a little overrated.” Still, the Celtics will probably see sellout crowds in all the faraway lands that they’ll visit – a testament to both the lure of a 17-time-champion franchise and the NBA brand.
“At the end of the day, we usually pointed to it as a real positive if we had a really good team,” Stevens said. “So I don’t know how much difference it really made. I think that’s probably the case if you go through the annals of the people that have taken their teams over. If you’ve got a really good team, you’ve got a really good team. But I think it does help you get to know each other better.”
NBA Global Games Schedule
Oct. 6, Boston vs. Olimpia Milano at Milan, Italy
Oct. 8, Boston vs. Real Madrid at Madrid, Spain
Oct. 11, L.A. Clippers vs. Charlotte at Shenzhen, China
Oct. 14, Charlotte vs. L.A. Clippers at Shanghai, China
Oct. 17, Orlando vs. Flamengo at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Dec. 3, Boston vs. Sacramento at Mexico City
Jan. 14, Toronto vs. Orlando at London