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Adam Silver believes it's NBA's 'manifest destiny' to expand to Europe

Neilson Barnard / Reuters

As the NBA makes its third regular-season foray into England, showcasing two of its most exciting teams in a matchup at London's O2 Arena on Thursday, commissioner Adam Silver addressed the league's long-term plan for overseas expansion.

While Silver expressed a strong desire to see the league widen its net to include Europe, he was careful to note that such an ambitious endeavor would be a long time in the making. 

He also stressed that having just one NBA team in Europe would be untenable, due to the cost-benefit imbalance of the travel involved. To that end, he believes the National Football League - which had a sister league in Europe from 1991-2007 - is currently in a better position to expand.

"My sense is that the NFL is a little bit ahead of us in terms of their timeline for having a franchise based in London," Silver said, according to Owen Gibson of The Guardian. "There are some aspects of their schedule that make it easier - they play once a week, they have fewer games. 

"It will be easier logistically for them to pull it off. It would be difficult for us to have one team in Europe. We’d have to put both feet down. That would mean having four franchises in Europe.

"We’re not there yet. I know that as much growth as we’ve seen, we have a long way to go before we can sustain four franchises in Europe. On the other hand, I believe it’s our manifest destiny to expand."

The NBA's Global Games initiative has been plowing forward with a full head of steam. Thursday's game between the New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks will be the third in four years at the O2, last season saw the first regular-season game ever played in Mexico City, and this past preseason saw games played in Berlin, Istanbul, Shanghai and Rio de Janeiro. 

"We are reaching new audiences," said Silver. "Each time we come, we learn from prior experiences and mistakes we’ve made. When we play here, I think there is an audience that might not normally watch simply because the match is here. Then there’s a viral component, word of mouth. The NBA is very much a creature of social media. That’s a large part of our growth."

The comments come at a time when some high-profile NBAers have been sharply criticizing the way youths are being taught the game in North America, compared to how they're being developed in Europe. 

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