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NBA’s dream of Europe expansion splits opinions of exhausted players

Prospect of a UK-based team is moving closer but Tom Sheen finds stars are worried about the travel

The National Basketball Association has taken a small but potentially significant step towards expanding further on to British soil after league commissioner Adam Silver admitted he would “love” to bring the prestigious All-Star game across the Atlantic.

This past weekend the money-spinning event, in which the league’s best play in an exhibition match, travelled to Toronto as for the first time in its 65-year history it was staged outside the United States.

A permanent NBA team in London may still be some way off, but Silver admitted taking the All-Star game abroad was a crucial step in his vision for expanding the league.

“I think it’s an important moment for this league,” Silver said of the Toronto match. “We haven’t crossed an ocean yet to play an All-Star game, but who knows what the future holds?

“Having an All-Star game internationally has to be part of larger discussions. It’s something we’d love to do one day. It’s not going to happen in the next two, three, four years, but I think down the road it could be a really exciting element for the NBA.”

The league office may be willing to expand abroad but having a permanent European team would add extreme pressures to a schedule in which teams already play 82 games in roughly 162 days. When the Toronto Raptors played the Orlando Magic at London’s O2 Arena last month, each team needed three extra days either side of the game to adjust to the time zones.

On speaking to players over the weekend, it became clear that while there would be excitement at playing regularly in Europe, travel was still a huge concern.

“Honestly, I hate long trips,” a laughing Paul Millsap, who played in London in 2014 and 2009, told The Independent. “But you know, I’m always open to doing [these] things. I think that would be great for the NBA. [But] the travel is brutal already. If they can figure out a way to make it less brutal, then it’d open it up.”

DeMar DeRozan, who starred for the Raptors in that win in January, said: “I’m not sure how that’d work if a team was to go there. A seven-hour flight is tough. But once you get over there and get situated, it’s a great place to be. The culture is amazing. But a regular trip might be tough.”

Team-mate Kyle Lowry added: “We sold out [the O2], it was a fun game, the crowd was amazing. I think it would be fun to do. It’s out of my league, although we really enjoyed that trip. The flight was so long but if you can do it in the right way I’m sure it could be done.”

Despite the reservations of those players, who all have young families, two of the league’s brightest young stars, James Harden and Anthony Davis, were much more enthused about the prospect.

“I love London, it’s one of my favourite places to visit,” said Harden, who plays for the Houston Rockets. “That would be pretty dope, I think that’s exciting. You would have to give us a couple of days in between travelling there, but it would be pretty cool.”

Davis, of the New Orleans Pelicans, added: “Our game is always growing so whatever is going to make our game better, on and off the floor, I’m definitely down for it.”

Klay Thompson, who beat Golden State Warriors team-mate and league MVP Stephen Curry to win the three-point shoot-out at the weekend, went a step further.

“I always envisioned in 20 or 30 years it might be a real world league, a few teams in Europe, all the way in China… you never know,” he said.

“The league is growing so much globally, just travelling the world and seeing how many fans there are, I think it’d be really cool one day to have teams [all over the globe].”