By TIM REYNOLDS – AP Basketball Writer
It was David Stern’s running joke. He was asked when the NBA would add a European division and his answer was almost always the same.
“In 10 years,” the then-NBA commissioner would say.
The thing is, it wasn’t meant to be a joke. Stern was always looking ahead, looking for the next thing, the next innovation to move the league forward. He oversaw expansion, pushed to broadcast the league on television around the world, found ways to drive revenue to record highs.
It took over 4,700 players and almost 14 million points to get to this place, but the 75th anniversary season for the National Basketball Association is coming to an end. No one knows for sure where the NBA will be 25 years from now when it celebrates its 100th anniversary.
The only safe bet is that things will be very, very different.
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A post-season play-in tournament has been added in recent years. An in-season tournament is likely to come within the next two years. By the 100th anniversary, having more teams seems certain. Seeing more women in leadership roles, on and off the pitch, also seems certain.
Maybe a 4 point shot is added. Robot referees. The possibilities are endless, especially in a fast-paced and wild world where technology is constantly changing and ideas are flowing just as quickly.
“You could have a separate league,” Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer said. “Obviously there are leagues in Europe. But you have to say, ‘What’s the point? Do you want the best European players to play in Europe or do you want them to come to the United States and play in the biggest league in the world? I think the answer is the latter, because you want to see the best of the best play against each other. Having an NBA team in London would be crazy; the trip would wipe people out, so you’re not going to do that.
Where Ballmer sees change coming is in the way the game is experienced.
Technology, he insists – and believes – is everything. Technology is what has really allowed the game to thrive, as NBA games can now be watched on phones and tablets in almost every corner of the world.
“I think broadcasting, the way we think about broadcasting, the way we use technology in broadcasting to improve broadcasting and make it more social…I think it’s going to be radically different,” Ballmer said. . “I think the stadium experiences will be radically different, but the broadcast is where I think…there will be no more broadcast, it will be a digital interaction.”
Innovations in travel – faster planes, for example – could change the way matches are scheduled. Fitness innovations could allow players to recover faster. The ball could become some sort of computerized tracking device. Virtual reality, something only a small percentage of people experience now, might be something more mainstream by then, allowing fans to get a real feel in the arena without leaving their homes.
Oscar Robertson only hopes the decision makers in 2047 will treat the league with the same respect as they did on its 25th anniversary, its 50th anniversary and now that the league is celebrating its 75th.
“The game is a big game,” the Hall of Famer said. “The 3-point shot is electrifying…and the fans love it. As long as the fans want the game, it’ll be fine. I just hope the players and owners come together and keep it top of the list.
Nobody knows what will happen. But today’s players are setting the stage for everything to come, just as yesterday’s players did for today’s players.
The way LeBron James sees it, it’s every generation to take the game and move it forward.
“It’s a responsibility, of course,” said James, a four-time champion with Miami, Cleveland and most recently the Los Angeles Lakers. “Somebody did it before me and put it in a position where it was my responsibility to make sure I kept it where it was and also to make it bigger and better than what it was. he was and to represent this league with the utmost respect.
“I held this title of ambassador of the league. Nobody ever told me to do it, but I felt like if I wasn’t going to do it, who was going to do it? I took this with a lot of responsibility and will continue to do so until I’m done playing the game.”
And in 25 years, he hopes – and expects – to see something even better than what the world enjoys today.
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