NBA commissioner David Stern believes that London’s hosting of the 2012 Olympic Games can help basketball become as popular in the UK as it is in Europe.
Highlighting the success of the latest NBA Europe tour which included Minnesota Timberwolves’ 111-92 victory over the LA Lakers at the 02 Arena, Stern stressed that he expected rapid growth from a market which has remained stubbornly untapped.
"It's no secret that the UK trails other European markets in development, but we think this is a great market and participation rates are increasing," Stern told assembled media.
"That's why we have our European headquarters here in London.
"We think the Olympics provides a huge opportunity to demonstrate and promote our sport and to show that it is one of great inclusiveness."
Having laid the groundwork with four spectacular showdowns in Greenwich over the last four years, the NBA is now planning to take the plunge by staging the first regular season fixture on foreign soil - again targeting a London audience. On March 4th and 5th the Toronto Raptors will take on the New Jersey Nets at the 02 with both nights expected to sell out.
It’s a huge step not just for basketball but for those sporting associations eager to take their own brands into unchartered international waters. While opposition still stands strong in the face of proposals to take competitive Premier League football matches abroad, Stern believes that the NBA’s approach will benefit all parties and could prove trailblazing.
"These fixtures show our ongoing commitment to Europe, and particularly the 2012 Olympics in London," continued the 68-year-old.
“There will be a series of events for kids and generally through a call to 'basketball for all' - the game is so inclusive and that is something we want to highlight”
"As well as having the regular series games in March, we will be celebrating Basketball Week in the UK.
"There will be a series of events for kids and generally through a call to 'basketball for all' - the game is so inclusive and that is something we want to highlight."
With both Great Britain’s men and women recently qualifying for the European Championships, interest in the sport certainly appears to be taking off on these shores. Indeed with Chicago Bulls superstar Luol Deng leading the charge hopes are high that Team GB will be given the chance to strut their stuff on home soil in 2012.
"It would be a tremendous achievement for Team GB to be selected to participate in the London Olympics," says Mr Stern.
"A team could represent all of Britain, have players from England and Scotland and Wales, something that does not occur in football.
"So, it is a very important time, and we are enormously impressed by [2012 Olympics organisers] Locog, and their legacy plans.
"More youngsters are playing basketball than ever before, and we are seeing more interest being expressed through leagues, merchandising and sponsorship sales, and increased web traffic - every metric is very positive.”