Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Updated: July 30, 9:56 AM ET
Five NBA teams to partake in exhibitions against Euro powers
By Ian Whittell
Special to ESPN.com
After a summer so far noteworthy for the departures of several players from North America to Europe, three famous European teams will make the journey in the opposite direction in October for an exhibition tour against five NBA franchises.
Reigning Euroleague champion CSKA Moscow, Spanish powerhouse FC Barcelona and Lithuania's Lietuvos Rytas will face the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Orlando Magic, Toronto Raptors and, possibly, the Los Angeles Clippers at undetermined NBA venues.
An official announcement will be made Wednesday morning in Europe. Given the unprecedented focus on European basketball so far this summer, the timing of the venture -- which was in the discussion stages for several months -- could not have been better.
After the NBA and Euroleague opted not to have teams play each other in this year's NBA Europe Live games, which take place in four European cities in October, this new venture marks an interesting development and the chance for NBA fans to witness first-hand European teams at a time when they are generating more publicity than ever in the USA.
"We value the chance to partner with NBA teams in their own arenas," Euroleague CEO Jordi Bertomeu said Tuesday. "There are basketball fans of all types in North America whom we plan to entertain with our own distinct playing style. We are sure they will appreciate again that the international game has a lot to offer our sport."
The Euroleague, buoyed by the recent acquisition of NBA players such as Josh Childress, hopes the venture serves the same purpose as does the NBA playing games on European soil.
Exposure for sponsors, the chance to play in front of ex-pat supporters and the hope of growing the Euroleague brand overseas, with the attendant possibility of television and marketing deals, are at the heart of the move.
The Euroleague American Tour tips off Oct. 10 with CSKA facing the Magic before the Russians fly to Toronto to play the Raptors on Oct. 14.
FC Barcelona will play two games as part of the "Preseason Shootout" at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, meeting the Lakers on Oct. 18 and either the Clippers or Raptors a day later. Rytas will play the Warriors at the Oracle Arena in Oakland on Oct. 21 to culminate the tour.
The inclusion of six-time Euroleague champion CSKA continues the growing links between the famous Red Army sports club and the NBA, who have held talks over the possibility of CSKA and the league entering into a formal partnership.
Off the court, CSKA retained coach Ettore Messina after he led the club to the 2008 Euroleague title against Maccabi Tel Aviv, but the roster has undergone several changes.
Trajon Langdon, a former Cleveland Cavalier who was the 2008 Euroleague Final MVP, remains with the club. Former Houston Rocket Terence Morris, recently signed from Maccabi, and Russian center Sasha Kaun, a member of Kansas' 2008 national championship team, are among other players who will be familiar to U.S. basketball fans.
Barcelona's involvement gives Spanish guard Juan Carlos Navarro, recently signed after an unhappy period with the Memphis Grizzlies, the opportunity to face NBA opponents again, while the "Barca" roster also features Australian forward David Andersen, a 2002 second-round draft pick of the Atlanta Hawks who signed from CSKA, and Fran Vazquez, a center whose rights are owned by Orlando.
Barcelona will be looking to repeat its 2006 success when it defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 104-99 in an exhibition that formed part of the NBA's Europe Live tour.
Lietuvos, the five-time champion of Lithuania, are the one club who will not be competing in Euroleague in 2008-09, playing instead in the second tier Euro Cup.
Of the 16 games played between European and NBA teams on North American soil between 1987 and 2007, the only road victory came when Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated the Toronto Raptors 105-103 three years ago.
However, European clubs have enjoyed more success on their own soil in recent seasons, going 2-6 against NBA teams in 2006 and 2-3 last year.
Ian Whittell covers basketball for The Times of London.