Credit: BNS | BasketNews iliustracija
Credit BNS | BasketNews iliustracija

New winds are starting to blow in the European basketball world. The NBA has been actively researching the market for quite some time, but it's starting to be much more than that now.

FIBA has already shown an initiative to sit behind the negotiation table with the EuroLeague while the NBA representatives are watching the situation. The NBA is believed to be the power that finally puts the conflict to bed.  

FIBA has contacted NBA commissioner Adam Silver regarding the opportunity, and the league's leader has reacted affirmatively. The EuroLeague did not disregard the invitation as well.

The NBA vice-president of NBA Europe, Middle East, and Africa, Jesus Bueno, has recently visited Lithuania. He assured BasketNews - the new collaboration of the three most important basketball organizations is a one-of-a-kind moment.

Although a clear date has not been set yet, it is hoped to be arranged at the end of the season.

The NBA has wanted to join forces with the governing bodies of European basketball for a long time, especially with the EuroLeague. The organization has been exploring the idea of investing in a current basketball product for several years now.

According to BasketNews sources, the NBA gave its European organization a task to evaluate the EuroLeague product as a possible investment opportunity.

The results of the research have slowed down the initiative a bit, but the NBA still sees significant potential in polishing the European basketball diamond. One of the most underworked aspects is commercial, with the league generating far too little income.

The NBA's arrival is not aggressive, though. They offer their suggestions based on years of experience, facts, data, and expertise.

Although the NBA is neutral in the FIBA-EuroLeague conflict, they have been working with one of the sides for an extended period of time. Together with FIBA, the NBA has been working in Africa, where a league was established three years ago. 

Two years ago, FIBA entered into a strategic partnership agreement with GCBH LP investment group, which is closely tied to the NBA. The group's representative on the Basketball Champions League board, Jesus Bueno, has given an in-depth interview to BasketNews.

Jesus, you were responsible for evaluating the EuroLeague's product and its value in the market. What did you find?
NBA is a global brand that wants basketball to evolve all around the world. The more we improve the basketball ecosystem, the more funds we'll have not only in the NBA but also in local leagues in Africa, Europe, national teams' championships, etc.

To reach that goal, work has to be done between all interested sides to strengthen the basketball ecosystem.

Several years ago, we started to develop an NBA Africa league with the goal of raising the level of basketball in Africa. We managed to gather vast resources, we also developed our offices that would connect the continent with Europe and all the strongest markets so that we could create a stronger basketball system.

We are striving to achieve that together with FIBA, the local federations, and all others that are interested in helping. We are a collaborative organization.

When we look at Europe, a continent where I was born and raised and played in the ACB, we see tremendous basketball culture. Europe has a strong fanbase, and the basketball level is really high here. We want to openly look at how we can benefit the current ecosystem so that it improves even more.

We are ready to negotiate with anybody, whether it's FIBA, EuroLeague, EuroLeague clubs, or representatives from national federations, and find out if we can be beneficial.

We are already operating at a ground level, and we're communicating with more than 28 federations in hopes of developing basketball not only in Europe. We have launched more than 100 Jr. NBA leagues.

We're developing various basketball programs that are not just for basketball leagues, we're also opening basketball schools. We try to evaluate what we can bring and how we can help with every organization that we communicate. We're increasing our ties with local federations because they are the ones that develop the local basketball structure.

Looking at the professional level, if we could take a role that would help the basketball grow while working with FIBA, EuroLeague, and others, we are ready to negotiate without any preconceived notions.

Basketball is highly-developed, and it still gets more popular every day, we know all basketball operatives are trying their best, but we might improve on certain details if we work on it together.

EuroLeague's main man Jordi Bartomeu is about to start discussions with FIBA
EuroLeague's main man Jordi Bartomeu is about to start discussions with FIBA
Credit BasketNews/Begum Unal

Have you talked with EuroLeague and its clubs about your initiative?
We had initial talks with the EuroLeague teams and FIBA about how we could develop everything into a deeper discussion. We're glad to start the discussions, but they haven't started yet. We're waiting for the opportunity to come.

What reaction did you feel, though? Judging from the side, EuroLeague looks like a closed organization that tries to avoid letting outsiders in.
I think it's too early to judge their reaction. Our view is simple - let's be open and have a talk. We're not here to separate the sides.

If we disagree, then we have to go along with our existing work. There's no aggression from our side, just a wish to sit down and talk. We are an organization that helps and wants to help others.

In any case, we mutually help both FIBA and the EuroLeague. We have a great relationship with both organizations, we have organized many matches together. If we can help with something, that's great. If not, we can continue developing the relationship while working in parallel.

How much is the model that the EuroLeague currently develops attractive to the NBA for investment purposes?
EuroLeague is a very strong league. Basketball-wise, the level is just magnificent. I like it very much. The league cooperates with large brands.

In a European basketball system where people love basketball, it's a very popular league that has to deal with internal issues. With all due respect to EuroLeague, I don't want to discuss them.

Judging by the NBA product, where do you think the EuroLeague should improve the most?
I'm sorry, but out of respect for the EuroLeague, I don't want to publically discuss how the EuroLeague should improve or what things they should do better.

It's a league with a strong basketball foundation. We have a good connection with the league's clubs and management, and we'll continue talking with them. I respect them, and I don't want to pinpoint what they do well and what they do not.

FIBA emphasizes the importance of the sporting principle in its structure where the strong local teams should play at the highest level of European competition.

EuroLeague no longer adheres to that principle, with the majority of the teams having long-term contracts. How do you look at this particular system?
Every continent is different. For example, the USA has a well-developed high school system, a really strong NCAA system, and some really strong leagues. A basketball pyramid was created, but each step has different rules, so the high school system has nothing in common with NCAA, and the NCAA has nothing in common with the NBA.

When we started working with FIBA in Africa, we couldn't just recreate the same thing because the market is still underdeveloped. We reached an agreement that the strongest countries must have a team in the Basketball Africa League (BAL) without specifying which teams it should be.

Simply a guaranteed spot. We've also created a qualifying tournament. This model really works in Africa.

Europe has its own model, and it is what it is. It may be different from what we see in the US and Africa. We'd need to analyze which model could be more logical. I cannot say at this moment what the projection could be because it has to be ironed out during the discussions.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver received an invitation to participate in the FIBA-EuroLeague discussion
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver received an invitation to participate in the FIBA-EuroLeague discussion

Different from European basketball, the NBA product generates enormous amounts of income. How could you compare those two markets?
If we take a look at the European sports market, it's an approximately €17-18 billion business. Basketball gets no more than 250 million from this amount. Football meanwhile generates around €14.5 billion.

Compared to how many fans football has and how many fans basketball has, the proportions do not correlate with the sums we see. If the basketball fanbase is around 30%, the generated income is nowhere near 30% of the entire market.

Without pointing fingers, it is absolutely clear that there's a big opportunity to improve in the market. We, as basketball developers, must sit down and take a look at how we can strive for more.

When you ask me about the view I created after watching the European market, we are an organization that understands politics. I work in basketball for about 30 years. We need to put politics aside and look at the data, the facts, the projects, and the ambitions.

It has to be a part of the discussion. When you look at the data, you clearly see where you have to work. A different question is whether we can achieve better results.

It is self-evident that the proportions are illogical.
I would not say that it's illogical. I'm 100% sure that all involved parties - the NBA, the EuroLeague, FIBA, local federations, leagues, and basketball structures are doing their best to reach the current results.

However, when you look at the numbers, you clearly see that there's a need to sit down and look for additional solutions. Either together or separately but sharing the knowledge and know-how in the meantime in order for the basketball ecosystem to develop further.

That's the main goal. If we grow, everyone grows. When I say everyone, I mean everyone. We need to analyze the current situation in a free and open form. It won't harm anyone.

European basketball is divided: the EuroLeague wants to develop things their way, and FIBA has its own opinion and view. How do you see the situation?
We respect both sides. We can play a certain role between them and build bridges. We might build a basketball ecosystem that benefits both sides. In any case, we accept different positions.

The only thing we've said so far is our agreement. FIBA contacted NBA Commissioner Adam Silver two months ago with a proposal to sit down to negotiate with EuroLeague together.

We accepted the invitation and expressed our initiative to develop the idea of a discussion. It's too early to talk in more detail so far, but once our role in the negotiations becomes clearer, we are ready to dig deeper. We can find some time to meet at the end of the season.

We have four separate international tournaments here in Europe - FIBA Europe Cup and Basketball Champions League, EuroLeague, and the EuroCup.

Isn't it too many for a continent? Do you think we should stick to a two-tournament model?
I don't want to expand on that. This is a matter that we should also discuss with the teams and organizations on what solution is the best.

We can now look on the surface level at how much it serves the involved parties and how we should improve it. I'm sorry, but I don't want to talk in any more detail about it publicly. It has to be discussed with the governing bodies behind a shared table.

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