NBA to host games across the pond in ’11

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NBA to host games across the pond in ’11

LONDON - Those high-flying slam dunks and long-distance 3-pointers are going to mean a lot more to the London crowd next year when the NBA hosts its first regular-season games in Europe.

NBA commissioner David Stern announced Monday that the Toronto Raptors and New Jersey Nets will face each other on March 4 and 5 at the O2 Arena, the same venue that has hosted preseason games over the last several years.

“It’s going to make basketball shine as a sport of passion, intensity, teamwork,’’ Stern said in a conference call.

The NBA has been looking to expand overseas for years, and Stern has said in the past he would like to play a competitive game in London before the city hosts the Olympics in 2012.

“This, to us, is really within the context of giving as much support as we can to the sport of basketball for the 2012 Olympics,’’ Stern said. “In Beijing [at the 2008 Olympics], basketball was the hottest ticket. We don’t necessarily expect that to be the case in London, although... I think that there’s a good possibility that basketball will assume a role that folks in the United Kingdom might never have anticipated.’’

In the early 1990s, the NBA hosted some regular-season games in Japan - the only ever to be played outside of North America. The league also had games in Mexico City.

Although the NBA is finally making the jump to play meaningful games in Europe, Stern was hesitant to say if the league would make it an annual occurrence.

“We would rather not make a promise that we couldn’t fulfill. We’ll need to assess how we do in March, what the impact is, and we’re going to go from there,’’ Stern said. “It would not surprise me if this became an annual event.’’

Before this season opens, the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves will each play two games in the fifth installment of the NBA’s preseason Europe Live Tour. The 2009 champion Lakers will face the Timberwolves at the O2 Arena on Oct. 4 and then play Barcelona in Spain three days later. The Knicks will play an Italian team in Milan on Oct. 3 and the Timberwolves three days later in Paris.

The NFL will be playing a regular-season game in London for the fourth straight season when the San Francisco 49ers face the Denver Broncos on Oct. 31 at Wembley Stadium. The NHL has also played regular-season games in London, and still does so in other European cities.

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