It's not the NBA just yet but wins such as Fenerbahce's over the Boston Celtics prove the Euroleague is nipping at the North Americans' heels. 'We have different sports cultures but the same vision', says Jordi Bertomeu, the Euroleague chief.
Euroleague rising to NBA heights of skill and fandom
BELGRADE // More games and bigger arenas will enable Europe's premier basketball competition to aim for NBA standards, Jordi Bertomeu, the Euroleague chief, said as the new season started last night.
This month's warm-up games between Euroleague sides and NBA teams suggest the gulf between the top sides from Europe and North America has narrowed, with Fenerbahce Istanbul pulling off a shock 97-91 win over the 17-times NBA champions the Boston Celtics.
Bertomeu, who met with the NBA commissioner David Stern in Berlin shortly before the local team Alba pushed the 2011 champions Dallas Mavericks to the limit in an 89-84 defeat on Saturday, acknowledged that looking up to the NBA and playing against the league's top contenders has helped Europe to improve.
"These games are an opportunity to work with our NBA friends, share the experience and learn, because they have already done many things that we want to do in our evolution as a professional league," Bertomeu told the 24-team Euroleague's official website.
"We have different models, a different sports culture and, of course, different resources, but we share the same vision about the importance of improving the quality of the game and the importance of basketball becoming a global sport.
"Specifically, in this field, I have to say that the NBA has been doing a terrific job. We have in front of us a very important Euroleague season with more games, more weeks and teams moving to bigger arenas, culminating in the Final Four in London."
The teams are divided into four groups of six in the preliminary stage and the top four from each group will advance into the last 16, where they will be divided into two groups of eight instead of four groups of four.
The top four teams from each of those groups, operating on a round-robin home and away system like the preliminary stage, will progress into the quarter-finals, from which the winners will qualify for the Final Four in London's O2 Arena from May 10-12.
The upcoming season promises a finely balanced battle between a myriad of contenders, some of whom have had to fundamentally change their sides with players being lured to the glamour and higher level of the NBA.
However, the champions Olympiacos Piraeus, who won the title with a memorable comeback to beat CSKA Moscow 62-61 in Istanbul last May, have kept the bulk of their roster intact.
The six-time winners CSKA, who last won the competition in 2008, welcome back the Italian coach, Ettore Messina, who steered the Russian side to their last two Euroleague titles.
Messina has returned for a second spell in charge after coaching Real Madrid and is stronger for the experience of a year-long stint with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he was a consultant to the head coach Mike Brown.
"I was able to work with great coaches and players and really enjoyed it but I missed head coaching and I feel blessed to work here again," Messina told the CSKA website.
"The NBA is a great league and environment, but CSKA is an NBA-level club and I am looking forward to working with the few players who were here when I left four years ago as well as with the newcomers."
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