LONDON -- NBA commissioner David Stern is counting on the 2012 London Olympics to give the league a foothold in Britain.
"The future of the NBA with London is to grow the sport at the grassroots level, to grow the business of the sport, because this a huge market with huge potential," Stern said Friday at a temporary basketball court built on the bank of the River Thames.
Stern said the NBA wants to make basketball "as popular as possible during the 2012 Olympics, and then to use the Olympics as an even better springboard to develop the sport in this country."
Last year, Stern said proposals to base an NBA team in Europe would take about 10 years -- with London being a likely favorite venue.
"We're an arena closer, because we'll be opening up the O2 World in Berlin, but there's no timetable," Stern said. "Now we know we've got two great NBA-ready arenas here, one in London and one in Berlin, but it's a long process and that's not the way we measure ourselves."
Besides Sunday's game at the O2 Arena in London, the New Orleans Hornets and the Washington Wizards will play Tuesday at the O2 World in Berlin. The same two teams will also play next Friday in Barcelona, Spain. On Thursday in Paris, the Nets beat the Heat 100-98 in overtime.
"It's a very long-term agenda," Stern said.
Part of that agenda will likely include returning to Europe for a fourth straight year in 2009.
"We may already have plans, I can't be sure," Stern said. "But I'm guessing that we're going to be back here because when we started Europe Live we decided it would be something that was our determination that we were going to be in the market on a regular basis.
"It's not about whether we have a league, it's about growing our sponsor relationships, our merchandise relationships, our television relationships, our online relationships."
Darryl Dawkins, a former NBA star who spent some time playing in the Italian league late in his career, believes the NBA has a future in Europe.
"Anything is possible because David Stern is a guy who's not afraid to step out on a limb and try something different," Dawkins said after running some drills with local kids on the temporary court. "The more players we can get globally, it betters the chance of us to have a team everywhere."
This year's trip to Europe was scaled back to four games in four cities, eliminating games against local teams.
"We anticipated the economic slowdown. We tried to limit our exposure and at the same time accomplish our goals," said Stern, who also attended the NBA Cares Event in south London on Friday. "We were probably trying to do too much in past years."
But despite the global financial crisis, Stern believes that NBA teams will be OK because of the economic system it enforces.
"We have limits of $125 million at the NBA, so no club can, in effect, mortgage it's future. ... [And] we have a salary cap, which not only limits the amount that a team can spend on its payroll but the amount that a team can spend to buy another player," Stern said. "So we think those tend to work well to limit exposure."
Stern does think, however, that teams will be affected at some point.
"It's going to ultimately have a negative impact on every business, and sports is not going to be the only one that doesn't have that negative impact," he said. "We haven't see it yet, but I anticipate that it will occur."