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The NBA in Europe: Why is Berlin the best city to represent Germany?

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Bundeswehr Celebrates 60th Anniversary Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The topic of hypothetical NBA expansion in Europe, which comes up from time to time. I gave my list of cities in that post. Here’s the list once again:

  • Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Berlin, Germany
  • London, United Kingdom
  • Madrid, Spain
  • Milan, Italy
  • Paris, France

We talked about Amsterdam last Wednesday and why its area is a great market for the NBA even if the Netherlands isn’t the first country you think about when it comes to basketball.

Today, we’ll head over to Berlin, the capital of Germany and talk about it some more.

Some facts about Berlin

Berlin is one of the largest cities in the European Union with close to four million people. It is also a major city in world history where it was the capital of the Kingdom of Prussia, and also the Nazi German Empire through the end of World War II.

After the end of World War II, Berlin was split into two cities as Germany was split into two countries — East and West. The capital was split into two cities: West Berlin for West Germany, East Berlin for East Germany.

From 1961-1989, there was a wall that surrounded West Berlin from the East. If you’re a history buff — and I’ll try my best NOT bore you too much with it — West Germany was a democratic nation, but East Germany was a communist one.

Also, European countries like West Germany and to its west were democracies. Countries like East Germany and to its East like Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia were communist. Those former communist nations sandwiched between western Europe and the former Soviet Union are what we call the Eastern Bloc.

So, back to Berlin. This city is in the Eastern Bloc, but that wall had a western exclave. In 1989, the Wall was torn down as the East German government gradually collapsed that year as borders started opening up in Hungary. Today, even with most of the Wall torn down, parts of it are still around town at museums and also around the world.

Berlin today is home to one of the world’s most famous international film festivals, and it is also gaining a reputation as one of Europe’s startup friendly cities.

Who are the best NBA players from Germany?

NBA: Washington Wizards at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The best NBA player from Germany is Dirk Nowitzki. In 18 NBA seasons for the Dallas Mavericks, he scored 29,491 points, sixth most in NBA history. Nowitzki has made 13 All-Star Games and started two of them. He was the first European to win the 2006-07 NBA MVP award. And yes, he led the Mavs to their first NBA title in 2011 over the Miami Heat.

On the international stage, Nowitzki helped lead Germany to a Bronze medal in the 2002 FIBA World Cup, a 2nd place finish in 2005 EuroBasket, and a 2008 Olympic Games Appearance, their first since 1992.

Nowitzki isn’t the only German player in the NBA right now. Hawks guard Dennis Schröder is as well. In total, 18 NBA players were born in Germany. Of those who are German. Until Nowitzki came into full form, Detlef Schrempf was the face of German basketball since he scored over 15,000 points and was a three time All-Star.

Some other famous NBA players born in Germany include Kiki Vandeweghe, who was a two-time All-Star and now NBA VP of Basketball Operations and two-time All-Star Carlos Boozer, who was born at a military base in Aschaffenburg.

Does the NBA invest in Germany?

Yes. The League has an official website in German. And the NBA hosted a 2014 preseason game in Berlin when the San Antonio Spurs played Alba Berlin at what is now the Mercedes-Benz Arena, which is an NBA-style facility. The game ended with an Alba victory at the buzzer:

There are many American military bases in Germany. Why not put the team in Frankfurt or Munich where it is closer to the bases?

It’s a two fold answer.

First, let’s think about why Berlin deserves an NBA team for Germany. As I mentioned before, the NBA invests in Germany already. Berlin also held a preseason game there in a facility that can have such a team today — even if it is a little on the small side. Also, in most cases, the capital of the country is also its front porch. Those would be the main reasons why on a national level.

Second, let’s keep in mind that all six countries in this European Division are in western countries. Berlin may be the capital of a western country in and of itself. But its history and the eastern part is also part of the Eastern Bloc. Finally, it’s not too far from Poland so it will be interesting to see if some of them follow the team.

I’ll finish this section by addressing the military bases, which are located mostly in the western part of the country. If the NBA plans on European expansion, we should be thinking about the natives there before American military personnel. Also, the people at the bases will change on a regular basis, and it’s not a given that they’re staying in Germany forever. Bases have closed down over the years now that the Cold War is behind us.

Which other sports teams will a Berlin NBA team compete against?

Hertha BSC v Bayer Leverkusen - Bundesliga
John Brooks is one of Hertha BSC’s defenders.
Photo by Matthias Kern/Bongarts/Getty Images

Like the Netherlands, soccer rules in Berlin. The premier division is called the Bundesliga.

The most successful local team here is Hertha BSC. Though you’d think the capital of the country would have one of the best teams, it’s not the case in Germany. Hertha was 7th in the Bundesliga last season and was 15th in 2014-15, narrowly escaping relegation. As a matter of fact, Hertha BSC was in the 2. Bundesliga, or the second division in the 2012-13 season. 1. FC Union is another Berlin club that is perennially in the 2. Bundesliga.

The Bundesliga is one of the bigger profile leagues in Europe, but the bigger clubs like Bayern Munich, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund, and VfL Wolfsburg all play in the western part of the country. The Eastern side is not as strong, and it may not be a surprise if Berliners are fans of those bigger clubs.

In basketball, it’s a different story. Alba Berlin is the strongest team in the Basketball Bundesliga on a perennial basis. Yes, it would be a competition against a reputable club if the NBA comes here. But I think that can be reconciled because the roster on any NBA team would likely be made up of mostly Americans.

What are the main concerns about Berlin vs. other German cities like Munich or Frankfurt?

As I mentioned early on, Germany is a country that reunified less than 30 years ago. There is still a divide of sorts between East and West, where the west is doing a lot better economically than the East. That still persists today.

In Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States, the area does better than average economically. However, that isn’t the case with Germany.

According to the EU, Berlin’s unemployment rate is 10.7 percent, considerably higher than the national rate of 6.7 percent. Part of it is specifically because of reunification, at least to Union. The differences between the East and West are not as vast today as it was in the early 1990’s, but it’s still there.

Final Takeaways

I stand with having an NBA team in Berlin because it is Germany’s largest market and it is ready to host basketball with a proper facility in place. Though its Eastern Bloc surroundings can be considered a minus, the city is a bridge to that area as well, and I feel that’s important to consider.

Regardless, if the NBA moves to Europe, it definitely makes sense to move into the largest EU member state and to a city that already embraces basketball.

Next week, we’ll head over to London, a city the NBA really, really wants in its European plans.