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The NBA in Europe: A team in Madrid will help, not hurt its existing basketball culture

We head to the Spanish capital in our six-city tour of a hypothetical NBA European Division.

A photo of the Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain Son of Groucho,

We’re now heading into the second half looking at every city in a hypothetical six-team NBA European division. Here are the cities:

For the rest of this series of posts, we are heading to countries that have well-established basketball traditions. But with that come different challenges. Let’s talk about Madrid and how it fits in the conversation.

Some things about Madrid

Madrid Spain slide

Madrid is the capital of and largest city in Spain. It’s also considered to be the financial capital of Southern Europe and home to most of the country’s major companies in a wide variety of sectors.

The city is also a major tourist attraction with its museums, and the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium also hosts Real Madrid soccer games during their regular season. Coincidentally, the World Tourism Organization’s headquarters is also here.

Climate-wise, Madrid is pretty close to Washington’s when you look at the temperatures. Springs and autumns are temperate, summers are warm, and winters are cold. That said, it doesn’t snow much here so folks don’t have to make panic runs to the supermarket for bread and milk at the first sight of a Winter Weather Advisory.

Who are the best basketball players from Spain?

Chicago Bulls v Indiana Pacers Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Pau Gasol is the most accomplished Spanish NBA player. He played 15 NBA seasons so far, and averaged 18.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game for the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers, and Chicago Bulls (he hasn’t played for the Spurs yet). Gasol was also on Spain’s national team where he won the 2008 and 2012 silver medals, and the 2016 bronze medal just this past week.

There are five active NBA players from Spain including Gasol and his younger brother Marc. A total of 13 NBA players were born in Spain, though that includes Wally Szczerbiak who was born in Madrid but is an American. All but two of them aren’t even 40 yet, which indicates that they have been a relatively recent producer of NBA talent. Still, they’re damn good

An NBA team’s competition: Real Madrid

Real Madrid v Boston Celtics
Sergio Llull is one of Real Madrid’s centerpieces.
Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

The Real Madrid sports franchise is the number one competitor to any NBA team. The soccer team is the most visible competitor and is the most successful European team in history with 11 UEFA Champions League/European Cup including this past season. They also won 32 titles in LaLiga, the Premier Division in Spanish soccer.

The basketball team is just like the soccer team. They have won 33 titles in La Liga Endesa, the Premier Division in Spanish Basketball and 9 EuroLeague championships, more than any other European team. Real Madrid’s basketball team reg

Madrid’s other sports teams

Real Madrid is not the only La Liga team in the city. Atlético Madrid is the city’s cross-town rival. They aren’t as successful as Real, but won one UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1962, the UEFA Europa League in 2010 and 2012, and were UEFA Champions League/European Cup runners-up three times including this past season. Yes, two teams in the same city played each other for the European title.

With basketball, Estudiantes is also in Madrid and plays in the BarclayCard Center, the same arena that Real is in. In addition, Baloncesto Fuenlabrada plays nearby.

Why an NBA Team ultimately works in Madrid

I came into this series of articles assuming that every team in a European NBA division would be a brand new franchise, but in Madrid it will be a bit tricky because Real Madrid is a multi-sport institution.

It is fair to ask if Real Madrid’s basketball team ends up being a “second fiddle” to an NBA team in the same city. Talent-wise, Real Madrid is, and there’s no way around it. But I think the teams can still coexist because the NBA and La Liga Endesa are popular, not to mention the population in the Madrid are is very large.

Ultimately, I think the NBA would have to create a new team from scratch. I just don’t see Real Madrid becoming an NBA team because the European system of youth squads and transfer markets is fundamentally different than the American way of drafts and trades.

The NBA would also be asking Real Madrid to sever its rivalries with other domestic teams, in particular F.C. Barcelona, which I just don’t see happening unless we have a second NBA team in Spain from Day 1 perhaps. But again, I don’t see it happening because of national rivalries and their system of developing and changing their rosters.

In the end, basketball is popular in Spain and there are teams here that already enjoy a strong following. Adding the NBA to the mix will be an asset and wouldn’t oversaturate the sports market in this large city.

Next week, we will head to Milan, Italy, the fifth city in this division.