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The NBA in Europe: Making the case why Amsterdam should get a team

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Rijksmuseum Opens After Extensive Reconstruction
The Rijksmuseum is one of the signature buildings of Amsterdam and the Netherlands.
Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Earlier this week, we talked about the topic of hypothetical NBA expansion in Europe, which comes up from time to time. We also gave you a chance to talk about which six European cities the NBA should expand to in a hypothetical division across the Atlantic.

I gave my list of cities in that post and will go a bit in depth as to why I chose them. But if you missed it, here are the cities:

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

Now, I’ll starting going through rationales for each city in alphabetical order. The first city we’ll look at is Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands.

Some things about Amsterdam, the Randstad, and the Netherlands

Amsterdam is a well-known tourist city with its abundance of art museums and canals, all located in the center part of town.

Though the center of town may not show it because of the old buildings, Amsterdam remains a major city for business. Philips, Heineken International, and Nike’s European division are all based in the Amsterdam metropolitan area.

And even though Amsterdam’s metropolitan area has just over 2 million people, it is part of a megalopolis known as the Randstad. This is when you can see the Netherlands truly become one of Europe’s most powerful countries and markets.

The Randstad is a region that includes Amsterdam, and nearby major cities like Rotterdam, The Hague, and Utrecht. The combined population is over 7.1 million people. That is over 40 percent of the Dutch population, and it would be roughly the fourth largest metropolitan statistical area in the United States, after New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

All of the cities in the Randstad are within 40 or so miles of each other. Therefore, it’s feasible that people who live in Rotterdam, The Hague, or Utrecht would follow an Amsterdam-based NBA team — it’s going to be the only team in the country. Distance shouldn’t be what holds Dutch basketball fans back.

Does the NBA invest in the Netherlands?

Little, if at all. The NBA has no office in the Netherlands and no content in Dutch, the official language.

Then why should the NBA invest there now?

In short: The Amsterdam area and the Randstad has practically everything else the NBA would want in a European market.

The Dutch have the economic resources, and a welcoming environment to players. Also, the NBA has focused on each of the five largest EU Member States: Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Italy, which are also among the more prosperous states in the Union. In addition, the Dutch have still produced NBA players despite the lack of a strong national domestic league or national team.

Who are the best NBA players from the Netherlands?

Rik Smits is the most well known player from the Netherlands. He also literally has a blue collar and gold swagger.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Former Indiana Pacers center Rik Smits is the most well-known and accomplished Dutch NBA player.

He played 12 seasons (1988-2000), all with the Indiana Pacers after a successful college career at Marist. During his time in Indiana, Smits averaged 14.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, made the All-Star team once in 1998 and finished his career by playing in the 2000 NBA Finals.

Smits was remarkably consistent for the Blue and Gold during his career where he averaged double figures in scoring every season he played. Not too many NBA players can put that on their resumes. Reggie Miller will always be known as the face of the Pacers franchise during the 1990’s, but Smits was his right hand man.

Francisco Elson and Dan Gadzuric are two other Dutchmen who played in the NBA more recently than Smits, and both also enjoyed long careers.

Finally, former ABA and NBA star Swen Nater is another famous player born in the Netherlands. But he started playing basketball AFTER he moved to the US as a kid.

Is the Dutch market able to support an NBA team financially?

Yes.

The Netherlands’ GDP per capita is $48,317 according to the EU’s statistics, third highest behind Luxembourg and Ireland which are considerably smaller countries. It was $49,166 in 2015 according to the IMF. For some perspective, the American GDP per capita is $55,805 according to the same resource. You shouldn’t use GDP per capita as a hard and fast, one-size-fits-all rule, but the bottom line is that the Netherlands is an economic and diplomatic world power, just like the USA.

Which other sports teams will an Amsterdam NBA team compete against?

PSV Eindhoven v Ajax Amsterdam - Eredivisie
Ajax winger Anwar El Ghazi celebrates after scoring a goal against rival PSV Eindhoven last March.
Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Like most of Europe, soccer is king in the Netherlands. The NBA would be competing for TV time and attention against the big-name teams in the Eredivisie, the Dutch premier division.

AFC Ajax, Amsterdam’s soccer team, will be the most visible competitor. Ajax is one of the better teams in Europe, but isn’t at the level of the top British or Spanish clubs.

Ajax is consistently in the running for the Eredivisie title with PSV Eindhoven who won each of the last two titles. But since the Dutch only have one NBA team in this universe, PSV should still be considered a competitor even if it is closer to the Belgian border than Amsterdam.

As for other clubs in the Randstad, Feyenoord Rotterdam is Ajax’s arch rival. Hooligan groups for both teams literally went to war with each other in 1997 in the Battle of Beverwijk. One fan was killed in that mess. They just hate each other. A lot.

Smaller Eredivisie clubs in the Randstad like ADO Den Haag in The Hague and FC Utrecht will also compete for sports fans’ attention.

There’s a saturation of soccer fandom for sure and rival teams are just a short drive from each other. But with 7 million people in the Randstad along with some basketball fans amongst them and tourists that visit year round, it should still be more than enough to support an NBA team.

Would Amsterdam be attractive to NBA players?

De Wallen, a/k/a Amsterdam’s Red Light District
Steve Parker

Yes, but it’s not because Amsterdam is one of the few places in the world where prostitution is legal and retail marijuana is just a “coffeeshop” away in De Wallen (the Red Light District) and elsewhere in the country.

Since most of the players on an Amsterdam team would probably be Americans, one barrier is language. According to the EU, 90 percent of Dutch people claim to be at least conversational in English. In the cities, most natives will be able to speak English quite well so that should lower some of the culture shock for NBA players, especially Americans if they were to play here.

The Dutch also seem to respect personal privacy a bit more than Americans in big cities, so this is something that NBA players should be able to appreciate. FC Barcelona star Luis Suarez spent his formative years at Ajax from 2007-2011 where he was able to “live there in peace” with his family. Granted, Suarez wasn’t quite the big name at Ajax in the late 2000’s like he is today, but that can be a selling point too.

Finally, Amsterdam has a temperate climate year round in part due to its location near the North Sea. Compared with Washington, D.C., an 80-degree high would be a hot summer day for the Dutch while that would be considered cool in Washington. And during the winter, there it’s rare to have bone-chilling nights with lows in the teens and 20’s like you’ll find in Washington.

For those who don’t think being in the tropics is necessary all the time, Amsterdam should be a great place to live in. Just watch out for all of those bicyclists. They own the right of way in traffic. IT’S A BIG FREAKING DEAL IN THIS CITY.

Amsterdam, Bicycle City Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

Addressing concerns

There are always some concerns about expanding into any city. Unlike most of the six cities in this hypothetical division, Amsterdam has a fundamental one: Will Amsterdammers and the Dutch embrace an NBA team?

A one-time showing of an NBA game overseas will pack a crowd because of the novelty. But basketball isn’t popular in the Netherlands like it is in the Southern Mediterranean countries (Spain, France, Italy), or the Eastern Bloc (Serbia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Lithuania).

However, the NBA has put teams in Canada in the 1990’s when basketball was also not very popular. Though the Vancouver Grizzlies relocated, the Toronto Raptors have stayed and have played a major role to increase the profile of Canadian basketball.

It’s not always about the present when the NBA increases exposure in a new market, whether with an expansion team or an office. It’s also about the future and planting the seeds down for development in the sport. If the NBA comes to the Netherlands, it will certainly foster more popularity of the sport both from a fan and a talent standpoint.

Final Takeaways

I’m a little surprised that the NBA hasn’t tried to increase its presence in the Netherlands already given the efforts that have been made in neighboring countries. Despite that, the Dutch have the market, the economic power, and have even produced some NBA level talent over the years.

I’ve admittedly been deliberate about keeping the first six teams in Western Europe. Once you take out the UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy — who are in the NBA’s plans — the Netherlands becomes an attractive option along with Belgium for that sixth spot.

If I give the Netherlands and Belgium one city each, that leaves Amsterdam and Brussels as the two best cities to have the sixth European NBA team. Since Amsterdam is in a bigger market than Brussels and doesn’t have to worry about French vs. Dutch language politics, the capital of the Netherlands wins my vote.

Next, we’ll head to Berlin, Germany and give a case why it should also be part of this European NBA division.