POSTED: Oct 3, 2013 10:27 AM ET
NEW YORK (AP) — David Stern is soon on his way to the Philippines and Taiwan. After that, it's off to Beijing and Shanghai.
His final months as commissioner are the NBA's boldest yet when it comes to playing internationally, and he thinks bringing the league around the globe will remain important long after he's left office in February.
"Numerically, without question, to have 10 games this season, it's our most ambitious," Stern said of the schedule that begins this weekend.
"It's really just a continued statement to our international audience of our attempts to play games in their time zones and to demonstrate that we think it's a global game and we appreciate their support and interest."
There will be 12 teams playing outside the U.S. and Canada, the most ever, and the league will play regular-season games in two countries beyond those for the first time.
There are stops in old standbys and first-time trips to cities in Brazil and Spain that will be hosting major international competitions in the next few years.
International growth, long a passion of Stern's, has become something much more: It's mandatory.
"If you listen to Coca-Cola or GE or the great brands -- Samsung, Sony, Apple -- increasingly more and more of their revenues and profits are going to come from outside the United States. The numbers make it clear, because there are 300-plus million people in the U.S. and we're approaching 7 billion outside the U.S," Stern said in a phone interview.
"And so looking at every enterprise that's doing business, communicating with consumers and the like, I have seen international as a growth opportunity that will continue literally for decades, and our sport is one that crosses borders, along with soccer, in a wonderful way. And we have just scratched the surface."
The schedule opens Saturday with Oklahoma City playing Turkey's Fenerbahce Ulker in Istanbul, where Kevin Durant was MVP of the world basketball championship in 2010. Philadelphia plays the next day at Bilbao, Spain, a host site for next summer's renamed World Cup of Basketball.
The Thunder then meet the 76ers on Oct. 8 in Manchester, England, before Indiana and Houston face each other in the Philippines and Taiwan -- the latter the home country of Rockets guard Jeremy Lin's parents.
"I have no idea what to expect," Lin said. "It's a preseason game, so you never really know what's going to happen in terms of the plan or minutes or whatever. But I just know it's going to be two games against a really good team and the opportunity to work on some stuff. Hopefully give the fans across the world something to cheer about and a fun event to attend."
The Lakers and Warriors play twice in China, and Chicago faces Washington in Rio de Janeiro. The games that count include San Antonio against Minnesota in Mexico City in December, followed by Atlanta playing Brooklyn in London in January.
Every location has a reason. Turkey is one of the league's largest social media markets. Stern said the Philippines is a top-three basketball market with a new arena in Manila. Rio is host of the 2016 Olympics, and building toward that, the league now has about 20 employees working on Latin America.
The NBA played its first international game when Washington visited Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel in 1978, six years before Stern became commissioner. By the time he leaves, the league will have played nearly 150 of them, including 18 in the regular season.
He often talked of more, possibly putting NBA teams in Europe, though anything like that would have to wait until long after Adam Silver has replaced him. But Stern said there's more than just playing games, citing everything from clinics the league conducts to the many trips players take on behalf of their sneaker companies or other business partners.
"So every aspect of what we do will be growing," Stern said, "and at the same time the conversation about whether we might someday have a division in Europe, or will there be NBA-branded or sponsored leagues in Asia or Latin America, all are interesting and good subjects for conversation and strategizing. But at the core, our business will continue to grow on a global basis."