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Does the NBA play outside the USA?

After 75 years since its inception, the NBA is recognized as a global league. Partly through strategy, and partly through good fortune, the NBA has become extremely popular throughout the world. Many international players have found their way, and their success, in the NBA, with more foreign-born players in the league than ever. The NBA has strategized to capture revenue in various markets throughout the globe with several campaigns, deals, and initiatives, all to boost their brand as a global game.

Does the NBA play outside the USA? Yes, NBA teams often play games outside of the US and Canada. These games occur in the pre-season as well as in the regular season, in various regions throughout the globe. These games may also be against other NBA teams or other professional basketball teams. The first NBA Global Game was played in 1984 in Mexico, and the most recent NBA Global Game was played in 2020 in France, with a recent pause due to the impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

The NBA will return to Paris in January 2023 when the Bulls will take on the Pistons

What are the type of matchups that occur during international NBA games?

NBA games that are played outside the US and Canada first started as pre-season exhibition games. These games are either played against other NBA teams, or foreign basketball teams, which may be professional clubs or national teams. Later on, the NBA also introduced some regular-season games to be played outside the US: the first regular-season game played internationally was in 1990, in Tokyo, Japan, involving a two-game series between the Utah Jazz and the Phoenix Suns. Regular-season games played internationally are less frequent than pre-season exhibition games.

A bulk of the NBA’s international games are pre-season exhibition games played against European professional basketball teams from the EuroLeague, as part of what is called the EuroLeague tour. Not all of these games are played in Europe; since 2016 onwards, most of these games have occured in the US and Canada, at NBA team stadiums.

Most of these games played against foreign clubs feature the NBA team winning; however, this is not always the case. Most international exhibition games are played with low intensity and more so as a spectacle for fans, but games can also become competitive and intense, especially if the foreign teams are having a good performance. Regular-season games played outside the US usually feature a similar intensity as normal games in the US, although there is a lot more marketing and spectacle around the matchup to entice foreign fans.

What countries/regions are international NBA games played in?

NBA games not played in the US are played in various countries and regions around the world, including both inter-NBA games and games against foreign teams. Some of the most popular destinations include Mexico, the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Turkey, Italy, Germany, Russia, Japan, China, and Brazil, among other destinations. The NBA is scheduled to make its first appearance in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in October 2022, to feature 2 preseason exhibition games between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks.

Complete List of Regular Season NBA Games held outside of the Americas

Date of GameRoad TeamScoreHome TeamLocation of Game
2 November 1990Phoenix Suns119–96Utah JazzTokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, Tokyo
3 November 1990Utah Jazz102–101Phoenix SunsTokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, Tokyo
6 November 1992Seattle SuperSonics111–94Houston RocketsYokohama Arena, Yokohama
7 November 1992Houston Rockets85–89Seattle SuperSonicsYokohama Arena, Yokohama
4 November 1994Portland Trail Blazers121–100Los Angeles ClippersYokohama Arena, Yokohama
5 November 1994Los Angeles Clippers95–112Portland Trail BlazersYokohama Arena, Yokohama
7 November 1996Orlando Magic108–95New Jersey NetsTokyo Dome, Tokyo
9 November 1996New Jersey Nets82–86Orlando MagicTokyo Dome, Tokyo
7 December 1997Houston Rockets108–106Dallas MavericksPalacio de los Deportes, Mexico City
6 November 1999Minnesota Timberwolves95–100Sacramento KingsTokyo Dome, Tokyo
7 November 1999Sacramento Kings101–114Minnesota TimberwolvesTokyo Dome, Tokyo
30 October 2003Los Angeles Clippers100–109Seattle SuperSonicsSaitama Super Arena, Saitama
1 November 2003Seattle SuperSonics124–105Los Angeles ClippersSaitama Super Arena, Saitama
4 March 2011Toronto Raptors103–116New Jersey NetsThe O2 Arena, London
5 March 2011Toronto Raptors136–137New Jersey NetsThe O2 Arena, London
17 January 2013New York Knicks102–87Detroit PistonsThe O2 Arena, London
16 January 2014Brooklyn Nets127–110Atlanta HawksThe O2 Arena, London
12 November 2014Houston Rockets113–101Minnesota TimberwolvesMexico City Arena, Mexico City
15 January 2015New York Knicks79–95Milwaukee BucksThe O2 Arena, London
3 December 2015Boston Celtics114–97Sacramento KingsMexico City Arena, Mexico City
14 January 2016Toronto Raptors106–103Orlando MagicThe O2 Arena, London
12 January 2017Indiana Pacers112–140Denver NuggetsThe O2 Arena, London
12 January 2017Dallas Mavericks113–108Phoenix SunsMexico City Arena, Mexico City
14 January 2017San Antonio Spurs105–108Phoenix SunsMexico City Arena, Mexico City
7 December 2017Oklahoma City Thunder95–100Brooklyn NetsMexico City Arena, Mexico City
9 December 2017Miami Heat101–89Brooklyn NetsMexico City Arena, Mexico City
11 January 2018Boston Celtics114–103Philadelphia 76ersThe O2 Arena, London
13 December 2018Chicago Bulls91–97Orlando MagicMexico City Arena, Mexico City
15 December 2018Utah Jazz89–96Orlando MagicMexico City Arena, Mexico City
17 January 2019New York Knicks100–101Washington WizardsThe O2 Arena, London
12 December 2019Dallas Mavericks122–111Detroit PistonsMexico City Arena, Mexico City
14 December 2019San Antonio Spurs121–119 (OT)Phoenix SunsMexico City Arena, Mexico City
24 January 2020Milwaukee Bucks116–103Charlotte HornetsAccorHotels Arena, Paris
19 January 2023Chicago Bullsvs.Detroit PistonsAccorArena, Paris

When was the first international NBA game played?

The first international NBA game played outside of the US was held on September 8th, 1974, in Tel Aviv. The pre-season exhibition matchup took place between the Washington Bullets, who were the reigning NBA champions, and the Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv. A close competition led to a surprising result: the Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv defeated the Washington Bullets 98-97.

When was the most recent international NBA game played?

The most recent international NBA game that was played outside of the US was played on October 5th, 2016, in Barcelona, Spain. The matchup took place between the Oklahoma City Thunder and FC Barcelona. The Thunder barely defeated FC Barcelona, 92-89.

Why does the NBA participate in international games?

The NBA has a business interest in the international market, and has made huge strides in capturing revenue and attention in many global markets. One reason why the NBA plays outside the US is to engage their international fans who would otherwise not have a chance to watch their favorite players and teams play live. This engages current fans and attracts new ones, as well as opening up the NBA to sign lucrative deals in that market. These deals, from merchandising to TV rights, bring in significant revenue to the NBA as well as expand their global reach.

Beyond the obvious and significant financial benefit the NBA receives from playing games overseas, there is also the effect of the strengthening of the sport of basketball around the world. The NBA runs a program called Basketball Without Borders, featuring top NBA coaches and players participating in basketball camps in various countries around the world. These camps are intended to improve the skills of the local talent, who then grow up to play basketball professionally; the best of them may also make their way to the NBA. And it has worked: the NBA is as global as it has ever been, bringing in revenue from around the world, growing international interest, and building up talent who also become stars in the NBA.

What other exhibition games have NBA teams participated in?

The NBA used to play exhibition games during the preseason games against American Basketball Association (ABA) teams from 1971 to 1975. A total of 155 exhibition games were played by NBA teams and teams from the other American professional league: the ABA teams were victorious in the overall head-to-head record, with 79 wins to the NBA’s 76 wins. These games were highly intense, and were played with a mixture of NBA and ABA rules. Eventually the ABA merged into the NBA, no doubt influenced by their extensive exhibition games.

Exhibition games have been an excellent way for NBA players and teams to engage with their huge fan base outside of the United States and Canada. From providing the experience for fans to see some of the biggest NBA stars playing games against local professional teams, meet-and-greets and other fan experiences, as well as camps to promote and elevate the game of basketball around the world. The NBA has also benefited as well, from increased global revenue and brand image, as well as influx of international talent elevating the level of play in the NBA. Overall, international games have been a success for just about everyone involved.