SALT LAKE CITY — When the NBA announced this season’s schedule last August, the league noted that 42 games would be played on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, “primetime” viewing hours for fans in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The announcement noted that it would be the most such games the league has ever scheduled.
Saturday’s contest between the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs was one of the 42, and it was a rather fitting matchup. The Spurs have long had a heavy international influence on their rosters, and the Jazz have over the past few seasons. This year, the two franchises have a combined 11 players who hail from outside the United States.
Seven of them are from Europe.
“I like it, I like it,” said Utah forward Thabo Sefolosha, who grew up in Switzerland, of the NBA working to get games more accessible in other countries. “The game becoming more and more international, to be able to reach a broader audience at a time like this, I think it’s great. Obviously San Antonio historically has always had international players. Utah also ... especially now this year, there’s a lot of us, I would say. It’s great.”
Sefolosha, who played three minutes Saturday after missing more than a month because of injury, recalled that as a youngster in the 1990s, finding NBA games was incredibly difficult.
“Basically if you got your hands on a game, it was a VHS tape, and you probably watched the same game 10 times,” he said.
For Jazz guard Ricky Rubio, who grew up in Spain, the 3 p.m. start was a bit more personal.
“It’s great because when I finish games, everybody’s on their phones getting messages from their friends and family. I only have one from my dad,” Rubio said. “He’s the only one up overseas.”
Saturday’s early start even helped a Utah couple catch the game more easily. Tyler and Brooke Wertz met at Utah State but are living in Spain on a study abroad. A lifelong Jazz fan, Tyler Wertz told the Deseret News via Twitter direct message that the only times he’s been able to see the squad live this season is the fourth quarters of games when Utah is playing a team in the Pacific time zone, as it’s 6:30 a.m. in Spain when it’s 9:30 p.m. in cities such as Los Angeles.
“We love 3pm MST Jazz games in Utah!,” Wertz tweeted, along with a picture of his screen, which showed the game. “It allows for my wife and I to catch the game here in Spain at 11pm can we make that happen more often....?”Comment on this story
On Saturday, a pair of reporters from Greece was at the game to talk to Jazz first-year assistant Fotis Katsikaris, who has coached the Greek and Russian national teams. Before tipoff, they queried Utah head coach Quin Snyder, who spent the 2012-2013 season as an assistant for Russian power CSKA Moscow under now-Spurs assistant Ettore Messina, about the increasing number of NBA stars from Europe.
“I think there’s a developmental path there that is really accentuated by the competition,” Snyder said, “and a lot of those guys, they’re comfortable with who they are in the NBA, and they’re confident in playing.”