The National Basketball Association (NBA) will make basketball history when the league holds its first-ever regular season games in Europe, NBA Commissioner David Stern announced today. The New Jersey Nets and Toronto Raptors will square off for back-to-back games at The O2 arena in London, England, on March 4 and 5 as part of NBA Games – London 2011.

“The staging of our first regular-season games in Europe is a milestone for the NBA and the ongoing development of basketball in the region,” said Stern. “By bringing these two young and exciting teams to London, we are fulfilling our commitment to schedule a regular-season game in the UK prior to the 2012 Olympics — a natural progression given the overwhelming response to the many friendlies we have played to sold-out crowds over the years.”

The Atlantic Division rivals will battle it out at a crucial time, as the NBA season heads toward the playoffs. This game will be the Toronto Raptors’ first visit to the United Kingdom, while the New Jersey Nets are already well-known in London after a 2008 visit to the city to play the Miami Heat as part of NBA Europe Live.

The Nets roster currently features NBA All-Star Devin Harris; No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft Derrick Favors; and center Brook Lopez, who earned a place on the NBA All-Rookie First Team in 2009. The team recently came under the ownership of Russian businessman Mikhail Prokhorov and has since named Avery Johnson – the 2005-06 NBA Coach of the Year and an NBA champion as a player with the San Antonio Spurs – as its new head coach.The Raptors expect to feature a roster with a distinctive global flair, including four European players: Italian native Andrea Bargnani - the first-ever European No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, in 2006 - and fellow countryman Marco Belinelli; guard Jose Calderon of Spain; and Linas Kleiza of Lithuania. Head Coach Jay Triano – who became the first NBA coach born and trained in Canada when he served as an assistant coach for the Raptors during the 2002-03 season – will lead Toronto.

This announcement follows the success of four sold-out NBA Europe Live games in London from 2007 through 2010, with this year’s game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves selling out in record time. The NBA’s increasing presence in the UK has helped basketball participation double over the past four years with the sport reaching new levels of popularity.

The NBA became the first American professional sports league to stage regular-season games outside of North America when the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz opened the 1990-91 season with two games in Tokyo as part of the NBA Japan Games. The NBA has staged a total of 13 regular-season games in Japan and Mexico since 1990.

The NBA has a 20-year tradition of bringing NBA teams to Europe. The New York Knicks join the Lakers and Timberwolves for games in Barcelona, London, Milan, and Paris in October 2010 as part of NBA Europe Live. Following NBA Games – London 2011, 24 NBA teams will have played 56 games in 18 cities in Europe since 1988.

Following NBA Europe Live 2010, The O2 – which was developed and is operated by AEG – will have hosted eight NBA teams since 2007 as part of the tour: the Boston Celtics vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (2007); Miami Heat vs. New Jersey Nets (2008); Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz (2009); and Los Angeles Lakers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (Oct. 2010).

InsideHoops.com editor says: This is good news when it comes to promoting the NBA globally. Though, I’m not sure why these two teams were selected. The Nets and Raptors both struggled last season, and while New Jersey should certainly improve this year, the Raptors will likely be worse after losing Chris Bosh.  It isn’t the best matchup to showcase the greatness of the NBA. But hopefully the two teams play well and put on a good show.