David Stern is in the final year of his tenure as commissioner, and he seems to be wanting to go out on as diplomatic of a note as possible.
When the topic of expansion came up after the Board of Governors held a press conference to announce rule changes for the upcoming season, Adam Silver, who will take over the job for Stern in February, shut it down very quickly.
“We’re not focused on expansion at the moment,” Silver said. “No predictions in Las Vegas today from me.”
Stern, however, wasn’t afraid to leave the door open for franchises to be added at some point in the future. And Las Vegas and Seattle were the cities at the top of his list.
Seattle, of course, had an ownership group assembled and an offer in place to try to pluck the Kings from Sacramento. But once a strong ownership group emerged that would keep the Kings in Sacramento and move forward with plans for a new arena, the league preferred not to rip another team from its passionate fan base.
Given the interest and the legwork done by Seattle, it makes sense that the league would consider the city closely. But Las Vegas — a bit sketchier, for a variety of reasons — has never been thought of as a legitimate, long-term home for the NBA until now.
“Given sort of all of the references that you see about Las Vegas and sin city, we have always believed that gambling is a very legal business regulated carefully here in Nevada, that this is a huge entertainment destination and this is a place that we should embrace,” Stern said.
“In addition to the USA Basketball and Las Vegas summer league and the All‑Star Game, you didn’t include the fact that shortly after I became Commissioner, Kareem broke the record for the most points right here at the Thomas & Mack Center, and I was here for the celebration because the Jazz were playing ten games here that season.
“So I think Las Vegas is in the NBA history books; and with the discussions now, it seems that there is an arena that is getting closer to moving ahead after years and years of discussions. And that should make it interesting as well.”
The arena would need to come first, as Thomas and Mack on the campus of UNLV isn’t to the level of NBA standards — seating is limited, there are no luxury boxes, and the infrastructure is dated.
But in the past, the sort of intangible concerns about all that goes on in Las Vegas and the potential problems that could arise have kept the league’s interest minimal, at best.
That may have actually changed, or it may just be Stern choosing to be as diplomatic as possible on his way out of office.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if Commissioner Silver was looking at strong applications from Las Vegas and Seattle in the coming years, and I’m going to enjoy watching it,” Stern said.