The Golden Knights of the NHL are there and thriving, with a sold-out arena and reaching the Stanley Cup Finals on the ice.
The WNBA’s Aces are enjoying their inaugural season in the city.
A year from now, the NFL’s Raiders will be playing there.
So what about an NBA team in Las Vegas?
The Las Vegas Review-Journal asked a bunch of the NBA’s biggest names — in town for the USA Basketball mini-camp last week — and they were down with the idea of an NBA franchise in Sin City.
“Even just from adding an NHL team, they’re doing great things,” reigning NBA MVP James Harden of the Houston Rockets said. “It’s built for it. Obviously, the money is there, but I think the fan support is there as well. We saw that in hockey.”
“The hockey team here did really, really well,” Blake Griffin said. “I don’t know if you consider it a sports town because of everything that’s going on here, but I think people appreciate sports here. I think all sports would do well here. It’s probably something in the future, but I think everybody realizes how much basketball brings to a city, and I don’t know that it would be easy to take a team away from a different city to bring one here.”
“They’ve got hockey here, and they’ve got WNBA here, the NFL will be here in a couple of years,” Paul George of the Oklahoma City Thunder said. “I think Vegas is built for an NBA team. I think they should be here. It has everything. It’s easy access from the airport down to the Strip. I don’t see why not.”
The NBA brings its summer show — the Las Vegas Summer League — to town every year, which had NBA Commissioner Adam Silver saying it was like having a franchise here. The stigma of gambling and its potential influence on the sport has lessened over the years, and with other states starting to allow sports betting in the wake of a recent Supreme Court ruling there will be a number of teams in states where fans can bet on the game.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks was cleared a couple of years ago — the T-Mobile arena (where the Golden Knights play) is a state-of-the-art facility. (The Thomas & Mack is good enough for Summer League, but it is not an NBA-level arena.)
Now the challenge is getting a team.
The NBA has no plans to expand, with sources telling me there is no owner appetite for it right now (it would take a two-thirds vote of the existing NBA owners to approve any expansion). NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said this at the Finals, “Expansion, at least for right now… I’m very focused on creating a competitive 30-team league right now… Understandably people are saying can’t you do more to create more competition among your 30 teams, at least from a competitive standpoint my first reaction isn’t to think, all right, let’s add a 31st team or 32nd team.”
Which means poaching another city’s NBA team. That would involve a Las Vegas-tied billionaire buying an existing team with a lease about to run out then paying the league (again, really the other owners) a relocation fee for the right to move the team to Vegas. Currently, with ownership not changing hands in Memphis and a new building about to open in Milwaukee, a franchise in that position is not available in the near future. (Right now Gayle Benson, the widow of Tom Benson, has said she has no plans to sell or move the Pelicans from New Orleans, and the franchise’s lease at the Smoothie King Center runs through 2024. However, if you were going to watch one situation, this would be it.)
Even if all that comes together, the hypothetical Vegas billionaire would be competing with people who want to bring the NBA back to Seattle (something the NBA wants), plus other cities such as Kansas City, Louisville, or even Mexico City (another idea the NBA likes) where there is interest. It would end up being a bidding war for the franchise with the winner getting the right to pay more to move the team to the city of his/her choosing. It would be very expensive.
The NBA in Las Vegas may well happen, eventually. It would be a good fit, Las Vegas has grown up into a real city. Just don’t expect anything sooner rather than later.