PHOENIX – Will the Suns soon be playing opponents in Las Vegas and Seattle?
Rumors of league expansion have picked up steam, even though commissioner Adam Silver shot them down ahead of the NBA Finals.
“Las Vegas is a world-class city and our residents have an appetite for major league sports,” Mayor Carolyn G. Goodman said in an email to Cronkite News. “The success of the Las Vegas Raiders, Vegas Golden Knights and Las Vegas Aces shows what kind of sports town this is. It is only a matter of time before we add an NBA franchise.”
In the past week, boxing legend and Las Vegas resident Floyd Mayweather told the Las Vegas Review-Journal he has been “communicating with some certain individuals” about owning an NBA team. And during a recent episode of LeBron James’ show “The Shop: Uninterrupted,” he said, “ I want to own a team, I want to buy a team, for sure. … Yeah, I want a team in Vegas.”
Nothing is expected to happen until after the NBA negotiates a new television contract. The current deal expires after the 2024-25 season.
It’s likely no city wants a franchise more than Seattle, which lost the Sonics on April 18, 2008, when NBA owners overwhelmingly approved the team’s relocation to Oklahoma City.
The move left the city with a sense of bitterness. In the 14 years since, much has changed.
“I think enough time has passed. You have a different commissioner in the NBA now, as well,” said Bob Condotta, a longtime sports writer at the Seattle Times.
Silver has denied the expansion rumors, saying, “At some point, this league invariably will expand, but it’s not at this moment that we are discussing it.”
Still, expansion appears inevitable, and Seattle and Las Vegas remain the most likely candidates.
Seattle has demonstrated strong support for its NHL expansion team, the Kraken. The team averaged 17,151 fans in its inaugural season and was one of seven league teams that listed average capacity at 100%.
“They had a huge waiting list for season tickets and they sold all the season tickets that were made available,” Condotta said. “People were very excited to have a hockey team.”
Seattle already has Climate Pledge Arena, which opened in October 2021 and is the home of the Kraken and the WNBA’s Seattle Storm.
“It’s been 14 years, there are a lot of new people in Seattle,” Condotta said. “The city has grown a lot, so I don’t think it’d be any trouble in terms of the support of the team from a fan standpoint.”
The case is different for Vegas, which has never supported an NBA team. But signs suggest it could.
As the home of the NBA Summer League, it has demonstrated it can attract basketball fans. And T-Mobile Arena has hosted the NBA All-Star Game, Pac-12 Tournament and other college basketball games.
And its pro teams – the NHL’s Golden Knights and the NFL’s Raiders – have received fan strong support.
“There was real concern about how a hockey team would do here and the city embraced the Golden Knights,” said Mark Anderson, a sports writer for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “It shows that the city could support a professional team.”
The entertainment and gambling mecca is a prime destination for tourists and sports fans alike.
Silver acknowledged that Seattle and Las Vegas would be strong markets for expansion.
“Those are wonderful markets,” Silver said. “Again, as I’ve said before, we were in Seattle. I’m sorry we are no longer there. We have a WNBA team in Seattle in an almost brand-new building that’s doing spectacular. And Las Vegas, where we will be at our Summer League in July, has shown itself to be a great sports market as well.”
Nothing is certain in professional sports, but when it comes to Seattle and Las Vegas as expansion targets, all signs point to not if, but when.