PHOENIX – Fortunes are changing with the signing of superstar Kevin Durant, but a player of his caliber comes with a price – and it’s a big one.
Durant’s immediate impact will be felt through his scoring prowess but also financially, from Las Vegas to the Valley, as the Phoenix Suns officially enter their superteam era.
Before stepping foot onto the Footprint Center floor, Durant instantly made the Suns a betting favorite to win the Western Conference finals as the alpha among co-stars Devin Booker and Chris Paul, and a solid young piece in Deandre Ayton.
Akin to the team’s dramatic change in odds, secondary market ticket prices have skyrocketed since Durant’s arrival. The Suns’ first home game with Durant in the lineup, March 8 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, will cost a minimum of $136, as of Tuesday. Two courtside tickets are priced at $8,000 each, plus fees, on Ticketmaster.
Durant is not the first superstar to create an NBA-sized economic boom in a city. LeBron James revitalized Cleveland in a second stint with his hometown team.
After returning to the Cavaliers following four years in Miami, ticket prices for home games increased to a yearly average of $249.33 – the second-highest average in the league at the time, according to CNBC.
Even ticket prices for road games spiked during James’s time in Cleveland. An 11-game road streak in 2015 saw the Cavs’ away ticket prices rise by 245%.
After James left for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018, ticket prices plummeted at the same rate. Tickets reportedly dropped to $12.50 after fees on StubHub.
Sure to be the Valley’s hottest ticket, Suns game days will reignite an electric atmosphere at Phoenix’s downtown sports bars. Majerle’s is a hub among Suns fans, and with Durant playing blocks away at Footprint, bartender Salma Khaffagy expects the restaurant to attract more business approaching the NBA postseason.
“Our atmosphere has been awesome. We have a lot of local people from Phoenix who love to come in and show up for the Suns,” Khaffagy said. “We also have people who travel from all over, especially being in front of the Convention Center.
“I think (Durant’s arrival) will only impact us for the better. We have a lot of Kevin Durant fans, he’s an amazing player. We’re all super excited for him to join us. It’ll only bring more people out and only impact businesses for the best because we’ll just have more people come in to support him and the Suns.”
The dimly lit, fun environment of The Kettle Black Kitchen & Pub is another popular spot for fans to watch the game – and it’s also a quick five-minute walk from the Footprint Center.
“Even a normal Suns game with Devin Booker and Chris Paul playing brings in a ton of people already so we get backed up, even when the Suns kind of fell off a little bit when there’s always injuries going on,” said owner Harrison St. Pierre. “The fans are crazy, people come through here regardless if the Suns suck, it doesn’t matter. They’re diehard fans, which is great to see.”
Originally planning for Durant’s debut last Friday night, the tavern prepared to serve a packed house.
“We’re definitely stepped up more for Friday,” St. Pierre said last week. “We always are pretty well-staffed regardless of the Suns game because of the fan base. It doesn’t matter whether Kevin Durant’s on the team or not, because people love to travel so well. It’s crazy.”
Across from St. Pierre’s restaurant, Just Sports will also welcome the additional foot traffic and sales. A local shop where Arizona fans can buy sports merchandise, Just Sports has been fielding a slew of phone calls inquiring about Suns jersey No. 35.
“At least one question a day, every day is, ‘Are the KD jerseys here yet?’ People are waiting for them. It’s just that Nike can’t mass produce everything,” store manager Daniel Murillo said. “We do anticipate an immediate sellout of the jerseys.”
Durant’s jersey was already a popular one when he was with the Nets. As of Jan. 20, he had the fifth-most popular selling jersey in the league, according to the NBA and NBA Players Association.
The NBA and NBPA today jointly announced that the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry and the Los Angeles Lakers secured the top spots on the NBA’s Most Popular Jersey and Team Merchandise lists, respectively.
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— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) January 20, 2023
Durant, who has sat out since Jan. 8 with an MCL sprain, practiced with the team in recent days to prepare for his first game with the Suns. Coach Monty Williams said he will be on a minutes restriction as the Suns aim to improve their fourth-place standing in the Western Conference while hoping for a return on investment.
So far, the superteam era looks promising.
“It’s just (Durant’s) work ethic. I know it’s kind of cliche, but (he’s) the first one in the gym (and the) last one to leave. In the first couple of practices, we’re watching from a distance,” Booker said. “He was going full throttle and he was ready to go. It was contagious.”