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NBA expansion on the horizon?

NBA horizontal logoWith the league facing more losses this season after a bad 2019-2020 campaign, it’s only natural that Commissioner Adam Silver acknowledges the possibility of NBA expansion in the near future.

Expansion is a time-honored way for professional sports leagues to raise capital, so it’s no surprise that MLB types are quietly discussing expansion as a way to offset operating losses this year and last. In his annual press conference upon a season’s start, Silver said the league is looking at the numbers, but not taking any steps toward action, per ESPN:

“I think I’ve always said that it’s sort of the manifest destiny of the league that you expand at some point,” Silver said during his annual preseason availability with reporters. “I’d say it’s caused us to maybe dust off some of the analyses on the economic and competitive impacts of expansion. We’ve been putting a little bit more time into it than we were pre-pandemic. But certainly not to the point that expansion is on the front burner.”…

“You know, we’re very appreciative of the markets that have indicated an interest in having an NBA team,” Silver said. “One of the issues for the league office, and this comes up all the time in terms of competitiveness, it’s not a secret that we don’t have 30 competitive teams at any given time right now when you go into the season, measured by likelihood of ability to win a championship.

“One of our focuses as the league office is always on how do you create better competition. So that’s one of the things that we continue to think about as we consider expansion. … It’s an economic issue and it’s a competitive issue for us. So it’s one that we’ll continue to study, but we’re spending a little bit more time on it than we were pre-pandemic.”

The NBA has not expanded since the 2004-2005 NBA season, when the Charlotte Bobcats joined the league. While moving from 30 to 32 teams creates some operational efficiencies for MLB, this is less of a factor for the NBA. Indeed, the move would be about injecting some needed cash–upwards of $2 billion–into league coffers.

And, of course, with the very mention of NBA expansion, so did chatter about what two cities could land one of the new teams. An obvious frontrunner would be Seattle, where the loss of the Sonics is still felt among local fans. With a renovated/new Seattle Kraken (NHL) arena coming online in the form of Climate Pledge Arena, Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke says his facility could easily add an NBA team as a tenant, per the Seattle Times:

“We’re not anticipating anything,” Leiweke said of the league’s expansion timing. “The league knows the leadership on our side — from ownership to our management of the building — are NBA ‘family’ members. They’re well aware of that. They’re well aware of the steps we’ve taken so that if and when they come knocking on our door, our building will be 100% ready.”

He said nearly $50 million of the arena’s cost has gone toward outfitting it with particulars the NBA insists upon….

The nearly $50 million spent on NBA particulars at the arena include home and away locker rooms of specific sizes and proximity to the court along with secure player access. They’re also designed so opposing players can’t cross paths in the arena tunnel or back-of-house areas. The WNBA’s Storm also will play its home games at the arena.

Other cities exploring NBA expansion are Las Vegas, Louisville, Kansas City and Anaheim, among others. There may be a theme here: in all five cities, an existing arena could be used immediately to host an NBA expansion team, even if we see a new arena planned for the future.

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