By: Abhinav Tirumala
With the NBA's massive increase in popularity, there's been a lot of traction in basketball circles to increase the number of teams in the league. With the offseason still in effect, I decided to take a look at three potential destinations for such an expansion, whenever it may come.
The NBA continues to grow in popularity and reach and is comfortably the premier "big four" league in social media presence. In 2021, the league attracted 24 billion views and 2.3 billion engagements across their various social media platforms and added 18 million new followers, easily the most of any other sports league.
Additionally, the average salary of NBA players is comfortably higher than…those of other major sports leagues. For example, in the 2019-2020 NBA season, the average salary of an NBA player was $8.32 million, the highest in the world for professional athletes.
Recently, the NHL expanded to 32 franchises, with the Vegas Golden Knights and Seattle Kraken joining the fold. The MLS, meanwhile, has continued its growth from 20 teams in 2016 to 29 by 2023, with its end goal being 30 teams. With the other leagues around them continuing to expand, the question of NBA expansion is a hot topic for debate.
The league’s next television deal is projected to be the second richest after the NFL, and the increased television presence can only grow the game of basketball even further. The increased revenues and popularity could be affirmed by strategic expansion.
If the NBA added a new franchise, these three cities might represent some of the most fitting homes.
Since 2008, there’s been something missing from Emerald City.
That missing something is the Seattle SuperSonics. Since Clay Bennett and co. broke the hearts of millions and moved the team south to Oklahoma City, there’s always been an expectation that the SuperSonics would return one day, and Seattle would experience a sonic boom again.
However, it's been 15 years since the SuperSonics left and Seattle has yet to regain their basketball team. A city with a rich basketball culture and legacy shouldn’t be left unfulfilled by the NBA, and everyone benefits from the Sonics' return.
According to Nielsen, Seattle is the 12th largest designated media area in the entire United States. Every other media market in the top 20 has an NBA basketball team, and other smaller markets including Oklahoma City, New Orleans, and Memphis also contain one.
Notable NBA players such as Jamal Crawford, Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Kevin Durant have all called for the Sonics' return to Seattle. Additionally, former NBA champion Kevin Garnett stated his dream would be to bring the Sonics back to Seattle.
Additionally, the infrastructure is now ready to accommodate the new SuperSonics franchise, with the brand new Climate Pledge Arena already playing host to the Seattle Kraken NHL team. The new arena’s configuration allows it to be used for basketball (it already hosts the WNBA’s Seattle Storm), similar to many other NHL/NBA arenas.
With the fanbase, infrastructure, and demand in place, the NBA’s return to Seattle is not a matter of if, but of when.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Sin City is known as the entertainment capital of the United States. Now, it may be time to add “sport-city” to one of Las Vegas’ many nicknames.
A true desert oasis, the city of Las Vegas has provided many Americans the best night of their life. A city of such vibrant entertainment and elegance deserves an NBA team to add to its growing collection of sporting franchises. With the Vegas Golden Knights already proving that Vegas can support a pro team and draw fans consistently, the market for live sports is prevalent in the city.
Further, the addition of the beautiful, brand new Allegiant Stadium has already brought the Oakland Raiders to the city, with the Oakland Athletics rumored to follow suit. One of the various sports arenas located throughout the city could support a team, whether it be the MGM Grand Garden Arena, The Thomas & Mack Center or the jewel in the crown, the T-Mobile Arena, current home of the Vegas Golden Knights.
Various suitors to potentially buy a franchise are also located in the area, with Vegas home to multiple billionaires and rich individuals.
Additionally, the city’s aptitude for hosting huge events such as WWE SummerSlam and countless UFC events shows Vegas can more than handle the spotlight.
It is not difficult to imagine Sin City as a viable host for events such as NBA All-Star Weekend, especially given the NHL already used some of the city’s unique features in its All-Star festivities last year. Perhaps the NBA could even find its own way to combine basketball, casino gaming and/or the desert in its own events.
With all these factors in play, there isn’t any reason we shouldn’t see Las Vegas have a basketball team soon.
Montréal, Quebec, Canada
Despite being known as a hockey town, Montreal’s future as an NBA city is one in the making.
A litany of professional basketball players call Montreal home, including 2x NBA Champion Joel Anthony, Oklahoma City Thunder swingman Lougentz Dort, and Toronto Raptors big-man Chris Boucher being the most high profile of them all.
The growing Canadian basketball scene is only generating even more prospects from “Le Metropole,” with 2022 NBA first-rounder Bennedict Mathurin being drafted by the Indiana Pacers.
The population base also exists for the city to support an NBA team, with Montreal being the second-largest city in Canada and amongst the top 10 largest cities in North America. The city's unique dual-linguistic nature is also a big help to international talent and for Americans, as both languages enjoy a large speaking population.
Investors for a Montreal NBA team have been in conversations about bringing the NBA to Montreal since 2018, with a group proving their credentials in a public presentation.
Additionally, the infrastructure for an NBA team already exists. The Bell Centre is the second largest arena in the NHL and routinely draws nearly 20,000 fans when the Raptors play preseason games in the city.
Therefore, if the question is asked about expanding the NBA to Montreal, the only answer should be “oui.”