It wasn’t the first time Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James has stated his desire to own an NBA team in Vegas. But Wednesday night, following a preseason game against the Phoenix Suns in Las Vegas, he phrased it in his clearest terms ever. And he delivered it as a personal plea to NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
LeBron James is shown during a recent Lakers press conference. When you’re worth $1 billion, one of the only things that can make you smile even wider is the very realistic dream of one day owning your own team in your own dream city. (Image: si.com)
“I would love to bring a team here at some point,” James said during a postgame press conference. “That would be amazing. I know Adam is in Abu Dhabi right now, I believe. But he probably sees every single interview and transcript that comes through from NBA players. So, I want the team here, Adam. Thank you.”
James, who recently became the NBA’s first active billionaire player, is one of the few individuals who seems like he could afford his own NBA team. But even he would need to hook up with an ownership group to make his dream purchase a reality. The most recent NBA team to sell, the Minnesota Timberwolves, went for $1.5B last year. In 2019, the Brooklyn Nets sold for an NBA-record $2.35B.
On the Backburner
According to numerous reports, the possibility of expansion is real, but isn’t a priority for the league right now. More important is the negotiation of a new TV rights contract. The current deal is set to expire after the 2024-25 season. Once that’s settled, the league will possibly consider expansion into Las Vegas and Seattle, which lost its cherished SuperSonics in 2008.
When Silver was asked – during his annual NBA Finals news conference in June – about the league expanding beyond 30 teams, he replied, “We are not discussing that at this time. As I said before, at some point, this league invariably will expand, but it’s not at this moment that we are discussing it.” When asked specifically about Las Vegas and Seattle as potential expansion cities, Silver called them both “wonderful markets.”
The NBA doesn’t currently allow team owners to play for their own teams. This rule forced Michael Jordan to give up his stake in the Washington Wizards in 2001, when he decided to play for them. So James, who is 37 and entering his 20th NBA season, couldn’t play for a Las Vegas team he owned.
James is under contract to play with the Lakers through the 2024-25 season.
Las Vegas is Ready
Las Vegas is already home to the NFL, NHL, and WNBA, with other leagues being in various levels of exploring the area. Officials from MLB’s Oakland Athletics have been making trips to Las Vegas over the past 18 months, kicking tires for a potential $1B relocation.
The club is zeroing in on casino magnate Phil Ruffin’s Las Vegas Festival Grounds or the current site of the Tropicana, which was purchased by Bally’s last year.
As for an NBA venue, LA-based developers the Oak View Group are building a $3 billion NBA-ready arena and entertainment district with 20K seats and a 2,000-room casino hotel in the former sticks at Blue Diamond Road. Scheduled to begin construction in 2023 and open in 2026, it will occupy 25 acres near the intersection of I-15 and I-215, adjacent to the Las Vegas terminal for the planned Brightline high-speed rail between LA and Las Vegas.
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