Speaking at the 2014 edition of the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference at MIT, NBA commissioner Adam Silver reiterated the interest in returning to the Seattle market at some point, while continuing to offer no specifics on how to make that happen. He did mention that the Seahawks' Super Bowl win hasn't gone unnoticed.
Adam Silver mentions Super Bowl win benefiting Seattle. I wish Gladwell would ask AS his thoughts on having a NBA team in Seattle. #SSAC14— Michael McCann (@McCannSportsLaw) March 1, 2014
During his panel discussion, Silver mentioned other cities that could potentially be considered to host NBA teams, the assumption being either through potential expansion or through relocation of one of the unknown number of struggling existing franchises.
Silver added Las Vegas, San Diego and Kansas City to the conversation with Seattle about potential places for NBA teams #SSAC14— Tanner Buzick (@tannerbuzick) March 1, 2014
Let's take a brief look at these potential partners or competition for Seattle getting an NBA team back.
Vegas has been commonly mentioned as the site for a second team that would join Seattle in a potential two-team expansion, based off of a quote from former NBA commissioner David Stern last year:
"It wouldn’t surprise me if Commissioner Silver was looking at strong applications from Las Vegas and Seattle in the coming years, and I’m going to enjoy watching it."
Sin City has long been thought of as a no-go for the league -- or any league -- precisely because of that moniker and the long-held reputation for less-than-savory human exploits, in addition to being the center of the sportsbook gambling universe. Ironically, though, the NBA has flirted with Las Vegas for a long time, including hosting summer league games there and the All-Star Game in 2007.
Stern, himself, also points out that the NBA has held regular season games in the Nevada hot spot previously:
"In addition to the USA Basketball and Las Vegas summer league and the All‑Star Game, you didn’t include the fact that shortly after I became Commissioner, Kareem broke the record for the most points right here at the Thomas & Mack Center, and I was here for the celebration because the Jazz were playing ten games here that season."
Vegas has spent much of the last two decades reinventing itself as a family-friendly resort and travel destination more like a southern California or an Orlando. The sportsbook issue is always going to be a concern, but leagues seem to be jockeying to be first to plant a major league flag there. The NHL is rumored to be interested in the city as a possible expansion site; the city has also come up frequently in expansion or relocation discussions with Major League Baseball.
Most important, Vegas seems to have solved one of the long-standing hurdles in their effort to attract a big league pro team. They recently okayed plans by MGM Resorts to construct a state-of-the-art arena, due to break ground this April. The city council also voted to continue negotiations with a developer on a separate $390 million arena project eyed for the city's Symphony Park that could involve public funding in the hopes of attracting both the NBA and NHL.
San Diego has a long history with the NBA, although long is somewhat of a relative term. Let's say long, but not lengthy in either of the two stints that the city has fielded a team.
Joining an upstart team in Seattle in NBA expansion, the San Diego Rockets first took to the court in 1967. Their first drafted player was none other than Pat Riley. Sadly, the Rockets had very little success in San Diego and garnered very little public support. After four seasons, owner Robert Breitbard sold the team to a group out of Texas, which moved them to the more-appropriate Houston.
The city readily received the wayward Buffalo Braves in 1978, when the owner of the Braves, John Y. Brown, swapped ownerships with then-Boston Celtics owner Irv Levin, who immediately moved the team to southern California. Levin had wanted to move the Celtics, but the NBA was decidedly against leaving Boston. Interestingly, Stern, who was the NBA's general counsel at that time, was the driving league force behind brokering that deal.
That team, of course, became the San Diego Clippers, who had initial success and nearly made the playoffs in that first season. Fortunes changed, and they quickly became one of the lowliest and most inept franchises in the league, starting a 13-year skid of losing seasons in their second year in "America's Finest City."
Tired, Levin sold the team to attorney/developer Donald Sterling prior to the end of his third season in San Diego. Sterling was from Los Angeles and almost immediately began lobbying to move the team to L.A. After three more seasons of extraordinarily poor performance and attendance, Sterling took his team north in 1984.
San Diego played host to a team in the defunct American Basketball Association from 1972 to 1976, originally known as the Conquistadors and then the Sails in their final season. NBA superstar Wilt Chamberlain was brought in as a player-coach for the team, but the Lakers sued to prevent him from playing, and with no real draw, San Diego never warmed to the Q's/Sails. The team opted to fold when they learned that the Lakers would freeze out their entrance into the NBA following the pending merger with the ABA.
While the name has been mentioned by pundits and internet prognosticators as a possible expansion or relocation site for years, there have been no formal movements toward building a new facility to replace the inadequate San Diego Sports Arena (now known as the Valley View Casino Center) or attracting a team in the 30 years since the Clippers left.
Many of us should be familiar with Kansas City after diving into the history of the Kings franchise during last year's ownership struggle.
Having started life as the Rochester Royals and predating the NBA, the most nomadic team in NBA history first moved to Cincinnati in 1957 following pressure from the league to make money, which it wasn't doing in the relatively small New York city. The team had varying degrees of success in Ohio, including featuring both Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas for a span, but failed to ride that talent into a league title.
In 1966, the team was sold to the Jacobs brothers, who sought to use them as a marketing tool for their arena management and concession businesses by holding home games in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton. Predictably, the strategy failed to draw consistent support for the team, and in 1972, the Jacobses moved it to split time between Kansas City, Missouri, and Omaha, Nebraska, to employ the same tactic in the hopes it would take off there. The team was renamed the Kings to avoid confusion with MLB's Kansas City Royals.
Finally getting a state-of-the-art arena in Kansas City, the team dropped its split time with Omaha in 1975. However, they were never able to draw more than two-thirds of the capacity of the 16,700+ seat Kemper Arena. This was further complicated by a roof cave-in at Kemper in 1979 that caused the team to play most of that season in the drastically smaller Municipal Auditorium. Attendance never recovered, even though the team actually made it to the Western Conference Finals in the 1981 playoffs.
The team, of course, was sold to a group that was interested in moving them to Sacramento. The ownership began building a temporary arena facility in the California capital all the while trying to negotiate a new lease for Kemper Arena and denying plans to move the team. Even after the city came up with a crazy five-year lease that would only charge the Kings $1 per year and give them cuts of the parking and concession moneys, the Kings high-tailed it out of Kansas City for Sacto.
Though $23 million was poured into renovating Kemper Arena in 1997, the city made the interesting choice of agreeing to build a new state-of-the-art arena less than a decade later in the hopes of attracting an NBA franchise. The Sprint Center opened in 2007 without a primary tenant, long seen to be a necessity for such a project. However, the arena has been a success, hosting all manner of events, from concerts to the Big 12 Conference college Men's Basketball Championship tournament to the American Royal rodeo series to a couple of stints with the Arena Football League.
Kansas City is in the unique position of being home to two large-scale arenas that could possibly support a franchise, though it should be mentioned that there is an ongoing effort to possibly raze Kemper Arena and reuse the land. Still, an overabundance of acceptable arenas is a problem Seattle would like to have at the moment.
As far as competition goes, as no known ownership groups have stepped up for any of these cities, Seattle is still seen as the front-runner should the NBA decide to expand following the resolution of the Milwaukee Bucks arena situation and after the new TV/media contract offers some financial insight into the struggling franchises to which Silver keeps referring.
However, each has some history with the league and could make an interesting dance partner as a second team brought in with the new Sonics. Adding San Diego as a partner would be an intriguing symmetry given the 1967 expansion, but the Classy City seems like a longshot out of those mentioned. Kansas City would make a lot of sense given their arena status, but Las Vegas seems to be the trendiest and hottest pick. In any case, it's clear that they are looking to the west for growth.
That is assuming the desire for growth. If relocation is the order of the day, that makes things a lot more knotty for a Seattle effort. Thoughts?