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The NBA in Las Vegas?

Will David Stern allow a team in Sin City? Should he?

By

Kobe Bryant, 2007 All Star

The neon lights of Las Vegas provided the backdrop for the 2007 NBA All Star Game. If Mayor Oscar Goodman has his way, an NBA team will be taking up permanent residence in Sin City.

Jed Jacobsohn, Getty Images
David Stern's relationship with the city of Las Vegas has all the characteristics of one of those "will they or won't they" TV show romances. Stern and Sin City have been circling each other like Chandler and Monica or Jim and Pam for years.

The NBA even brought its marquee event -- All Star Weekend -- to Las Vegas in 2007, in what was generally seen as a "test run", and holds a summer league there every year.

Will these two crazy kids ever get together and settle down?

If You Build It, They Will Come

Conventional wisdom says that cities shouldn't build NBA-quality arenas unless they're home to an NBA team. But recent history shows that cities can be successful luring a team if they already have an arena in place.

The Ford Center in Oklahoma City first opened in 2002, playing host to college games, concerts and the like. When Hurricane Katrina left the Hornets looking for someplace to play in 2005, the Ford Center was available -- and the Hornets' success in drawing crowds while in Oklahoma City helped make the case that the market could sustain an NBA franchise.

Las Vegas seems to be following a similar model -- without the natural disaster. Mayor Oscar Goodman continues to push for a 20,000-seat arena as part of a plan to revitalize downtown Las Vegas -- and hopes to land an NBA franchise as its anchor tenant.

Beating the Book

For Goodman, the biggest obstacle to landing an NBA team is also his city's biggest selling point -- gambling. It is perfectly legal to gamble on NBA and other college and professional games in Las Vegas sports books, which has long been considered the reason why the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball have never set up shop there.

Given the NBA's hyper-sensitivity to gambling allegations in the wake of the Tim Donaghy scandal, that might be too big an obstacle to overcome.

Relocation Candidates

Assuming all those issues can be resolved -- the next obvious question would be, which team has the best chance to set up shop in Sin City? There are a few candidates:
  • The Kings - Long considered the obvious choice, due to their Vegas connections -- owners Joe and Gavin Maloof are in the casino business -- and the fact that they play in a badly outdated arena. The owners have repeated said their priority is to stay in Northern California and to get a new arena built on the grounds of Cal Expo, but what happens if their arena plans fall through?
  • The Bobcats - The Bobcats are up for sale, and they haven't exactly captured the imagination of the Charlotte market. Team president Michael Jordan -- reportedly considering a bid for the team -- is a legendary gambler.
  • The Grizzlies - They traded for Zach Randolph -- they must be desperate.
  • The Nets - If their long-discussed move to Brooklyn falls through, anything is possible.

Sizing Up the Competition

Of course, Las Vegas isn't the only city with NBA aspirations. Kansas City has an NBA-quality arena ready to go, and has been flirting with several pro basketball and hockey teams for years. And Seattle -- once an outstanding NBA market -- could very well get into the mix in the hopes of replacing the Sonics.
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