Updated: Feb 9, 2020
The NBA has established itself as the foremost sports league across North America, with players from all over the world coming to twenty-eight cities in two countries in order to prove themselves on the highest level basketball has to offer. With all the growth and the explosion of players from Europe, Asia and Africa, I think the NBA is ready to carve out its identity in six new marketplaces. Here are my the cities I'd like to see represent the NBA of the future.
Now that T-Mobile Arena has been built, Las Vegas has been primed for sports franchises, with the NHL’s Golden Knights capitalizing on the opportunity. There’s already professional basketball in Las Vegas with the WNBA’s Aces, but they play in the nearby suburb of Paradise rather than in downtown Las Vegas. Despite the absolute insanity that was the 2007 All-Star Game, Las Vegas has maintained its hold as the official summer league of all thirty NBA teams. Black Knight Sports & Entertainment is actually the perfect group to start an NBA franchise, with the consortium’s first venture experiencing immediate success. The Vegas Golden Knights have quickly established themselves as a top-tier organization, which would be encouraging to the other NBA owners. Another thing that is encouraging is the major half of the consortium, the Maloof family. The Maloofs have owned both the Houston Rockets from 1979 to 1982 and the Sacramento Kings from 1998 to 2013. With an arena in place and an ownership group with sports pedigree, this might actually happen sooner rather than later.
Louisville is such an interesting prospective NBA city to me because cities like these is where the NBA absolutely thrives. I can easily see Louisville being a team in the same vein as Salt Lake City or San Antonio, a small market that rallies around its only major pro sport. One of the biggest benefits of Louisville would be the ability to serve both southern Ohio and Kentucky. Louisville is less than two hours from Cincinnati, Ohio and an hour and a half from Lexington, Kentucky. This is another city with an arena in place, the KFC Yum! Center. Although used for college basketball, this arena is the largest basketball arena in the United States built right on the water of the Ohio River. If used by the right team, Louisville NBA could be a crown jewel of basketball in the south. There’s a strong basketball heritage in the state, both by the University of Kentucky basketball program and the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels. Five Hall of Famers played for the ABA stalwart and eleven Hall of Famers represent the university. I’d like to see Carl Linder III and his ownership group build a team in Louisville. His group has started the FC Cincinnati soccer club in 2015 as USL (American soccer’s second tier) club and in four short years, they reached the MLS, the highest level in America. If he chose to take his talents to Louisville, we could have a really fun team in an underrated city.
With Toronto finally winning a championship, it’s time to take the NBA to the great white north again. Montreal seems like a natural fit for Canadian expansion, with an immediate rivalry between Ontario and Quebec reminiscent of the Maple Leafs-Canadiens rivalries in the NHL. There’s such a cultural difference between the two provinces and cities, that the Raptors being the de facto Canadian national team might grow a movement in the rest of Canada that could be cultivated by one big star, similar to Vince Carter in Toronto. There’s a bit more risk here since there is no longer a Montreal franchise in the National Basketball League of Canada. However, that league began play in 2011 and early foldings are to be expected. The Molson family is a natural fit to run the franchise, with their ties to Montreal running deep. The Bell Centre is currently the home of the Canadiens and the ownership group that owns the stadium also runs the hockey team that fills it. Of the six preseason games that occurred in the Bell Centre, they were all sellouts. If that can be sustained over forty-one games, likely with more downs than ups due to being an expansion team in a city used to winning is the major question.
Do I need to explain why Seattle needs a team? The SuperSonics were NBA royalty for over forty years, before Clay Bennett moved the franchise to Oklahoma City in business-savvy yet opportunistic move. There’s an alternate universe out there somewhere where Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are the next big tag team in Seattle, following in the footsteps of Lenny Wilkens/Spencer Haywood and Gary Payton/Shawn Kemp. The former home of the Sonics, the KeyArena, is currently under redevelopment under the name Seattle Center Arena and if redevelopment goes well, we should expect a team in the near future. The Seattle Storm have maintained a presence in Seattle as a proud WNBA franchise, whose owners could make a great group to run the NBA side. Eleven families have stake in the Seattle Sounders MLS team, who are the most valuable franchise in MLS. The three businesswomen who make up Force 10 and run the Seattle Storm would be an amazing group with any of the families who invested in the Sounders, hopefully bringing basketball back where it belongs in the Pacific Northwest.
The Vancouver Grizzlies were kind of a failure. Lasting only six seasons before moving to Memphis, they were barely a blip in the radar of NBA history. The NHL’s Canucks were sold alongside the Rogers Centre in 2004 to the Aquelini group and with new developments going up around the arena, the NBA should be looking to make a return. A lot of the reasons I’d like to see Vancouver rejoin the NBA are similar to Montreal’s, but 4000 miles away. The Canucks have experienced more success recently as well as the Vancouver Whitecaps FC, with supporters reaching over 15000 in just their second MLS season. If Vancouver can last more than six seasons in a rebirth, it’d be a success. Having a face like Steve Nash joining the ownership group would be perfect as a liaison for the NBA and I think they could rebuild the image of basketball in British Columbia.
I have a soft spot for Hampton Roads. After living there a few years and seeing how fans from seven different cities mobilized for their respective teams, I really want to see how they’d rally around a local team. The only arenas in the area are the Norfolk Scope and Hampton Coliseum, which aren’t really NBA-caliber arenas. I’m OK with a team in Richmond, which is about an hour away from Hampton Roads, but the Kings were in negotiations to move to the area from 2011 to 2013. Virginia Beach is kind of the ultimate small-market team in this list because this team would be starting from scratch. There’s no major team in the area, only various minor league teams, and an arena desperately needs to be built in order to make it happen. An arena could revitalize the area and doesn’t necessarily need to be on the waterfront. There was an arena plan that failed, but I think this is an “If-you-build-it-they-will-come” situation. The Virginia Squires are another ABA team who existed and with the pedigree of Julius Erving, George Gervin, Charlie Scott and Zelmo Beaty in the Hall Of Fame, there is a place for basketball. There’s almost 400 miles of real estate between Charlotte and Washington DC, fertile for a new fanbase to join the NBA.
Honolulu, Mexico City and San Juan
If Las Vegas receives an NBA team, it makes sense to move the Summer League to a new city. Honolulu is a great place to stay for ten days, despite my bias from growing up in Hawaii. Honolulu can’t really support a team consistently, but is great for events and one-offs similar to the Pro Bowl. Mexico City would be a good place for international expansion, as would San Juan. A quick ten-day trip in an established vacation spot makes a ton of sense as a replacement.
Each of the teams have a few options as far as G League affiliates. The G League is the minor league of the NBA and the cities mentioned each have options. Las Vegas could resurrect the Reno Bighorns, Louisville could bring back the Arkansas RimRockers or the myriad of teams in the Carolinas. Montreal could bring back the Springfield Armor or put a team in Quebec City. Seattle has options in Bismarck, Boise or Tacoma. Vancouver could build in Calgary or the other teams in the Great Plains and Midwest. Virginia Beach could also use the Carolinas teams or bring back the Roanoke Dazzle.
I did this in NBA 2K19 and expanded with all six teams at once as a sort of reboot for the NBA. Free agency when every team has a maximum of eight players besides draftees would be insane and it would give the NBA a chance to restructure the divisions to a more geographically sound, cost-efficient way. NBA 2K19 puts the expansion teams right behind the top three teams in the draft, which makes sense, and is fair for the top three lottery picks. NBA owners are reportedly talking about a $2 billion entry fee to own a franchise, but the only team in the NBA that didn’t turn a profit were the Cleveland Cavaliers, who lost the biggest star of our generation, taking millions of revenue with him. The NBA would have a chance to do something unprecedented and I think the expansion draft of players with six teams could result in major stars moving as well as some up-and-comers having the cleanest of slates. NBA expansion is a very exciting prospect to me, on and off the court and seeing the league evolve both in business and in gameplay is something that could change sports forever.