NBA commissioner Adam Silver raised eyebrows around the league last month when he discussed the topic of expansion in a free-flowing interview with The Players’ Tribune. The commish refused to share a timetable, but said expansion was “inevitable.” It makes sense since the game has never been in a healthier place. Global interest in the NBA is at a record high, broadcast numbers are nearly as big as Thon Maker’s wingspan, and the average NBA team is now worth $1.3 billion. At this point, it’s not a matter of if, it’s just a matter of when and where.
Cities like Seattle, Kansas City, and London frequently pop up when the conversation turns to expansion, but which lucky market has a bona fide shot at reeling in a sparkly new franchise? We’ve crunched the numbers and have determined the odds for the top five destinations.
The idea of professional hoops in Louisville may not be as far fetched as it sounds. Derby City was home to the Kentucky Colonels for all nine years of the ABA’s tumultuous existence, and the franchise consistently drew large and enthusiastic crowds on a nightly basis. Many of those same hooting and hollering fans can still be found at the city’s 22,090-seat KFC Yum! Center. The venue is currently used by the Louisville Cardinals, who bring in over 20,000 fans per home game and were third in the nation in attendance in 2015-16. But the number one draw? The University of Kentucky. Surely some of the 23,000 fans who regularly watch the Wildcats will travel 78 miles down the I-64 E to take in an occasional pro game.
There’s just one snag. Any Louisville bid is complicated by the fact that it cuts into the Indiana Pacers’ designated 75-mile marketing area. The incoming ownership group would have to make a pretty compelling argument to convince Pacers owner Herb Simon to allow them to share his turf. Similar deals have been made in the past, but it may take a parade of Brink’s trucks to make it happen.
Odds Louisville will get an NBA franchise within the next five years: 100/1
4: MEXICO CITY
You won’t find a bigger untapped market than Mexico City. The nation’s capital is home to 21.3 million residents and has hosted a wide range of world class sporting events in the past, including the 1968 Summer Olympics and the 1970 and 1986 FIFA World Cup. The city is also no stranger to the Association, and has hosted more NBA games than any country outside the U.S. and Canada. That trend will continue this December when Brooklyn faces off against OKC and Miami at the Arena Ciudad de Mexico for two games over a three-day span.
Mexico City’s ability to host big time sporting events isn’t in question, but there are other external factors that could prevent a serious bid. The value of the Peso is always an issue when paying players in U.S. dollars. There’s also some guy named Trump who keeps talking about building a wall. The project, as unlikely as it may be, could make it difficult to attract potential free agents and free-spending tourists.
Odds Mexico City will get an NBA franchise within the next five years: 50/1
We’ll be the first to admit that the NBA’s Vancouver experiment was a Bryant Reeves-sized failure. The team struggled to rack up wins, and the city’s hockey-crazed fans never warmed up to a sport that didn’t involve pucks and cross-checks. However, so much has changed since the team fled to Memphis at the end of the 2000-01 season. For starters, the city’s population has grown by 476,000, and is now home to hundreds of thousands of Asian immigrants. That’s an important factor since China is the NBA’s second largest market and Vancouver has long been viewed as a gateway to Asia.
The emergence of Steve Nash also can’t be discounted. The pint-sized all-star is a larger than life hero in his native British Columbia, and his back-to-back MVP awards convinced many youngsters to drop their hockey sticks and pick up a basketball instead. His eponymous youth basketball league further helped to popularize the game, and now many kids who grew up playing because of Nash are old enough to buy season tickets for an NBA club.
If and when an NBA team does return to Vancouver, it’ll have a state of the art facility to call home in Rogers Arena. The 18,630-seat venue is home to the Vancouver Canucks and has hosted numerous sold-out NBA preseason games since 2014. That’s one thing Seattle simply can’t claim.
Former commissioner David Stern once admitted that allowing the Grizzlies to leave Vancouver was one of the biggest mistakes of his career (we’re guessing his mid-80’s moustache was right up there). Don’t be surprised if Silver looks to erase that faux pas as he continues to build upon his predecessor’s legacy.
Odds Vancouver will get an NBA franchise within the next five years: 20/1
You know the way you feel whenever you hear your ex-girlfriend is doing way better since she left you? That’s the same way SuperSonics fans used to feel whenever they would see Kevin Durant win a scoring title or pick up the MVP award when he played in OKC. That was their player and their team, damn it, and they never should have gotten away. Durant may be on a different team now, but Seattle residents are still reeling from his departure and the departure of their beloved franchise.
The city lost the SuperSonics due to a failure to secure public finding for a new area, but that issue is closer than ever to being rectified. Movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer and investment banker David Bonderman recently emerged as part of a new group that is pushing for a $564 million renovation of Key Arena. Their bid is being backed by Mayor Ed Murray and could also pave the way for a NHL franchise.
Meanwhile, entrepreneur Chris Hansen has been buying land in the city’s SoDo district and has offered to put up $500 million of his own money to build an arena on the premises. It’s just a matter of time before a new arena is built, and once it is, the NBA will return quicker than a Gary Payton fast break.
Odds Seattle will get an NBA franchise within the next five years: 9/1
1: LAS VEGAS
The NBA may be married to cities like Boston and Chicago, but it’s been having a torrid affair with Las Vegas for the past 13 years. The league first got into bed with Sin City in 2004 with the establishment of the NBA Summer League, and it further cemented its relationship three years later when Vegas played host to the 2007 All-Star Game. The NHL and the NFL have already answered the city’s siren call, and the recent completion of the 18,000-seat T-Mobile center makes the Strip an even more attractive destination.
The only stumbling block (and it’s a biggie) is gambling. The league is still reeling from the Tim Donaghy scandal, and the NBA will be monitoring the Golden Knights and Raiders closely to see how they navigate the murky waters of professional sports wagering.
Odds Las Vegas will get an NBA franchise within the next five years: 1/5
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