The LeBron James Las Vegas NBA ownership intrigue goes deeper than what the King himself has said out loud. Let’s read between the lines to see just when and how this dream can become a reality.
So much for what happens in Vegas staying in Vegas. LeBron James is airing it all out.
Following a preseason game in Sin City on Wednesday, James doubled down on his desire to own a future NBA team in Las Vegas when the league decides its ready to expand again. He even directed his comments straight at Commissioner Adam Silver.
“I would love to bring a team here at some point. That would be amazing. I know Adam is in Abu Dhabi right now, I believe,” James said. “But he probably sees every single interview and transcript that comes through from NBA players. So, I want the team here, Adam. Thank you.”
Entering his 20th NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers superstar turns 38 in December and is clearly looking long and hard at what his already-impressive portfolio might look like when it truly is time to retire — an event that might line up perfectly with the inevitable NBA expansion news.
Financially speaking, ‘Bron became the first active NBA player to become a billionaire with the help of his partnership with Fenway Sports Group, which owns controlling stakes in the Boston Red Sox, Pittsburgh Penguins, Liverpool FC, and RFK Racing. His greatest business successes have bloomed in parallel with the rapid expansion of the pro sports scene in Vegas in just the past five years, an ecosystem that now includes the NHL’s Golden Knights, NFL’s Raiders, and the WNBA’s Aces.
James has had his eyes set on this space for a little while now, specifically in the past year as the expansion conversation has picked up anew.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a timeline of relevant events so far along LBJ’s road to NBA ownership.
Longtime sportswriter and CEO of The Ringer, Bill Simmons, spoke about Fenway Sports Group’s interest in the future NBA team in Vegas. “I have some intel… I think the top contender to get the Vegas team is going to be Fenway Sports Group. He wants to be an owner.”
Yes, a rumor. But the seed had essentially been planted, and it would grow.
Oak View Group unveiled plans to build a $3 billion, 20,000-seat entertainment complex near the Las Vegas strip, with reports that the investment group is banking on an NBA expansion to Sin City. This marked the first news of a possible arena in the city set to be built to NBA standards.
“It’s up to the 30 owners and the commissioner,” said project consultant Marc Badain at the time as to whether the league would bring a team to Vegas.
Not long after, we heard from James himself.
“I wanna buy a team,” James said on Uninterrupted’s HBO series The Shop, a nonscripted show he hosts and produces. “I rather own a team before I talk. I want a team in [Las] Vegas. Yeah… I want the team in Vegas.”
That brings us to Wednesday night, when James said the very same during a Lakers press conference rather than his own show.
But what’s the actual likelihood of all this coalescing in reality, and how soon could it happen?
The State of NBA Expansion
There’s little doubt whatsoever that (1) the league will eventually expand out to Nevada’s desert oasis and (2) LeBron, and Fenway Sports Group principals John Henry and Tom Werner will at least be in the mix to originate the controlling equity stake.
But let’s pump the brakes, said Silver before Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Finals.
“As I said before, at some point, this league invariably will expand, but it’s not at this moment that we are discussing it,” the commissioner said.
He went on to discuss how talent disparities are causing issues for the league that would preclude expanding in the near future; in 2021-22, 12 out of 30 teams lost more than half of their games, to say nothing of the possibly imminent #tankathon that’s been the talk of NBA Twitter so far this preseason.
“I find it remarkable that when you have the second-most-played sport in the world after soccer, tens of millions of young men playing in this game, and…450 [of the] best in the world in this league, that there’s a few of them who separate themselves. There is a drop-off in talent after that… We’ll be looking at it at some point, but there’s no specific timeline right now,” Silver said.
And as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reiterated in a report following James’ statement last night: the league is indeed still years away.
On the brighter side, the NBA is expanding at a rapid clip if you look overseas — note projected 2023 No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s US debut this week, a pair of successful overseas games in Japan, and the fact that the last four MVP trophies have gone to European-born players.
No, we don’t yet have an answer as to when the jump from 30 teams to 32 is going to take place, and where things will stand regarding the LeBron James Las Vegas question based on the state of his life and career when that day comes. But this swirl of narratives is all of a piece: the Association isn’t exactly getting smaller.
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