The NBA and the City of Las Vegas have long been strange, if somewhat inconsistent, bedfellows, like Malory Archer annually shacking up with KGB officials. But, like his counterparts in the NFL, the NHL and MLB, commissioner David Stern is somewhat reluctant to allow a franchise to relocate to Sin City, with sports betting being the biggest deterrent.
Though, as Dave Toplikar of the Las Vegas Sun noted back in 2009, the NBA's iron-fisted dictator has softened his stance on the matter in recent years, especially since his constituent owners have shown little opposition, if any, to the idea.
It would stand to reason, then, that Stern would and should give teams the leeway to consider Las Vegas as a potential landing spot, at the very least. Stern's job (among other things) is to represent the interests of the league's owners, and if they aren't at issue with Vegas, then neither should Stern be.
Granted, Stern's duties are a bit broader than just looking out for 30 wealthy parties. He has a sport to foster and the reputation of a league to look after, one that's taken a considerable hit since last year's lockout and has come into question ever since the Tim Donaghy scandal took the basketball world by storm.
But next week will mark the fifth anniversary since Donaghy left his post as a referee in the league, and the NBA is as popular as it's ever been in spite of all the lingering concerns about credibility.
And it's not as though The Association doesn't already have a long-standing relationship with Las Vegas. The city has hosted one of the NBA's summer leagues every offseason since 2004 (not including last summer, when it was canceled amidst a labor dispute) and successfully staged the 2007 All-Star Game at the Thomas and Mack Center.
However, the mere opening of Sin City to consideration as an NBA destination doesn't guarantee that a team will take the bait. The city still lacks a "state-of-the-art" facility into which a prospective team might move and, more importantly, struggle to fill seats in any arena on a regular basis.
According to the 2010 Census, Las Vegas is only the 30th most populous metropolitan area in the U.S., just ahead of Oklahoma City. Finding season-ticket holders, then, might be something of a chore, given both the size of the local population and the prevalence of other entertainment options available to those who live nearby. The same goes for the city's legions of tourists, many of whom may consider attending an NBA game during their stays, but could just as easily decide to spend their evenings at concerts, casino shows and whatever other myriad options are on the table on any given night.
Tougher still would be the idea of convincing an NBA owner to move his operation to a television market that, per Station Index, is only the 42nd-largest in the country, just three spots ahead of OKC. With TV revenue always growing in volume and importance, a shift to a smaller market like Las Vegas rather than, say, Seattle or Anaheim (as an offshoot of L.A.) hardly seems like a sound business decision.
Then again, when has the NBA ever been sound in its business practices? And who's to say that running a franchise in such a manner would actually be better for the league?
Don't forget, either, that the Sacramento Kings, the NBA's next most likely candidate for relocation, are owned by the Maloof family, which also owns and operates the Palms hotel and casino in Las Vegas. The clan's quarrels with the City of Sacramento over the construction of a new arena could conceivably put the team on the path to the gambling capital of the world.
It would seem, though, that the commissioner himself would encourage any team seeking a new home to A) do whatever it can to stay put, or B) if that fails, consider a fresh start in Seattle as the SuperSonics, assuming Chris Hansen and his collection of powerful players in the Emerald City are able to move forward on their proposal for a new downtown venue.
And if the Kings do end up moving, chances are, it'll be to Orange County, which already has a shiny arena in place.
In any case, having more options on the table for owners can only help Stern and the NBA going forward. As Roger Goodell and the NFL have shown with their masterful (if Mister Burns-like) manipulation of L.A., the availability of enticing markets can be used as leverage for franchises that are either in the midst of negotiations regarding new arenas or may find themselves embroiled in such in the future.
Even if some of those markets, like Las Vegas, aren't actually all that enticing to begin with.
Of course, judging the moral acuity of such a strategy is another story entirely. And, given all the factors in play, the prospect of a franchise from a major professional sports league putting down roots in Las Vegas remains something of a pipe dream.
But, at the end of the day, it couldn't hurt the NBA's cause to keep itself open to Sin City's overtures, regardless of how unrealistic they may be in the grand scheme.
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