The NBA has been one of the fastest-growing professional sports leagues in American sports history. However, that growth needs to be supported by another much-needed expansion. The last time the league expanded was in 2004 when the Charlotte Bobcats were added after the original Charlotte Hornets moved to New Orleans. This brought the league to 30 total teams and returned professional basketball to the Carolinas.
Today, the NBA is arguably one of the most successful professional sports leagues in North America, second to the NFL, and has had an increasingly growing international presence. With this international growth comes a larger pool of talent, therefore, more teams can be supported with this talent. This and so much more will headline the NBA’s need for expansion.
The NBA’s Talent Issue
The NBA’s talent issue is not really an issue at all. In fact, they have a massive surplus of talent and only 450 roster spots across 30 teams to occupy it. In today’s basketball world, player development is starting at a very early age. Here in the states, the AAU is allowing kids to showcase and develop their talents more than ever before. Add in the social media element and young athletes are able to study the game at any time of the day. Whether it is highlights of their favorite players on Instagram or YouTube tutorials, there are a number of developmental resources accessible with a simple Google search.
This increase in resources and competition has allowed players to get better at the game at a much faster clip. Young athletes are now able to complete a year of college, play a year overseas (more on that in a moment), or complete a year in the G League before they ultimately play in the NBA. The path to the league is shorter than ever with the one-and-done system that has built up in the college ranks.
This has created an influx of young talent and has pushed some of the more seasoned vets out of the league much sooner than expected. Players like Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson had their careers ended a bit sooner than it would have been had there been more teams. In Crawford’s last game at the age of 39 (before his brief playoff return), he dropped 50 points. As for Iso Joe, he has been tearing it up in the Big3 League. There are simply too many talented players not to have more teams, and that is just here in the States.
A Growing International Presence
There is no denying the ever-expanding international presence of basketball. With successful leagues in China, Spain, and numerous countries across the globe, the game is as accessible as it has ever been. Since the rise of Michael Jordan in the ’80s and ’90s, the game’s popularity has exploded and we have seen the results of that explosion play out in the NBA.
Players from all over the world are making their way onto NBA rosters and that process is not slowing down. In fact, since 1999, we have seen the NBA celebrate its first Championship by a Canadian team, a Greece-born player win back-to-back MVP awards, a Slovenia-born player win the rookie of the year award, and a dynasty led by players born in France, Argentina, and the Virgin Islands win five championships.
With the increase in international interest, the NBA has had even more talented players entering its ranks. The amount of talent coming from overseas is undeniable. Players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic, and Joel Embiid are prime examples of the talent being brought into today’s game and all of that talent has to go somewhere.
Where Would They Go?
Finally, we understand why we need an NBA expansion, now let’s get to the where. Of the cities in the U.S. that do not have an NBA team, there are three that truly jump out to me. I would say there are even a couple of international cities where it would make sense to have a team. The best part about all of this is that some of these cities have had NBA teams before. For one reason or another, the teams left town, but the fans of these cities have had a hunger for the return of professional basketball.
This should be a no-brainer. Seattle is a basketball mecca in its own right; having developed the talents of players like Doug Christie, Jamal Crawford, Brandon Roy, and Isaiah Thomas. Seattle had a team with a rich history, that was until the SuperSonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder. With conflicts over a stadium, the SuperSonics left town and took a promising future in Kevin Durant with it. This city is more than deserving of a team and certainly has the market to support one. In my opinion, Seattle has first rights to any expansion teams for a return of the Seattle SuperSonics.
This second market just makes a ton of sense as well. The city of Las Vegas is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the world. Over the last five years, Las Vegas has added NHL and NFL teams with the hopes of luring more organizations to the desert. Add in the craze that is legalized sports gambling and you have a recipe for success. The desire to add a team in such a rich market would be too much for the NBA to pass up on. Not only would it be good for the league, but finding an ownership group to commit to Vegas would be extremely easy.
Another city that the NBA once called home was Kansas City, MO. The Kansas City Kings left in the mid-80s and hightailed it to Sacramento. At the time, the market was not quite big enough to support the Chiefs, Royals, and Kings, but the city has grown a lot since the ’80s. This is a basketball town that is equipped with an arena perfect for an NBA team located in the downtown part of the city. With the Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, and Missouri Tigers being so close, basketball fans are more than plentiful in this part of the country. While Seattle and Vegas are securely at the top of the list, Kansas City cannot be overlooked.
Before they were the Memphis Grizzlies, they were the Vancouver Grizzlies. Canada, known for its affinity for hockey, has also been a prime location for some of the best basketball players in the league. Players like Ben Simmons and Andrew Wiggins are stars in the league, so another team in Canada would make a ton of sense. The NBA crowned a Canadian champion with the Toronto Raptors, and a return to Vancouver would do wonders for its continued growth in the Great North.
Finally, we land on Montreal. The NBA would not be the first American sports league to plant its roots in the city as the NHL and formerly the MLB has established teams in the city. While this city is easily the least desirable location on the list, it would provide a great new location for the NBA to grow on foreign soil. Being as it is just over the border, travel would not be difficult for the league and if something were to fall through with these other cities, it would be a more than justifiable replacement.
If the league were to expand, it would be a lengthy process, no doubt. Not only do they need to find owners willing to fork out the hefty investment to fund a team, but they would also need to secure funding from the host city to finance an arena and other team amenities. This would likely take a decade or more before any plans would even be announced. But if the league is able to add two or even four more teams, the talent distribution would be much more even, players would be able to play in the league longer, and more players will have an opportunity to suit up in the league.
The league is well overdue for an expansion and hopefully, the fans and players are given that opportunity. Adam Silver has done a lot to advance the age in the right direction as commissioner, this would be the next big step. Hopefully, they take it.
Check out some of Dan’s other Stadium Rant content here. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_tf40 and check in with his podcast The Fastest 40 on Spotify, Anchor, Apple Podcasts, & anywhere you listen to podcasts!