Monday, August 01, 2005


The NBA announced this week that the 2007 NBA All-Star game would be played in Las Vegas, Nevada. It will be the first time that the game will be hosted by a city that does not have a team in the league. But the engagement has more meaning than just a supremely entertaining weekend for the players and media members; it will also be an audition for a new or transplanted franchise.

For years it has been a fashionable idea that the undisputed tourist capitol of America would be an appropriate destination for an NBA team, and that idea is correct. The NBA has seen a severe decline in attendance the past few years. Many of the most popular players have either retired (MICHAEL JORDAN) or been mired in public relation nightmares (KOBE BRYANT.) The television ratings are down, the quality of play is considered mediocre and/or boring, and the fan base is slipping away in an age of media over-stimulation.

Las Vegas may not be able to cure all of the problems, but it would help. The NBA, more than any other major sports league in America, is player driven. The league markets its players much more seriously than it’s teams. It believes that image counts, and that’s why ten players are paid more than three-time finals MVP TIM DUNCAN. Placing a franchise in Las Vegas would be another concession for the players. A Vegas franchise would have no problem attracting players or fans with it’s warm weather, lush golf courses, endless nightlife, and reasonable hotel room and food prices. The players would also salivate over the idea of Nevada’s absence of a state personal income tax.

Basketball also is the game of choice in Las Vegas. From the mid-seventies to the early nineties, Las Vegas supported the exciting University of Las Vegas, Nevada Runnin’ Rebels basketball team with much more enthusiasm than it has ever shown for it’s minor league baseball or football teams. The Thomas & Mack Center would need a refurbishment, but it is a nice arena, just minutes from Las Vegas boulevard (the Strip), and it sits over 18,ooo people. If they sold out the Thomas and Mack every game it would place 9th in league attendance. Or, in true Vegas style, a new high-tech arena could be built quickly with amenities that would make Los Angeles’ Staple Center look like a high school gymnasium.

A current franchise that is struggling with attendance, New Orleans for example, would see an astronomical increase in revenue that would trickle down throughout the entire league. If an expansion team became the plan, there would be a tremendous bidding war from wealthy casino owners and corporations for ownership of the new team. Also, the casinos have an unlimited amount of cash to pump into the league through advertising dollars. The NBA has nothing to lose with expansion to Vegas, but it has a whole lot to gain from such a move.

NBA commissioner DAVID STERN, however, has repeatedly resisted this idea. His argument is that the NBA does not condone gambling on sports and the proximity of the league’s players to gaming would be a dangerous temptation. Last month, in an effort to get Stern to approve the scheduling of the 2007 All-Star game in Las Vegas, state gambling regulators agreed to ban sports books from accepting wagers on any All-Star events held in the state. One sports book already has a self-imposed ban on all NBA games. The Palms hotel-casino does not accept bets placed on professional basketball games because it is owned by the MALOOF family and they also own the Sacramento Kings.

Nevertheless, this idea of gaming interfering with a professional team is outdated and not realistic to the current reality that Las Vegas is not a Wild West outpost with shady gambling saloons. It is a thriving metropolis, the 29th most populated city in America (without accounting for the 35 million tourists that visit each year), larger than twelve other NBA cities. It has over 80 public schools, 500 churches and synagogues, 59 parks, and the median household income is above the national average. And isn’t it strange that Stern has taken a moral stance against gambling for the good of his league, but took no such stance against tobacco when he decided to place two separate franchises in Charlotte, North Carolina? FYI: the first franchise in Charlotte (the Hornets) failed and moved to New Orleans. Their successor (the Bobcats) had the second worst attendance in the NBA in 2005. Only New Orleans had less fan attendance. It’s time for the NBA to play in Las Vegas. The NBA needs Las Vegas. But, Las Vegas does not need the NBA.

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