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Volume 22 No. 11
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With expansion not yet in cards, owners see overseas events as path to growth

Expansion teams in Seattle, Las Vegas, London, and Mexico City by 2028? It’s not a current priority, league insiders say.


Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer said expansion is not a topic of major discussion and likened expansion to a company’s decision to dilute its stock. “You only do that when it’s overvalued, and the NBA is not overvalued,” said Ballmer, who in 2014 paid $2 billion for the Clippers.

If the league’s expansion strategy changes, Seattle and Vegas are often listed as likely landing places. Louisville, Ky., also is making a pitch to eventually land a team. But adding teams is not a lock.

Yes, the Golden Knights’ smashing success in the NHL and the Raiders’ relocation point to a strong sports future in Sin City. Each summer Las Vegas already plays host to the NBA’s wildly popular and growing MGM Summer League, which makes the city the epicenter of basketball in July. For some, that gives the NBA a big enough Vegas presence. Seattle, which already has proved itself as a viable NBA market with the former Sonics, is focused on rebuilding KeyArena to attract an expansion NHL team.

Relocation could be an option, except that the league frowns heavily on uprooting teams. Just ask Ballmer, who before landing the Clippers wanted to buy the Sacramento Kings and move the team to Seattle.

“It didn’t happen because the league did not want the team to move,” he said. “I learned it firsthand. Since the Sonics, it is not a good thing to upset the fan base by moving teams.”

Which leads the league to ponder a global expansion strategy over the next decade.

Some league insiders point to Mexico City, where the NBA began playing regular-season games in 1992 and where there is talk of adding a G League franchise. In addition, the NBA this year opened a training academy in Mexico to develop young players and grow the game in Latin America. 

Then there is London, long talked about as a future NBA city, given that the NBA has played an annual regular-season game at The O2 arena since 2011.

But for owners like the Washington Wizards’ Ted Leonsis, growing the game globally will take place by playing more preseason games or holding a preseason tournament in different areas of the world, such as Africa and India. Adding to the current seven overseas NBA training academies is seen as another way to expand the league’s global brand. International expansion of the NBA 2K League, currently at 21 teams, also is possible.

Geography aside, Ballmer said it will take a massive investment to convince team owners to expand.

“From an economic perspective, it would have to be some hell of a deal in order to really make our math better as owners,” he said.