Throughout the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA), a combination of market demand and the desire to expand the reach and influence of the game of professional basketball on the part of the league and local investors has helped to facilitate the addition of brand new basketball franchises to the league, planting roots in various cities throughout the country. As of October 2016, the most recent league expansion took place in Oklahoma City in 2008 after the sale of the Seattle Supersonics and Charlotte in 2004, three years after the then-Charlotte Hornets (now known as the New Orleans Pelicans) relocated to New Orleans.
Given recent events in the NBA and the potential for exponential growth in value, the time is now to consider a final expansion, with three cities believed to be in contention for the two final spots in a solidified 32-team league: Seattle, Washington, because of the controversial manner in which it lost the Supersonics; and Las Vegas, Nevada, because of its growing NBA presence in the last decade. Upon the completion of the expansion process, there will need to be balance among the conferences; therefore, we will submit a proposal of conference realignment involving the restructuring of the divisions into eight separate entities, as a reflection of the league’s new 32-team format.
It is June 15, 2014. The Miami Heat, after losing the last two games at home (and now down 3 games to 1, one loss away from elimination), are engaged in a hotly contested match versus the San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. After two embarrassing home losses in games 3 and 4, team leader (and former League MVP) LeBron James has come out seemingly as a man possessed, scoring seventeen points as he led Miami to a 29-22 first quarter. But as was the case throughout the series, the Spurs would crawl their way back into the lead behind their crisp ball movement and overall team play.
For yet another game, LeBron James’ herculean 30-point, 10-rebound, 5-assist performance would go to waste as the San Antonio Spurs would run away with a championship-clinching 104-87 victory, punctuated by a ferocious Manu Ginobili dunk over Heat forward-center Chris Bosh late in the second quarter. The Spurs would go on to win their fifth overall NBA championship with forward-center Tim Duncan anchoring the team since 1999 (their first), and it would mark LeBron James’ last season in Miami before relocating to Cleveland that next month.
Now, while the Miami Heat and their fans were sent reeling after these events, something both fans of the Heat and Spurs have in common is that both fan bases can say that their teams are one of the more stable franchises in the NBA with strong, consistent, progressive leadership.
This is not always the case with most franchises. For example, this season, the Philadelphia 76ers have been among the worst teams in the league, and it appears as though this is happening on purpose. In fact, it has gotten so bad in Philadelphia this season that local media has even reached the point of holding roundtable discussions about whether or not the team is the laughingstock of the league. But whether or not an organization is handling basketball operations properly, many fans can take solace in the fact that their teams will always be there for them.
Teams like the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, and even the Houston Rockets have all had their ups and downs throughout their respective histories, and while there were high points and low points, the only major changes that happened to these franchises throughout the years were either in the front office, the team’s roster, or the venue in which they played their home games.
As the league grew, many more markets throughout the United States became more viable to host a professional basketball team. When you consider that there were only eight teams in the NBA by the time it was fully functional in in 1956 (it was first founded in 1947) compared to today’s league of 30 teams, you are able to draw the conclusion that controlled expansion in the league can actually be a good thing.
But why does this matter?
Because the time is right for the National Basketball Association to begin laying down the foundation for expansion one last time, and the first option for the league should be none other than Seattle, Washington.
On October 6, 2014, the NBA announced that it “expanded its partnerships with Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. and The Walt Disney Company through new, nine-year agreements under which ABC, TNT, and ESPN will televise NBA games beginning with the 2016-17 season and running through the 2024-25 season.” During the length of the contract, the NBA is reportedly set to be paid $24 billion, averaging $2.6 billion a year.
The deal is worth far more than the one that was reached in 2007, which was worth around $930 million each year. With this deal in place set to begin in 2016, what does this mean, exactly? “With the value of the league’s television rights increasing exponentially, both owners and players will benefit.”
NBA player salaries will rise considerably. For example, “Kevin Durant will be a free agent in 2016. Assuming the television deal kicks in at $2.67 billion and the NBA doesn’t work out a way for more gradual salary cap increases, Durant would be eligible to sign a five-year deal worth $162 million with the Thunder. If he wanted to sign with another team, he’d be eligible for four years, $120 million,” an incredible amount given the value of money in this day and age.
This also means that expansion will now be on the table for the first time since the league established the Charlotte Bobcats in 2005. “If the NBA pursues expansion, expect Seattle, Louisville and Las Vegas to emerge as the most serious contenders in the United States. Seattle is one of the 15 largest media and television markets in the U.S. and already has a sizable and passionate following of Sonics fans.” Essentially, Seattle would be the most viable option for expansion in the NBA.
With Seattle established as a legitimate NBA city, let us take a look at who the Seattle Supersonics, the NBA team that once existed in Seattle before being relocated to Oklahoma City, were, and what would have to take place in order for the Sonics to be the headlining franchise in what should be the league’s final expansion.
That will come in Part II. Stay tuned.