Super Bowl host Las Vegas set for NBA bid, LeBron James aid

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By Dan Sears

Las Vegas is gearing up to score a royal flush of sports franchises — by bringing basketball to Sin City.

The city best known for gambling is just one NBA team short of a full set of major teams having snared franchises from the NHL, NFL, and by 2028, the MLB.

Vegas may create its NBA team with the help of LeBron James, the billionaire player who at 39 is looking to life after he retires.

But it could also be a chance for a Middle Eastern country to grab a portion of American sports by funding an NBA team — the same way that Gulf royals have bought up European soccer teams and poured money into their own golf tournament.

Gaining a basketball team would be the final chapter in a remarkable transformation for a city built on gaming and music.

Las Vegas has the Strip, an Eiffel Tower, a grand canal, NFL, NHL and WNBA franchises and the MLB on its way — but no NBA franchise. That could change when the NBA expands as early as 2025. Shutterstock
Las Vegas is branding itself “The Greatest Arena on Earth” next month when it hosts the Super Bowl for the first time. Its Allegiant Stadium will be a showcase for what a city which had no major franchises a decade ago can do. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con
Las Vegas built its fortune on gambling, and has cashed in on the sports gambling boom with facilities like the Caesars Sports Book at the Caesars Palace casino. But now it could be about to pursue a royal flush of sports franchises Getty Images

In recent years the city, and the state of Nevada, have poured billions into turning Sin City into a sporting mecca, gambling that the 37 million people who visited last year might want to catch top-flight athletes in between enjoying musical residencies and playing the slot machines.

Next month Las Vegas will bring the glamor and spectacle of the Super Bowl to Nevada for the first time in a flex of its new power as a sports destination, calling itself “The Greatest Arena on Earth” for the match, with Usher providing the half-time show.

The 330,000 visitors, and $500M, the Super Bowl will deliver to Vegas are just a warm-up for the final hurdle in the city’s race to gain all four franchises.

Las Vegas has welcomed the Raiders NFL franchise and in February, the Allegiant Stadium — where Davante Adams missed a pass against the Denver Broncos — will host the Super Bowl, its first time in Sin City. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con
Usher will perform for the Super Bowl half-time show in Las Vegas. The city is calling itself “The Greatest Arena on Earth” for the event, which will bring an estimated $500m in income. Getty Images

It will begin in earnest in 2025, when the NBA is expected to formally start an expansion process, creating two new franchises to take the number of teams from 30 to 32.

First, said Kurt Badenhausen, a sports valuations reporter at specialist outlet Sportico, NBC Commissioner Adam Silver has to strike a new television rights deal, most likely this year.

“Then I think you we see the league go full speed ahead on expansion,” Badenhausen told The Post.

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The Las Vegas Raiders’ ability to put on a show, including with the Raiderettes, will be part of Las Vegas’ campaign for an NBA franchise if it joins the race. Getty Images
Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, is likely to fire the starting gun on a 32-team structure as early as 2025. He has hinted previously that the NBA would like to see a Mexican or Canadian team added. He took the sport on the road to Paris, France, early in January, where the Cleveland Cavaliers played the Brooklyn Nets. AFP via Getty Images

“People are already circling, lining up financing and thinking about potential bids.”

Silver himself hinted in November that one of the places for an “expansion” franchise would be Mexico City, calling it an “enormous opportunity,” while a second Canadian franchise has also been mooted, possibly for the west coast city of Vancouver.

The could leave US cities battling over a single franchise, with Vegas likely to be up against Seattle, which lost the SuperSonics in 2008 when they became Oklahoma City Thunder, according to veteran sports executive George Daniel.

The loss of the SuperSonics from Seattle, Washington, is seen as likely to help the city gain support for a franchise to be awarded to it — which means it could be a contest between Las Vegas and the Pacific North West. ASSOCIATED PRESS
Mexico City is the biggest city in the Americas and any sport which has showcased there has gained huge crowds, including this Formula E race featuring electric racing cars early in January. Getty Images

“The NBA has made very clear that it wants to take care of Seattle,” said Daniel, who has negotiated deals for a quarter of a century and is currently the CEO of former NBA player’s Kevin Garnett’s grassroots three-on-three league, Big Tickets Sports. “A close 1A would certainly be Las Vegas.”

That is where Sin City politicians could turn for an assist to the biggest name of the modern-day NBA: LeBron James.

James, officially a billionaire since 2022, has made little secret that he would like to follow Michael Jordan’s path of owning a franchise (Jordan sold his controlling stake in the Charlotte Bobcats in 2023) and in October teased building one in Vegas.

LeBron James (left) is a billionaire and the biggest star in the NBA. He has already said he would like to be the owner of an NBA franchise — in Las Vegas. AP
James has grown his ties to Las Vegas, celebrating both his LA Lakers’ victory in the In-Season Tournament in November, and being named the tournament’s MVP at the end of the final four in the city. NBAE via Getty Images

“It just makes sense,” James said in October. “I think adding an NBA franchise here would just add to the momentum that’s going on in this town… I think it’s only a matter of time, and I hope I’m part of that time.”

He may not be the only NBA icon with interest: Shaquille O’Neal, who retired in 2011 and has since become a pitchman for multiple brands, has said he would be willing to launch a one-man franchise bid.

“I know Vegas hasn’t been awarded an NBA team yet but if they ever get to a point where they are awarded a team, I would like to be a part of that,” O’Neal, 51, told The Messenger in October. “ I don’t want to partner up with nobody. I want it all for myself.”

Another NBA name to express interest in owning a Vegas franchise is Shaquille O’Neal. Not a billionaire, he said he would like to own it outright. James has said he would be part of a consortium.
James’ business partner is Gerry Cardinale, founder of RedBird Capital Partners. He has hinted that as deal to bring the NBA to Las Vegas could involve not just James, but other investors — including the possibility of Gulf royalty. NurPhoto via Getty Images

James’ business partner, Gerry Cardinale, the founder of RedBird Capital Partners, confirmed his interest, telling Sports Business Journal in December that the firm was looking at a Las Vegas proposal involving James, his business partner Maverick Carter and Fenway Sports Group.

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Fenway, in which James and Carter are already investors, owns the Boston Red Sox, the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins and English soccer team Liverpool FC, as well as Nascar’s Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing team and a series of other sports investments.

Cardinale also floated the possibility of bringing in money from other sources, including the Middle East. Sovereign wealth funds controlled by Gulf royal families, including those of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and member states of the United Arab Emirates, have all put money into European soccer.

Gulf royals including Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (center), a member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family, have thrown billions into European soccer. He owns Manchester City in England. PA Images via Getty Images
James is part of the ownership of the Boston Red Sox, although in 2016, he wore a Cleveland Indians shirt to show support for the team when they played the Red Sox in the playoffs. Boston Globe via Getty Images

He told Sports Business Journal: “Maybe I’m evolved out of existence, and maybe now I’m handing the baton over to a sovereign [wealth fund] or to a lower cost-of-capital provider.”

The NBA permits sovereign wealth funds to buy a maximum 20% stake in teams.

The motivation for potentially seeking a Middle Eastern royal’s almost unlimited spending lies in the cost of a franchise, which Cardinale estimated to be as much as $6 billion.

The likely cost of a franchise starts with the $2.5 billion fee the NBA will charge the winners, and which is distributed among the existing 30 teams.

The Athletics unveiled a mock-up of their proposed Las Vegas ballpark, which the city and state are putting $380 million into building so they have an MLB franchise by 2028. AP
The Vegas Golden Knights play at T-Mobile Arena, a 20,000-seat venue that also hosts concerts and other major events, as well as the championship of the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament on Dec. 9. Getty Images
The city, and state, have already dipped in to public funds to land both the NFL and the MLB. Shutterstock

Even in Vegas, where gambling venue was $7.9 billion last year, a 7% increase on 2022, that’s serious money, with a venue needing to be built on top — plus hundreds of millions of dollars guaranteed in player salaries.

The city, and state, have already dipped in to public funds to land both the NFL and the MLB.

The Raiders’ Allegiant Stadium — home of the Super Bowl next month — had a public subsidy of $750 million, while Las Vegas and Nevada are set to inject $380 million to bring the MLB Athletics franchise from Oakland in 2028.

The state-of-the-art Allegiant Stadium, where half-time performers Bonn Thugs-n-Harmony performed earlier this month, cost taxpayers $750 million — but as well as regular Raiders fans, it has delivered Vegas its first Super Bowl. Getty Images
The 3.8-mile Las Vegas Formula One Grand Prix in November showcased the city as an international sports destination. F1 racing will return to the Strip on Nov. 21-23, 2024. REUTERS

And last November, the city closed down the Strip to host its first ever Formula One race.

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But previous investments in Vegas sports have paid off.

The Las Vegas Golden Knights joined the NHL as an expansion side in 2017, and immediately went to the finals of the Stanley Cup, which they won in 2023.

In 2018, Vegas welcomed the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces.

It became the third team in league history to win consecutive titles in October.

Another sporting investment which has already paid off is gaining an NHL expansion franchise. The Las Vegas Golden Knights took the Stanley Cup, held by Shea Theodore, last year. They first played in 2017. Getty Images
The Las Vegas Aces, a WNBA expansion franchise, made 2023 a year of double victories for Las Vegas’ new franchises, winning the WNBA championship in October and being mobbed in a victory parade on the Strip. AP

Last month there was a fresh flurry of speculation that Las Vegas could secure an NBA franchise another way, when billionaire Mark Cuban sold a majority stake in the Dallas Mavericks to Vegas gambling billionaire Miriam Adelson, widow of Sheldon Adelson.

Cuban quickly moved to quash speculation, saying the Mavericks were staying in Dallas under his operational control, but the move underlined the potential.

In November the NBA will dip its toe in the Vegas market for the second year in a row, with three high-profile matches in the city: the semi-finals and final of its new In-Season Tournament.

Mark Cuban’s sale of the Dallas Mavericks to Las Vegas billionaire Miriam Adelson had raised speculation about the Mavericks moving but he moved quickly to quash that and retains operational control. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con
Adelson (right, expressing her admiration for former president Trump at a rally for the Republican frontrunner) is now a billionaire Las Vegas-based NBA franchise owner. But she could soon have a hometown rival. Getty Images
Bill Robinson, assistant professor of economics at the University of Las Vegas-Nevada, said the city stands on the edge of a new era, with plenty to attract an NBA franchise. UNLV PHOTO SERVICES

The tournament is modeled on formats like the soccer World Cup, with groups of six teams playing in a round-robin, the top performers then making their way into knock-out rounds, with Las Vegas acting as neutral ground for the final four.

It will also be a chance for James, O’Neal, or a mystery Middle Eastern potentate to assess whether Vegas is a natural home for an NBA franchise.

Bill Robinson, an assistant economics professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, said the city could be on the edge of a new era.

“We have a great transportation setup — one of the busiest airports in the world,” he said. “There’s hotel rooms, there’s shows, casinos, there’s a million other things to do if I come into town for a game for the weekend.”

As for the NBA, Daniels says one word sums up a franchise bid: “Inevitable.”

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