Welcome to Las Vegas, the new Los Angeles of pro sports.
L.A. once was the city that teams would threaten to make their new home. Southern Nevada now has become leverage city.
The latest example occurred Wednesday, when the Arizona Republic reported that Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver threatened to take his NBA team to Las Vegas or Seattle if he doesn’t get a state-financed $150 million upgrade to Talking Stick Resort Arena.
— Laurie Roberts (@LaurieRoberts) December 12, 2018
It’s the first time an NBA franchise has used Las Vegas to get a sweeter deal. And unlike Seattle, Las Vegas has an NBA-ready venue: T-Mobile Arena.
Phoenix Mayor Thelda Williams and two councilwomen paved the way for a postponement of Wednesday afternoon’s City Council vote on the renovations to the downtown Phoenix arena because they vote didn’t have support.
Enter Sarver, who has a reputation as one of the least-liked owners in the league. He bought the team in 2004, and it has foundered under his ownership, missing the playoffs for the past eight seasons and currently with the NBA’s worst record at 4-24.
But don’t buy your Deandre Ayton jerseys just yet. There’s a winding road until the NBA hits Las Vegas.
What are the hurdles?
Sarver wants $150 million in public money to go with his $80 million to renovate luxury boxes and other arena areas between 2019 and 2021. It will take four yes votes on the seven-person council to approve the public funding.
If it’s approved, the team stays in Phoenix through 2037 with a $200 million penalty if they leave early. Yes, there is some public opposition to the proposed city funding.
If the deal is voted down, the Suns could leave as soon as 2022 thanks to a provision that lets them out of their lease 10 years early. Would you believe it’s the fifth oldest arena in the NBA?
Or he could try to build his own arena in one of the many rumored parcels in the metro Phoenix area, including a few on American Indian land.
NBA has a say-so
Any move would have to be approved by the 30-member NBA Board of Governors.
The league requires a simple majority vote to move a franchise — but if there’s a change in ownership, three-quarters approval is needed.
Seattle knows this all too well because it was the last city to have a move blocked: After losing the Sonics to Oklahoma City in 2008, the Emerald City was denied the Sacramento Kings franchise in 2013, when the NBA voted down the move and the ownership change.
The previous Kings owners? The Maloof brothers of Las Vegas.
MGM really wants a team
MGM Resorts International has been leading an effort to attract a professional basketball team to Las Vegas.
■ MGM Resorts and AEG own T-Mobile Arena, which is home to the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights and was built NBA-ready. The arena has hosted NBA exhibition games and is the home of the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament.
■ Last year it purchased the WNBA’s San Antonio Stars and moved the team to Mandalay Bay, renaming it the Aces.
■ Mandalay Bay will host the NBA’s G-League Showcase, a four-day event that includes all 27 of the NBA’s minor league teams.
■ The Thomas &Mack Center and Cox Pavilion have hosted the NBA Summer League since 2004.
MGM CEO Jim Murren in May said he expected Las Vegas to have a pro basketball team within five years. MGM Resorts declined to comment Wednesday about the Suns.
This won’t be the last time
You might hear owners and agents sing the praises of Las Vegas often after this. In fact, a subtle push already had begun by players to get a franchise in the valley.
“I think NBA players like coming here,” said Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant in August at the Team USA camp. “I’m sure whatever team they put together will be successful here because of how much support and how many good resources are here. It would just add on another level of excitement for the NBA and the game of basketball, so I’m all for it.”