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Monday, July 15, 2024

Las Vegas Isn’t Becoming an NBA Destination. It Already Is One

  • The Association continues to grow its presence in Sin City.
  • Summer League begins in Las Vegas on Friday.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA is getting ready to descend upon Las Vegas for its annual Summer League showcase at a time when the league’s relationship with the city has never been stronger. 

Between the success of the first in-season tournament that concluded in Sin City and the widespread interest in a potential Vegas expansion team, the long-running Summer League is just one piece of the puzzle drawing the league to Nevada—but not an unimportant one.

Last year, 136,623 fans attended Summer League games over 11 days at Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion on the campus of UNLV. That’s the second-most ever for the event, just behind a total crowd of nearly 140,000 in 2018. The NBA will look to potentially break that record this year as all 30 teams are once again set to participate, following smaller summer leagues in Sacramento, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City.

A year ago, the hype in Las Vegas centered on 2023 No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama as he made his Spurs debut, but this year’s most intriguing player was taken at the bottom of the second round. Lakers rookie Bronny James (above) has already been drawing Summer League eyeballs in California, as the potential of him playing in the NBA with his father became reality after LeBron James re-signed with Los Angeles.

Trophy Season

It was at the beginning of Summer League play in Las Vegas last year when The Association formally announced plans for the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament, which included an NCAA Final Four weekend event along the Strip at T-Mobile Arena in December. Since the Lakers won the first edition, the tournament has been renamed the Emirates NBA Cup, and commissioner Adam Silver said that format tweaks could be coming to future iterations.

Details of the upcoming season’s NBA Cup have yet to be released, including whether Las Vegas will return as the Final Four host or another city will swoop in.

Hometown Hero?

When the NBA finally announces its new media-rights deals, which are projected to be worth $76 billion, the next focus for the league will be expansion. Silver has said on multiple occasions that the NBA will explore adding two new franchises to bring the league to 32 teams.

Las Vegas is widely seen as a front-runner to land an expansion club, along with Seattle, and potentially a dark horse in Mexico City. James has made no secret about his desire to be part of a potential Vegas ownership group after he retires, but so have other superstars like Shaquille O’Neal

Meanwhile, the Oak View Group, which developed Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, has considered a $10 billion project in Vegas that would include an NBA arena where an expansion team could have its own home away from T-Mobile Arena, where the NHL’s Golden Knights play.

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