Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP
Friday, April 3, 2020 | 2 a.m.
The NBA has long embraced Las Vegas even when other major professional sports leagues were intent on keeping their distance.
From allowing the Utah Jazz to play a portion of the regular season at the then-new Thomas & Mack Center in 1983-1984 to implementing the still-running local Summer League in 2004, the league staged games here before their contemporaries. From former commissioner David Stern awarding Las Vegas All-Star weekend festivities in 2007 to current commissioner Adam Silver advocating for legalized nationwide sports betting in 2014, the league made for an ally when there were few.
That’s largely been forgotten with the NHL and NFL bringing actual franchises to town first, but the NBA may have one heck of an opportunity to shoot a reminder in the coming months. The NBA could bring the conclusion of its 2019-2020 season to Las Vegas to end the postponement caused by the coronavirus pandemic three weeks ago.
Scratch that, the NBA should bring the conclusion of its 2019-2020 season to Las Vegas.
It’s the perfect fit and everyone — importantly including the league itself — seems to be realizing it.
Shortly after play was halted, it became apparent that the surest route to completing the season would be stationing all the teams in one location. That would cut down on travel, which has become difficult and dangerous, and eliminate the concern of different states operating under different mandates.
Speculation immediately surfaced around Las Vegas, but it’s become more concrete in recent days. On Wednesday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the oracle of basketball media, dropped what’s known in NBA circles as a “Woj bomb,” a nugget of breaking news while appearing on NBA Countdown.
“Las Vegas has been a destination that has been discussed built around the idea of literally perhaps using a casino, playing games in a ballroom with courts,” Wojnarowski said. “There’s lots of different scenarios, almost all of which are being built around the idea of a return without fans in the stands, certainly initially.”
Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix went on to report that Las Vegas was, “the only city the NBA is currently giving any kind of serious consideration.” That’s because we’re the only city that could pull this off.
There are about 100,000 hotel rooms on the Strip alone, more than enough to house all the players, coaches, officials, media and other essential personnel. The league and its franchises already have existing relationships with the properties and resorts from their extended summer league stays each year.
Players, starting at the top with LeBron James, have been steadfast about their desire for at least a few regular-season games before springing into the playoffs. If that’s to happen, the NBA is going to need multiple venues.
Las Vegas is flush with venues. The Thomas & Mack Center, Cox Pavilion, MGM Grand Garden Arena, T-Mobile Arena and Mandalay Bay Events Center have all regularly hosted high-level basketball, and that’s before dipping into Wojnarowski’s report of converting ballrooms.
It won’t be necessary, but there’s almost enough space for each team to have its own home court. Bring on the Caesars Palace Clippers and Bellagio Lakers.
Safety, of course, is the utmost issue. Neither the NBA nor Las Vegas can afford to help spread COVID-19 for the sake of some basketball games.
But the NBA appears to be positioned to take all the precautions necessary and has already demonstrated its trustworthiness. Don’t forget that the league was the first major sport to call off its season, with the rest following its lead.
And yes, that was largely because Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus but think about what happened afterwards. Much to the justifiable dismay of everyday Americans who struggled to secure testing, nearly every NBA player was tested along with large swaths of team personnel.
That left the league with a good handle on the situation and an ability to help players like Kevin Durant, Marcus Smart and former UNLV star Christian Wood, all of whom tested positive but have now been cleared after a quarantine period. The availability of testing is expanding, leaving little doubt the NBA would be able to check everyone who needed to be at the games before resuming.
Wojnarowski said the NBA has not set a, “drop-dead date,” to complete the season but is eyeing Labor Day weekend. Several reports have corroborated as much, citing the league’s desire to wrap up before football season and without significantly hampering its own 2020-2021 campaign.
The league is expected to tinker with its playoff format, and it’s unlikely that all four rounds of a potential playoff in Las Vegas would still be a best-of-seven series format. Even so, to reach the early-September cutoff, games would probably need to start by mid-July at the latest.
That’s a tight window, but it looks doable. Whatever the NBA wants to do, Las Vegas should be able to make it happen.
It’s no secret that the most important objective to the NBA is fulfilling at least a portion of its television contract, which annually generates close to $3 billion in revenue. Selling tickets is a secondary stream, which is part of the reason why hosting fans is not a requirement to keep playing.
It would be somewhat disappointing if the local community wouldn’t get the direct benefit of being able to attend the games if the NBA momentarily relocated here, but a highly worthwhile sacrifice if it means potentially saving lives. The indirect benefits would be ample anyway.
It feels like there’s a new study or report every day on why Las Vegas will be disproportionately affected by the recession the coronavirus is leaving in its wake. Our city will need not only whatever business it can attract but also a leading light to show it's safe to travel here once this has all passed.
The NBA, which has believed in us for decades, is the right fit for the role.
Las Vegas needs the NBA. The NBA needs Las Vegas.