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LeBron James reiterates desire to own NBA expansion team in Las Vegas

The Los Angeles Lakers star says Vegas is a ‘sports town’

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Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James drives the ball against Utah Jazz forward Simone Fontecchio.

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) drives the ball against Utah Jazz forward Simone Fontecchio (16) during an NBA basketball game between the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on April 4, 2023.

Ryan Sun, Deseret News

Las Vegas has transformed itself into a sports town. And one of the sports world’s biggest names has become increasingly vocal about wanting to add an NBA expansion team to the city’s growing lineup of major league franchises.

Los Angeles Laker star LeBron James, who as of last year, according to Forbes, has a net worth of $1 billion, talked again this week about bringing NBA basketball to Sin City.

James first talked about wanting to own a team in Vegas last year. He reiterated those thoughts Wednesday.

“It’s crazy to say, but Vegas is a sports town,” he told reporters, per Fox News. “You look at the Aces, the hockey team, the Raiders, the A’s is coming here. Obviously, we just had F1 here … it’s a sports town. Hopefully I can bring my franchise here some day.”

He noted fans have turned out for the NFL’s Raiders, the WNBA’s Aces and the NHL’s Golden Knights, the reigning Stanley Cup champions. The Oakland A’s are planning to move into a new stadium to be built on the Strip in the next three years. The city hosted the Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix last month and Allegiant Stadium will host the Super Bowl in February.

“They know what they’re watching, they show a lot of support, and sports is gigantic here right now,” James said. “They definitely support their clubs, that’s for sure.”

The NBA is playing regular season games in Las Vegas for the first time in nearly 40 years with the In-Season Tournament semifinals and finals at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday and Saturday night.

The Utah Jazz played 11 home games in the 1983-84 season at the then-newly built Thomas & Mack Center in an attempt to drum up regional support for the team. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar became the NBA’s all-time leading scorer in one of those games. 

Rumors of NBA expansion have floated around for a number of years.

Speaking to reporters at the 2023 Summer League in Las Vegas in July, NBA commissioner Adam Silver confirmed that the league will begin exploring the idea once the current media rights deal is up in 2025, per CBS Sports. While he was careful to note that the league has not begun the process, he offered a general timeline for expansion and mentioned a few specific cities, including Las Vegas and Seattle. 

Now in his 21st season, James is at the tail end his playing year career. He’s earned over $431 million with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers.

Front Office Sports reported that some of James’ biggest financial partners are confirming their interest in helping him land a team.

“We’re looking at bringing an NBA expansion team (to Vegas) in partnership with LeBron and Fenway Sports Group,” Gerry Cardinale, the founder of RedBird Capital Partners, said Wednesday at the Sports Business Journal Intercollegiate Athletics Forum. “We started this project three years ago.”

James and RedBird are partners in FSG, the parent organization of the Boston Red Sox, Pittsburgh Penguins, Liverpool FC and the New England Sports Network. Their joint Las Vegas initiative would, in part, look to take advantage of an ongoing sports boom in the southern Nevada city previously shunned by most sports leagues. 

But while the prospective ownership group contains plenty of star power and financial muscle, Cardinale cautioned that rising franchise values could prove to be a sizable impediment, per Front Office Sports

“The price talk on an NBA team three years ago was $3 billion. The price talk today on an NBA expansion team is $5.5 billion to $6 billion,” he said. “I’m not sure I can make that work. … Maybe I’m evolved out of existence. Maybe now I’m turning over the baton to a sovereign (wealth fund) or to a lower-cost-of-capital provider. Could be.”