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Examining LeBron James’ goal of owning an NBA team in Las Vegas

LeBron James, one of the most celebrated and accomplished basketball players in the history of the sport, has never been shy about revealing his off-court ambitions.  

In 2016, during an episode of UNINTERRUPTED’s “Open Run” podcast, James declared: “My dream is to actually own a team.” While it may have seemed somewhat fantastical at the time, that dream is far closer to reality nowadays. 

In the six years since making that statement, James has continued to grow his financial empire. Last week, Forbes reported that James’ net worth has reached $1 billion, making him the first active NBA player to hit this milestone. 

James has pocketed nearly $350 million in on-court earnings throughout his career, making him the second-highest-paid athlete in the world behind only soccer superstar Lionel Messi. However, LeBron has also made massive sums of money via his investments in companies such as Lyft, Tonal, Blaze Pizza and SpringHill Entertainment as well as his endorsement deals with Nike, AT&T, PepsiCo and Walmart among others. Forbes estimates that James has netted $500 million from his investments.

Speaking with reporters after a game last season, James reaffirmed his desire to own an NBA franchise someday.

“I’ve always said that my goal was to own a team, own an NBA team,” James said. “I’ve got so much to give to the game. I know what it takes to win at this level. I know talent. I also know how to run a business as well, and so that is my goal. My goal is to own an NBA franchise, and it’ll be sooner than later.”

At around the same time that James made those comments, it was announced that he had become a partner in Fenway Sports Group, which owns the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool Football Club of the English Premier League among other properties. Earlier this week, James shared interesting specifics related to his future ownership objectives. 

“Yeah, I wanna buy a team, for sure. I want a team in Vegas,” James said in a clip from the latest episode of his show, “The Shop,” which will debut Friday.

On Thursday, James tweeted the clip alongside the caption, “Speaking it into existence!”

The first major obstacle in the way is the fact that the NBA does not currently have a team in Las Vegas. However, many league insiders firmly believe that the NBA will announce plans to expand in the near future and that Vegas is all but a lock to land one of the coveted slots. 

In a press conference before Game 1 of the NBA Finals last week, commissioner Adam Silver confirmed that “at some point, this league invariably will expand,” before adding, “it’s not at this moment that we are discussing it.”

When the NBA officially expands, it is assumed that they will add two franchises simultaneously to keep the league balanced with an even number of teams. Along with Vegas, Seattle is the other city considered a heavy favorite to secure the rights to a new franchise. Seattle served as the home of the SuperSonics from 1968 through 2008 before the franchise relocated to Oklahoma City, leaving basketball fans in the Pacific Northwest heartbroken. In the years since, there has been a concerted effort from fans, players and coaches to bring a team back. 

When asked about Las Vegas specifically, Silver noted that the city is the home to the NBA Summer League and that Vegas “has shown itself to be a great sports market.” Last October, in an interview with Sports Business Journal, Silver acknowledged that when the league starts seriously exploring expansion, there is “no doubt Vegas will be on the list.”

With sports betting becoming legal in more and more states, propelled by the windfall of profits mobile wagering has generated, pro sports teams are no longer afraid to lay down roots in Sin City. Las Vegas is currently home to the NFL’s Raiders and NHL’s Golden Knights. In 2017, the NBA and WNBA approved the sale of the San Antonio Silver Stars to MGM Resorts in Las Vegas.

Earlier this year, the Oak View Group announced that it had purchased 25 acres of land in Vegas to build a $3 billion sports and entertainment district that will include a 20,000-seat arena.

“The arena will be world-class,” said CEO Tim Leiweke. “It will be for music, it’ll be for sports, it’ll be for cultural activities, and should the NBA decide to come — and by the way, there’s no certainty or no guarantees that the NBA is ever coming to Vegas but should they come — we certainly will be NBA-ready and make sure that we hit all of their standards.”

The arena will be located 10 minutes from the strip and it’s expected to break ground sometime in 2023.

When attempting to speculate how much a new franchise might be worth, it should be noted that the most recent NBA team to go on the market was the Minnesota Timberwolves. In April, former MLB star Alex Rodriguez and former Walmart e-commerce CEO Marc Lore agreed to purchase the Timberwolves for $1.5 billion. Like Rodriguez, James would need to recruit a partner or form an ownership group to make a competitive bid. Last week, Nike founder Phil Knight reportedly offered to pay more than $2 billion to purchase the Portland Trail Blazers.

It’s also important to note that, per the league’s collective bargaining agreement, James would be unable to purchase any stake in an NBA franchise while he is an active NBA player. And although he turns 38 years old later this year, James is still playing at an incredibly high level. This past season, James averaged 30.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 6.2 assists and a career-high 2.9 made three-pointers per game.

In an interview with The Athletic published in February, James stated definitively that he plans to play long enough to share the floor with his oldest son, Bronny.

“My last year will be played with my son,” James said. “Wherever Bronny is at, that’s where I’ll be. I would do whatever it takes to play with my son for one year. It’s not about the money at that point.”

Bronny won’t be draft-eligible for another two years under the NBA’s current CBA. 

Regarding the league’s potential timeline, it has been rumored that Silver and Co. plan to hold off on formally announcing serious steps toward expansion until after the NBA’s current media rights deal expires in 2024. It’s possible that the NBA’s timeline and James’ long-term plan could perfectly align.

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