ST. LOUIS – As the NBA Finals move along, commissioner Adam Silver recently hinted that the league might consider expansion as soon as 2024.
In April, the league and the National Basketball Players Association agreed to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement. Silver discussed the new CBA ahead of Sunday’s NBA Finals broadcast, noting that two of next priorities were addressing the league’s next media rights deal and exploring expansion possibilities.
“We don’t have anything specific in mind right now,” said Silver via the Associated Press. “But I think it makes sense over time if you’re a successful organization to continue to grow. There’s no doubt there’s a lot of great cities we’re interested in having in the NBA.”
Could St. Louis be a potential destination for expansion? It’s far from a guarantee, but St. Louis does make an intriguing case.
To start, there’s some respectable NBA history to build on in the Gateway City. St. Louis was previously home to the Atlanta Hawks franchise from 1955-1968. The Hawks won an NBA Championship in St. Louis in 1958 and clinched playoffs all but one season there. Before that, the St. Louis Bombers had a brief run in the NBA after a few years through the Basketball Association of America.
The basketball scene around St. Louis also has strong regional interest. Homegrown talents like Jayson Tatum and Bradley Beal prove some top talents can rise to stardom through basketball programs. The city also plays host to the Missouri Valley Conference championship and the Mizzou-Illinois Braggin’ Rights game, occasionally hosting March Madness games too.
The Enterprise Center has proven capable of holding these events around a busy stretch of games for the St. Louis Blues. Adding an NBA team to the mix would be a unique challenge, but plausible given that 11 NBA arenas are also used as NHL homes.
It’s also noteworthy that St. Louis is the third largest US metro without an NBA team, only trailing Seattle and Tampa in market size. Location-wise, St. Louis could be flexible in either the Easter or Western Conference, plus could lead to some interesting Midwest rivalries. The Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies are all close in proximity.
If fan loyalty was factored into getting an expansion squad, St. Louis has some encouraging trends working in its favor. The Cardinals and Blues are consistently in the Top 10 of attendance for the respective leagues. New MLS team CITY SC offers even more promise as to what supporting a new franchise in St. Louis might look like, packing sold out crowds of 22,000-plus in the inaugural season.
Despite all of those reasons the NBA could work in St. Louis, oddsmakers favor two western markets the most for expansion, those being Seattle or Las Vegas. Seattle lost the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City in 2008 and is currently the largest city without an NBA team. Vegas has been expanding its sports scene big time over the past decade, adding NHL and NFL teams with possible ties to the MLB’s Oakland Athletics too.
The closest St. Louis has been to an NBA team since the Hawks departed was right around the turn of the century, though it didn’t come via expansion. Former St. Louis Blues owner Bill Laurie was closely connected to the Grizzlies ownership group, but some aspects of a deal to acquire the franchise fell through, and they completed a move to Memphis in 2001.
Basketball enthusiasts around the United States seem to have different opinions as to whether St. Louis might be a good fit. Yardbarker.com has St. Louis as one of 20 possible destinations. Bookies.com, one of few sites with odds on possible expansion cities, currently doesn’t have St. Louis in its top 10, but also suggests Kansas City could be a fit.
Given the history of hoops in St. Louis and Silver’s recent comments, there will be a lot of wait and see on who might get an expansion team, but it’s never too early to start wondering. If or when that happens, it would be the first wave of NBA expansion since 2004.
The NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets resumes on Wednesday. The series is tied 1-1.