Making the case for a St. Louis NBA team

St.+Louis+supported+three+major+sports+teams+%28Cardinals%2C+Blues+and+Rams%29+from+1995-2015.+With+the+Rams%27+move+to+Los+Angeles+in+2016+and+the+other+two+teams+finding+success+recently%2C+now+is+the+time+to+give+St.+Louis+an+NBA+team.+Art+by+Hayden+Davidson.

Hayden Davidson

St. Louis supported three major sports teams (Cardinals, Blues and Rams) from 1995-2015. With the Rams' move to Los Angeles in 2016 and the other two teams finding success recently, now is the time to give St. Louis an NBA team. Art by Hayden Davidson.

The 2019-20 NBA season is underway, and fans across the world are watching the 30 teams compete from October to April (and the top teams in the playoffs until June). But what if there were more than 30 teams, and how likely is it for a team to come to St. Louis?

Basketball is becoming an increasingly global sport, with rapidly-growing popularity in China, Mexico, and European and African countries. NBA fandom has gone international, as 30 of the top 100 scorers last season were born outside the U.S. Additionally, of the five major awards won by one player each season, four of the award winners in 2019 are from outside the U.S. This expanded publicity makes it that much harder to bring the NBA to a relatively low-market American city like St. Louis; revenue is everything, and if the NBA is deciding between two cities to place an NBA team, it would take the city that will bring the most financial gain and stability. 

The NBA has not expanded since it added the New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans) to the league in 2002. Relocation is also a possibility, as there are multiple struggling franchises and larger cities without an NBA team. 

So, as unlikely as it may be, there are legitimate reasons why the NBA should expand here and invest in St. Louis: 

 

St. Louis sports have been successful in recent years. The whole Rams-moving-to-L.A. drama several years ago doesn’t reflect well on the marketability of St. Louis, but the teams still in St. Louis aren’t struggling. The Cardinals’ run was stopped one round short of the World Series this October, and the Blues, of course, brought home the Stanley Cup in June. Who’s to say an NBA team couldn’t turn their performance around after coming to St. Louis? Also, the Blues had the third-highest payroll among 31 teams in the NHL last season while the Cardinals had the 11th-highest among 30 teams in MLB, meaning the revenue is still coming in despite being in a smaller-market pro sports city. 

St. Louis is big enough to support an NBA team. Although St. Louis is thought of as a smaller city compared to other sports cities, St. Louis actually has a larger metropolitan population than 12 cities that host an NBA team. On top of that, St. Louis was the home of three Big Four (MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL leagues) teams for 21 years until 2016, when the Rams moved out to California. With just two major teams now, St. Louis has room for another. 

St. Louis has hosted an NBA team before. Although it was a while ago, St. Louis supported the Hawks franchise for 13 years before it moved to Atlanta in 1968. From 1955-1968, the St. Louis Hawks had a successful .550 winning percentage and won a championship along with six division titles (while the franchise has not won a championship since the move to Atlanta more than half a century ago). 

 

St. Louis’s biggest competition in expansion/relocation

Hayden Davidson

Seattle – With the approval in December 2018 of an NHL expansion franchise in Seattle starting in 2021, Seattle now has a team in each Big Four league except the NBA. There is a $950 million arena under construction for the new NHL team, which could also hold NBA games. Even more importantly, the Seattle SuperSonics franchise lasted from 1967 to 2008 and could potentially return. 

Kansas City – The Sprint Center sits in downtown Kansas City without an NBA team to play in it regularly (or any sports team on any level). And like the St. Louis Hawks, the Kansas City Kings had a 13-year run before moving to Sacramento in 1985. 

Las Vegas – Las Vegas gained two major sports teams in a short period of time, with the Vegas Golden Knights already in the NHL and the Raiders (of the NFL) set to move there from Oakland in 2020. But the NBA will be hesitant to move or begin a franchise in a city that doesn’t have much of a track record of supporting any major sports teams, so don’t bet on it. 

Montreal – The addition of a Canadian NBA team other than the Toronto Raptors is not at all out of the question. Montreal has the second-highest metro population in Canada (behind Toronto) at just over four million. 

Mexico City – The capital of Mexico boasts a new arena finished in 2012 that seats 22,300 people, over a thousand seats more than the current highest-capacity NBA arena. This year will be the fourth season in a row that Mexico City will host two regular-season NBA games. 

 

Most likely teams to relocate

Hayden Davidson

1. Charlotte Hornets – The Hornets are the most likely franchise to move to The Lou, as Charlotte is the only city on this list with another competing major sports team (Carolina Panthers of the NFL and Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL). Michael Jordan, majority owner of the franchise, sold a portion of the Hornets in September, which may be a sign of him eventually selling the team entirely. Jordan, a North Carolina legend, may be the biggest factor keeping the team in Charlotte. 

2. Memphis Grizzlies – Memphis is the second-closest NBA city to St. Louis (behind Indianapolis), and the franchise is on a downward trend in performance in the past few years. 

3. Sacramento Kings – Although the Kings’ Golden 1 Center just opened in 2016, the Kings have been irrelevant in the league for quite a while. The Kings have not made a playoff appearance since 2006 (the longest active postseason drought), and the team has never made it to the Finals in its 34-year history in Sacramento. 

4. Orlando Magic – Orlando is a small-market city and the Magic don’t have much significance in NBA history, having won zero championships since entering the league as an expansion team in 1989. 

5. Oklahoma City Thunder – Formerly the Seattle SuperSonics until 2008, the Thunder enjoyed a strong run in OKC under their famed “Big Three,” comprised of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, all of whom could be considered top-10 NBA players. This summer, the last remaining member of that crew departed from the team, leaving slim playoff hopes for the franchise’s next several seasons. 

 

St. Louis sports fans are lucky. The Cardinals and the Blues are hard to beat in terms of investing in a team. But why couldn’t St. Louisans ride that luck a little further and score an NBA team?