Sunday, May 26, 2024
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New Sonics? L.A. Mambas? Is it time for leagues to expand?


You know what’s better than sports? More sports!

Makes me wonder whether this is a good time for expansion. 

It would entertain fans in new cities, create jobs and help respond to calls for diversity at the executive and front office levels.

There’s been talk of growth in the NBA for years, focusing on the West for several reasons.

Seattle has wanted a new team ever since the SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008.

Las Vegas has the foundation for a new team, from hosting the NBA’s Summer League each year and having the WNBA’s Aces in place since 2018.  

And Southern California has the population and culture to absorb a new squad.

The reason to focus out West deals mostly with balance. The NBA has 30 teams. There are 15 in the Eastern Conference and 15 in the Western Conference.

To keep that balance, the NBA would need to add an even number of teams.

The West, currently, has several teams that geographically might make more sense with a realignment that would put them in the East. New Orleans, Memphis and Minnesota all are east of the Mississippi River.

From there, the NBA could add franchises in Seattle, Las Vegas, San Diego or Los Angeles (yes, it’s big enough to support a third team. And yes, the interest would be there. Have you seen how many L.A. guys are on NBA rosters? Call the new franchise the L.A. Mambas and watch them become second in popularity only to the Lakers.)

That’s domestically. If the association wanted to expand internationally, Mexico City is a viable market, with the Suns having played there for several years, and, potentially, the time is right to try Vancouver again.

Former Seattle Supersonics forward Detlef Schremph (11) shows off a Sonics t-shirt during a pregame between the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors at KeyArena in 2018. (Photo: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

NBA power broker Jerry Colangelo, in an interview with The Arizona Republic, said that expansion in 2003 allowed him to help the NBA bring in its first African American team owner, Bob Johnson, who later sold the franchise to Michael Jordan.

It’s a fantastic model. If the NBA expands again, it could make real progress on its commitment to advance the economic interests of African Americans in response to this summer’s Black lives matter uprisings.

The Forbes list shows seven Black billionaires. The includes some names you know — Oprah Winfrey, Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Tyler Perry.  It also includes some names you don’t — Robert F. Smith and David Steward.

I have no idea whether any of these people would actually want to purchase an NBA team, but they stand as proof that there is money in Black America to make high-level changes.

Another sport that’s talked expansion recently is Major League Baseball, which has only one team owner who isn’t a white male, Arte Moreno, who controls the Angels.

MLB has 30 teams, and commissioner Rob Manfred has discussed growing to an NFL-sized 32.

Las Vegas, Portland, Mexico City and Vancouver could be in consideration out West. Charlotte, Jacksonville and Memphis might make sense in the East.

Baseball expansion is tricky, because it would require realignment for the sake of balance. The American and National Leagues each have 15 teams, comprising three five-team divisions.

League officials could go traditional with expansion, adding one team to each league for two 16-team leagues, then split each into two eight-team divisions.

But that would nix a division race in each league, and baseball relies on those chases to generate interest toward the end of its 162-game regular seasons.

It would make sense then to go to four, four-team divisions, like the NFL. (NBA expansion doesn’t face the same complications as baseball, because the division crowns don’t mean as much to fans.)

But any baseball realignment would be worth considering if it would create an opportunity for African American or Latino owners to purchase the expansion franchises.

Assuming 32 is a sweet spot, that means the WNBA (12 teams), NHL (31 teams) and MLS (26 teams) all have room for growth.

Expansion across U.S. pro sports would mean — potentially — that more than a dozen new franchises could pop up in the immediate future.

That’s more than a dozen opportunities for African Americans and Latinos to step into the most exclusive ranks of leadership.

The only thing better than sports is more sports.

Maybe it’s a good time for expansion?

Reach Moore at or 602-444-2236. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @WritingMoore.

There’s plenty Moore where this came from. Subscribe for videos, columns, opinions and analysis from The Arizona Republic’s award-winning sports team. 

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