SEATTLE - Mayor Bruce Harrell said Thursday he has weekly conversations to update him on the status of the NBA and its potential to bring a team back to Seattle.
"So without revealing my ‘confidential sources,' I'm very optimistic," Harrell said. "But I will tell you almost on a weekly basis I'm getting updates on what's happening in the league, where there's some opportunities."
Seattle has been without an NBA team since the end of the 2007-08 season when the Sonics franchise moved to Oklahoma City and rebranded as the Thunder.
The efforts to bring basketball back to Seattle in the years since have taken on many forms with multiple groups vying to build an arena that could serve as a successor to KeyArena at Seattle Center. With the building of the new Climate Pledge Arena, there is now an arena of sufficient quality to house an NBA team once again.
The process has slowly edged forward with NBA analyst Bill Simmons saying in March that he believes the league will expand to Seattle and Las Vegas.
Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke – who led the efforts to rebuild Climate Pledge Arena at Seattle Center – has said they have been in contact with the NBA as well about their desire to bring basketball back to town at the new arena.
"We are going to follow the process that the NBA owners and Adam lay out, but we're going to get there. We're going to get there. I'm very confident that this will end well for everyone in Seattle and us," Leiweke said last year in an interview with Sports Radio 950 KJR.
"When the day comes, we're going to begin the process. I am 100 percent certain we're going to get the Sonics back and they will be playing within the timeline the league outlines at Climate Pledge Arena."
Now Oak View Group has announced plans for a brand new arena in Las Vegas that will be built to NBA specifications as well.
"The arena will be world-class," Leiweke said in an interview on CNBC. "We’re prepared to spend about a billion dollars on building the new arena. 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 will be NBA-ready and make sure that we hit all of their standards."
Simmons isn't a reporter, but he's been a long-time NBA observer and is well-connected in the league. He used to work for ESPN and was a part of the network's coverage of the NBA before starting his own media company, The Ringer. If Simmons' comments about the NBA's goals are accurate, the building of another arena in Las Vegas could be taken as another sign of eventual league expansion.
The new Las Vegas arena won't be completed until 2026. Additionally, the NBA has its collective bargaining agreement set to expire after the 2023-24 season with a mutual opt out included for after next year. Current television broadcast contracts are also set to expire after the 2024-25 season. Having a new CBA and TV deals locked down will give the league's ownership more concrete expectations about the future revenue streams and finally get them comfortable adding two more franchises to the league.
With that in mind, Harrell said his optimism didn't extend to news about a new team coming before the end of this year.
"No, I'm not that optimistic by the end of the year," he said. "But I will tell you that the league, and those that make decisions including the ownership base, they fully understand that this is a great market here. And so there are other dynamics looking at the collective bargaining agreement with the players and the owners, how they make decisions, there are some other factors at play that need to be stabilized first. But Seattle is very ripe and the league understands that and they know our passion, particularly my administration's passion, for getting that team."
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