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
"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 Knightreportedlyoffered 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,
"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
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.