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NBA expansion

National Basketball Association commissioner Adam Silver was his usual candid self in his annual preseason presser yesterday. He responded to queries — even the most sensitive ones — from prying and persistent members of the media directly and with purpose. And he wasn’t doing so to score brownie points with the public, although they were invariably positive offshoots. He was simply being, well, himself, a decided advantage for a league whose status as the most progressive sports organization in the world hasn’t insulated it from the havoc wreaked by the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Silver touched on quite a few subjects, including the NBA’s tolerance, even encouragement, of players’ social and political activism and its continued collaboration with stakeholders in framing the future. And, given his usual frankness, what struck a chord was his subtle but nonetheless apparent shift in his views on expansion. Whereas he would previously reply without fail that the acceptance of additional franchises was not under consideration, he admitted to “dust[ing] off some of the analyses on the economic and competitive impacts of expansion. We’ve been putting a little bit more time into it than we were pre-pandemic.”

To be sure, Silver did caution against drawing conclusions that a new franchise would be coming in sooner rather than later. He said due diligence is being done in recognition “of the Manifest destiny of the league that you expand at some point… but certainly not to the point that expansion is on the front burner.” The problem lies in the NBA needing to both address economic considerations and ensure competitiveness. And, as hoops annals show, there is an inherent tug-of-war between the two concerns.

Pegged in the 10 figures for every instance, the entry fees to be earned from expansion would most certainly benefit current teams reeling from financial losses due to quarantine measures, limiting or prohibiting (depending on location) spectators in arenas. On the other hand, a striking imbalance already exists with the current roster of 30 teams; increasing the number will serve to dilute the talent base even more. Which is why there figures to be more — make that much, much more — researching and discussing before the initiative can gain any momentum.

As Silver has indicated, however, expansion is a matter of when, not if. And once it happens, the safe bet is on Seattle getting first crack. After all, it boasted of extremely loyal supporters throughout the 41 years it served as home to the SuperSonics. Meanwhile, fans in the Emerald City will be keeping their fingers crossed, buoyed by the pronouncements of a commish who has historically been as good as his word.


Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.

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