Ranking the Top 8 Potential NBA Expansion Cities
The NBA is quickly becoming one of the most popular sports leagues in the world. It is making tons of money, the talent pool has seemingly never been deeper, and fan interest just continues to grow. All this is why persistent rumors of NBA expansion continue to percolate. If Commissioner Adam Silver and the league’s governors do decide to expand the league in the next several years, here are the top eight potential NBA expansion cities ranked.
Recent history of NBA expansion
The last NBA expansion was in 2004, when the league went from 29 teams to 30 with the addition of the Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets). That franchise replaced the original Hornets after the team moved and became the New Orleans Pelicans in 2002.
Prior to the Bobcats, the previous expansion came in 1998, when the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies (now in Memphis). And that was about a decade after the first iteration of the Hornets, the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Miami Heat, and the Orlando Magic came into existence in 1988-89.
Since the last round of NBA expansion, there’s been little movement in the league. The Seattle Supersonics moved to become the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008, and in 2012, the New Jersey Nets moved to the other side of Manhattan.
Silver has recently said there are no immediate plans for expansion. However, the next media right package is up after the 2023-24 season, and that would be an ideal time for the league to start planning to add more product.
If that’s the case, here are the NBA expansion cities that would be best and have the best chance to have a team in the near future.
8. London, England
The big prediction here is that by 2035 the NBA, NFL, and NHL will have franchises (or maybe whole divisions) in Europe. There are currently doctors and scientists (seriously) working on ways for West Coast teams to make the 12-or-so-hour flight across a continent and an ocean and be able to play a game in England or Germany.
If the NBA puts a team outside of North America, London makes the most sense. They speak English, making it easier for NBA players and media, and they have a budding basketball culture across the pond. In fact, that’s where former Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse cut his teeth.
And while putting a team in London is step one in the NBA’s world domination, it’s not the only step. The real coup here is teams in Asia and Eastern Europe, where NBA basketball is wildly popular. If the league can figure out London, the rest of the world will follow.
7. Rochester, New York
Is putting my hometown on this list a little self-serving? Yes. That said, Western New York has a great history of pro basketball, and the first top-level pro team in Rochester in three-quarters of a century could work.
First, the Rochester Royals are an NBA title-winning franchise that played in the city from 1945 to 1957 before moving to Cincinnati and then Kansas City before ultimately becoming the Sacramento Kings we know today. Western New York also had the Buffalo Braves (now Los Angeles Clippers) from 1971-78 and the Syracuse Nationals (now Philadelphia 76ers) from 1950-63.
These fans support the Buffalo Bills and Sabres like few other fan bases, and an NBA team in Rochester, between Syracuse and Buffalo, could work in modern days.
6. Vancouver, Canada
Staying on the international tip, the NBA should give Vancouver another try someday. The team got hosed a bit in the draft and lottery when they were around. In their first NBA draft, they picked Bryant “Big Country” Reeves one spot behind Kevin Garnett. The following year, they got Sharif Abdur-Raheem right behind Allen Iverson and Marcus Camby (and ahead of Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and others in the star-studded 1996 draft.
The near-misses continued like that until the team moved to Memphis in 2001. As the NBA expands, they should consider giving Vancouver — a beautiful Western Canada city — another chance and a little more runway to succeed.
5. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh has three major professional sports teams (Steelers, Penguins, Pirates) and is only missing an NBA squad. The city had the Ironmen back in the per-NBA BAA days and has one of the best basketball movies (The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh) set in the town.
The Steel City also has a great basketball culture with Pitt and Duquesne. Plus, they already have the new team’s uniform color scheme set. All the teams in the city rock the black and gold, and an NBA team in those colors would look great.
4. Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville, Tennessee, is one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S., and it is supporting its pro sports teams more and more. The Tennessee Titans and Nashville Predators are thriving, and between tourism and new residents, the city should be able to support an NBA team as well.
A nice bonus of putting a team in Music City is that there will be an immediate inter-Tennessee rivalry between the Nashville Wild Hogs (working name?) and the Memphis Grizzlies. That will automatically add some spice to the new franchise.
3. Mexico City, Mexico
The last international NBA expansion city on this list is Mexico City. The NBA has played there multiple times, basketball is growing in popularity south of the border, and the travel isn’t much different than going down to Houston or San Antonio.
Moving into Mexico City will allow Adam Silver to scratch his international itch while the science of travel catches up to his desire to have a team (or teams) overseas. This is a good middle step, and don’t be surprised if this comes shortly after the first round of NBA expansion.
T-1. Las Vegas, Nevada, and Seattle, Washington
There’s no mystery here at the top of the list and no reason to try and parse between these two cities. The NBA will be expanding soon, and the first two NBA expansion cities are going to be Seattle and Las Vegas.
Seattle had the Supersonics unceremoniously stripped from them over a decade ago, and it is high time they get a team back. The city proved for years that it can support an NBA team, as it supports the Mariners, Kraken, Seahawks, Sounders, and Storm. Men’s pro basketball is the only thing missing, and the new Supersonics will bring it back.
As for Las Vegas, Sin City was long the black sheep of American cities when it came to professional sports due to legalized gambling. Now, with sports leagues falling all over themselves to accept and promote legal sports betting, Vegas is the go-to city for expansion teams and teams needing a new home.
However, while the NBA was one of the leagues at the forefront of the legal gambling movement, they will be the last of the four major North American sports to add a team in the Nevada desert. The NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders, and soon MLB’s former Oakland A’s will all call Vegas home. There is no way the NBA doesn’t follow suit.