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Can Vancouver's mayor bring an NBA franchise to the city?

What does it take to get the best ballers in the world to play in Vancouver?

In a short press release earlier this week, NPA mayoral candidate Fred Harding made a promise to Vancouver sports fans.

"Bringing back the NBA to Vancouver will be a cornerstone of an NPA-led majority with me as mayor," Harding was quoted as saying in the release.

But how possible is that? Can the mayor of Vancouver "bring" an NBA franchise to the city?

Aside from a fan base, or at least the potential for one, there are two major factors in landing an NBA team in a city. There needs to be an owner willing to bankroll them and a place for them to play. Only one of these can be impacted by the mayor (unless the mayor happens to be extraordinarily wealthy and willing to buy a team themselves).

Where an NBA team could play in Vancouver

The biggest barrier for many cities looking to land a top-level sports franchise is a place to play, and a mayor promising to build a big new sports venue can do a lot to move the gears.

But in Vancouver, that's not really an issue, since Rogers Arena was built exactly for that 25 years ago when the Grizzlies played here and not in Memphis. Compared to other NBA teams, its estimated basketball game capacity of 19,700 would make it the seventh-largest arena in the league.

As for its age, Rogers would be among the older arenas in the NBA, but not wildly so. Many teams play in arenas from the mid-90s (like the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics), and Rogers has been kept up-to-date as an NHL rink and major music venue.

So it's hard to imagine using the allure of a new arena being used to bring the NBA back to Vancouver, which is where mayors have the most influence. Especially when it would cost the city tens of millions.

Who to play for: Vancouver Grizzlies again?

The other major piece in creating a new franchise or moving an existing team is the owner, and NBA teams don't come cheap. That's also not something a mayor really can control.

Ironically, the cheapest franchise is the Memphis Grizzlies, the same franchise that left Vancouver in 2001. They're estimated to be valued at around USD$1.4 billion. That doesn't mean they'd be the most likely team to move if they were bought by a Vancouver fan. It would depend on the NBA, which could halt any movement.

The Grizzlies are abnormally cheap, as well, with the average NBA team valued at an estimated USD$2.5 billion. In other words, Harding and the NPA would have to have a patron willing to invest a significant fortune to bring a team to Vancouver, with no certainty it would be allowed by the governing forces.

While Vancouver is awesome, it isn't always easy for owners (or potential owners) to move teams, just ask Jim Balsillie (who tried several times to convince the NHL he should be allowed to move a team to Hamilton) or Las Vegas (which struggled for years to land any sports franchise).

Not a simple plan

Speaking of Las Vegas, if the NBA is interested in creating a new franchise or moving an existing one, Vancouver may not be top of mind. For one, the Grizzlies already failed (even if it wasn't Vancouver's fault).

At the same time, there are other places looking to land a basketball team; none other than LeBron James has said Las Vegas should be the next home for an NBA team.

Then there's Seattle, which making a big push to bring basketball back to the Pacific Northwest and has been campaigning hard for a while already, with a refurbished arena and a former star player leading the campaign. To be fair, there's always been a campaign for the NBA to return to Vancouver, but its base doesn't appear as vocal as Seattle's. Seattle is also the largest US metropolitan area without an NBA team, and already supports NFL, MLB, NHL and MLS teams, meaning the NBA is the only major league not represented.

While the NBA hasn't expanded in 20 years, the commissioner has said it will, and when it does, Seattle is at the top of the list. The likelihood the NBA would double down in the region within a couple of years seems low.

There's also San Diego, which is building a big new sports complex, and while it's not explicitly for the NBA, it's not not for the NBA.

On top of that, campaigning for a team doesn't mean one will arrive; decades after the Nordiques went to Denver, there are still folks in Quebec City working to bring the NHL back, but despite the stunningly poor state of the Phoenix Coyotes, there are still no plans to move a team to Quebec's capital.

Other basketball leagues

While moving an NBA team to Vancouver is unlikely, barring Harding and the NPA already having lined up an owner and had serious meetings with the NBA, other basketball leagues do exist.

The NBA G League operates as a minor-league farm system for the NBA. Its president is none other than Shareef Abdur-Rahim, the former Grizzlies star. It has 30 teams, and they move much more often than NBA teams. Arena sizes range, from 2,500 to 18,200, which means more venues in Metro Vancouver could be considered. There's already international play, too, with teams in Toronto and Mexico City.

There's also the WNBA, which is looking to expand. While there are no international teams yet, it doesn't mean that's not on the table. With only 12 teams so far, and arenas maxing out around the same as Rogers and the Pacific Coliseum, Vancouver could be a candidate.

It should also be noted the Vancouver region already has a professional basketball team with the Bandits, who play in Langley as part of the Canadian Elite Basketball League. The league is expanding to 10 teams and has been operating since 2019, though play was limited by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Harding was scheduled to announce more details on his NBA plan on Oct. 6 during a press conference but on the evening of Oct. 5 the event was postponed.

Vancouver Is Awesome has reached out the Fred Harding and the NPA for comment.