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Why doesn’t San Diego have its own NBA team?



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Considering that basketball is such a popular sport in the US, it would be only logical to assume that every one of its major population areas would boast its own NBA team.

As the second-most populous city in California after Los Angeles and the eighth-most populous in the States, San Diego would seem to be an obvious candidate for a franchise of its own.

In addition to being home to a population of around 1.4 million, the city also welcomes over 32 million visitors a year attracted by its beaches, world-famous zoo and sea life centre.

It has also long been a key strategic base for the US Navy where service people drawn from all over the country are stationed.

So it would seem to be a logical candidate for an NBA team of its own. Not only is there a population that fits fairly neatly into the demographic of basketball fandom, it would provide yet another tourist attraction for the city, not to mention another option for any sports bettors studying the latest NBA betting odds.

It’s also a fairly well-known fact that the NBA may be looking forward to expansion over the next few years. The association’s commissioner Nick Silver has spoken publicly about the possibility as recently as June 2023 and the two front runners to be granted franchise status are Seattle and Las Vegas.

But many believe that San Diego has just as strong a case to put forward as these two cities, as well as a strong heritage of the sport in the city to back it up.

Previous teams

In the past there have been no less than two different NBA teams carrying the city’s name.

The first of these was called the San Diego Rockets. The franchise came into being in 1967 when Robert Breitbard paid $1.75 million for the privilege of creating a new team for the NBA. The city was chosen because of its vibrant economy and growing population, as well as on the back of the San Diego Gulls ice hockey team, also owned by Breitbard.

Called the Rockets to reflect both San Diego’s slogan of “a city in motion” and the importance of the armaments industry to the region, the team was never the financial success many hoped they might become.

Breitbard also found himself in some difficulty owing to the tax debts generated by building the San Diego Sports Arena. As a result, he abruptly sold the franchise to a group of investors in Houston – and the team became the Houston Rockets.

In 1978 the city found itself with a second NBA team when the Buffalo Braves franchise relocated. A public naming contest was held and the name Clippers emerged as the winner, referring to the great sailing ships that once passed through San Diego Bay.

In 1981 the franchise changed hands being bought by the property developer Donald Sterling for $12.5 million. Going against the NBA’s wishes, in 1984 Sterling moved the team to Los Angeles where it remains today.

A footnote in the city’s history of basketball comes in the form of the San Diego Conquistadores, an American Basketball Association team. They existed for three, unsuccessful, seasons between 1972 and 1975. Their demise also coincided with the absorption of the ABA into the NBA along with six surviving franchises.

Why shouldn’t San Diego have a team?

With four teams already playing in California, there is a fairly strong argument that a fifth would be rather superfluous. There are also number of cities with greater populations that might seem to be in more need of a team.

We’ve already mentioned Seattle and we could also add Tampa, St. Louis and Pittsburgh to the list.

Then there’s the question of unbalancing the teams that are already playing. Ideally, the NBA would need to add two, four or even six new franchises, and then work out how to accommodate all the extra fixtures in the regular season.

Sure, this is something that will need to be addressed if Nick Silver’s ambition is to be achieved, But for the moment it means the brakes are probably on vis à vis a new team for San Diego.

A glimmer of hope

That said, there are faint rumblings being caused by the proposed redevelopment of the 45.8-acre San Diego Sports Arena site.

Backed by millionaire Stan Kroenke as lead investor the aim is to create a 16,000-capacity sports and entertainment arena as well as a hotel, park, plaza and residential units. Kroenke has already shown his fondness for the sport by his ownership of the Denver Nuggets so there’s a fair chance that he will throw his hat in the ring during the next NBA expansion, whenever that turns out to be.

But with the prospect of an all-new stadium and his expertise in sports ownership who knows?

San Diego might well be looking forward to a brand new NBA franchise in the bargain too.

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