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The NBA Is Saying “Trust Us.” Should We?

Tom Haberstroh,

Have you seen The MSG Sphere in Vegas yet? Brought to you by the folks who own the New York Knicks, it became a mesmerizing 250-foot tall hot-orange spinning basketball stamped with the NBA’s logo with 580,000 square feet of LED lights on the exterior. If you wanted to get the VR experience without the clumsy goggles, that’s The Sphere.

As luck would have it, MSG flicked on the light switch to the $3 billion stadium just as the NBA’s 30 teams and hundreds of media members descended upon the gambling capital of the world for NBA Summer League. As far as marketing gimmicks go, this was a jaw-dropping, Instagram-sticky slam dunk by the league.

Welcome to Planet NBA. I couldn’t help but notice the symbolism. It’s almost an unthinkable sight for long-time NBA observers –  Planet NBA in the once-forbidden universe of Sin City.

“Over my dead body will Las Vegas ever get a team with legalized sports betting there,” longtime NBA Commissioner David Stern reportedly told Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman in 1999.

The NBA’s relationship with Vegas was combative well after that. As recently as 2012, the NBA vehemently argued that legalized sports betting would “irreparably harm” the league’s covenant with fans. Stern fought vigorously against New Jersey’s bid to create its own Las Vegas and legalize sports betting, writing to the court that, “the NBA cannot be compensated in damages for the harm that sports gambling poses to the fundamental bonds of loyalty and devotion between fans and teams.”

Today, Stern’s protests seem quaint. Las Vegas Summer League doesn’t just function as the NBA’s summer playground, and one of the league’s premiere marketing events. It represents a future. 

Rest is here…

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