If you live in Kansas City (like I do), you are a bit in basketball wasteland. Since the Kings moved out after the 1984-1985 season, and with the demise of the Kansas City Knights of the ABA after the 2004-2005 season, professional basketball has remained dormant in the Kansas City-Metro area. For a professional basketball fan like myself, this has some benefits (I do not get any locally blacked out games on NBA League Pass), but it also has a lot of negatives for live professional basketball fixes. While there are a slew of college options (UMKC and Rockhurst, DII, in the city; Kansas University 45 minutes away in Lawrence), it just doesn’t match professional basketball. The quicker pace of the game, the higher scoring, the 48 minute games, the silly in-game promos…professional basketball just tops it for me, especially as college basketball continues to deteriorate due to overly-controlling coaches (hopefully the 30 second shot clock will change quite things quite a bit). And besides, with KU games regularly being sell outs (i.e. tough to get tickets), and UMKC and Rockhurst basketball being “dead energy” affairs, even if you do love college basketball in Kansas City, you may be disappointed or coughing up big bucks for quality basketball save for the Big 12 Tournament (though that can be hard to get tickets for, especially the deeper you get in the tournament) or the NAIA Tournament (which is the greatest event ever for basketball fans and also one of the best values, as you can buy all sessions of the tournament for $100).
So Kansas City needs another basketball alternative, and the D-League sounds like the most viable option (because let’s face it, with OKC so close, NBA Basketball is not coming to KC, even if the Sprint Center is a quality option). Of course, there are multiple benefits and pitfalls that would come with a professional sports team coming into a metro area. Zach Bennett of Hardwood Paroxysm wrote a good article about 5 potential places for D-League teams, and mentioned Kansas City as the No. 1 choice and looked and examined some of the positives and negative with D-League basketball coming into Kansas City (as well as Omaha and St. Louis, which were other cities listed). However, I wanted to expand on what Zach touched on in that article from a year ago, and go more into depth of why D-League basketball might work in Kansas City.
Let’s take a look at four reasons why the D-League would be successful should it move to Kansas City.
1. Municipal Auditorium would be a fantastic location to host D-League games
Zach mentioned Kemper Arena as a potential home for a future D-League team. I couldn’t disagree more. Municipal Auditorium is the obvious choice as the best destination for a D-League team. Municipal is in a great location, walking distance from Power and Light (though further than the Sprint Center), near the Convention Center and access to plenty of Parking Garages (including one right across the street) as well as highways (i.e. easy for suburban people to commute to and after games, unlike Kauffman Stadium and Arrowhead). Municipal was remodeled in 2013, and now is complete with video boards and lower level seating, making it the perfect venue for basketball. UMKC and the NAIA Tournament have both benefited from Municipal as a venue, and I think a D-League team would benefit from the smaller (it seats about less than 10,000) but more intimate environment. Sprint Center would be the ideal, but that seems less likely since Sprint seems to make too much money from events other than sports, and a permanent tenant (like a sports team) such as a D-League team just wouldn’t be beneficial to their bottom line. But Municipal? Right now, their big money makers seem to be UMKC basketball and the NAIA Tournament, and I guarantee a D-League team would probably outdraw both of those in the long-run, especially with NBA basketball growing in popularity in the Sprint Center (the exhibition at the Sprint Center seems to draw near sell-out capacity every year) and the D-League being a more widely used option by NBA organizations (i.e. more familiar faces than before in Independent basketball).
2. D-League basketball is more important than ever
One of the best initiatives the NBA has made in the past five years or so has been emphasizing the D-League’s importance more. The league has done a great job promoting it, from televising all games free on YouTube to having more 1-1 teams (i.e. a D-League affiliate for every franchise). Furthermore, general managers are starting to see the benefits of the D-League, letting late round picks get valuable playing time in the D-League rather than rot at the end of the bench. And the D-League has had its share of success stories. Danny Granger reshaped his game into a 3-point specialist in the D-League. Jeremy Lin earned a shot in the NBA thanks to his strong performances in the D-League with the Reno Bighorns. And, NBA teams are utilizing the D-League as a place for strategy experimentation, as the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (the affiliate of the Houston Rockets) and the Reno Bighorns (affiliate of the Sacramento Kings), famously showcased the past couple of seasons. D-League basketball is not just a holding ground for washed up veterans and failed rookies. It has been a legitimate lab for young players to hone their skills and organizations to test strategies and concepts that would be too risky to employ during the 82 games season.
So with that being said, the D-League is important. It’s important to players and more importantly, organizations. And with that being the case, the basketball has become better and more entertaining than what we have seen from independent basketball in the past (i.e. the CBA and ABA). Players getting called up is not a rare occurrence any more. Is it on the level on Minor League Baseball? Of course not, but it’s getting there, as evidenced by the more single-team D-League affiliates. Kansas City basketball fans will recognize this and show up, knowing that they have the potential to see the next Lin, the next Hassan Whiteside, the next Gerald Green hit the Municipal Auditorium floor, be it on their team or the opposing one.
3. Kansas City could spark a Midwest D-League Basketball Renaissance
Kansas City has loyal fans. I mean, look at the latest All-Star voting for chrissakes where the Royals almost got seven players in, including a second-baseman who was around replacement level. Heck, look at Sporting KC, which has become the standard for most MLS teams, as well as the Kansas City T-Bones, who remain a draw despite being an independent league team in a city that has Major League Baseball. Kansas City people love their sports, and with relatively few big-time basketball options beyond KU or K-State and Mizzou (if you’re willing to make the drives), it seems only natural that Kansas City would ardently get behind a D-League team.
But, in the big picture, Kansas City could be a trendsetter for a D-League Midwest Mecca. What do I mean? There are plenty of cities that could probably benefit from D-League teams in the Midwest. Omaha and St. Louis are two that come to mind, and Sioux Falls, and Des Moines have D-League teams that could further add to possible rivalry fire. Could you imagine a D-League Cup perhaps in the Midwest where KC, Sioux Falls, Omaha, Des Moines and St. Louis would all be involved? I can see the citizens of KC getting behind it, going for the bragging rights of being the best Midwest team in the D-League even if it only D-League. Midwest people like their bragging rights as the best Midwest city in any category. College football, beer, BBQ, thunderstorms, etc. D-League basketball would just be another venue to do so, and that would not just benefit the fans and people of these metro areas, but the D-League as well (as attendance and coverage would increase because of this quest for bragging rights).
4. A D-League Team Could Help Push the NBA Coming Back to Kansas City
Like I said, it’s probably a long shot, or at least a long shot in the immediate future. Seattle is the obvious front runner for a NBA team (after all, it seems owners use Seattle as ammunition to hold cities hostage over the construction of publicly funded arenas. Sacramento was in this situation years back, and it looks like Milwaukee is going through a similar issue. After Seattle, Vegas also seems to be a viable option due to the amount of money in Vegas, the night life, and the possibility of sports gambling becoming a more widely accepted thing.
However, the NBA lacks a serious presence in the Midwest to the west of Milwaukee and Chicago. Oklahoma City can be considered Midwest or Southwest depending on who you ask, but to me, it feels more closer to Texas in terms of lifestyle and culture than Missouri or Kansas or any other Midwest state. So, there needs to be a presence of professional basketball in this part of the country, since going to Denver or Chicago for a game requires an arduous journey of sorts, especially during Winter time.
Kansas City has the amenities. The Sprint Center is a NBA-quality arena. The Power and Light area around Kansas City would make it an attractive hangout for younger crowds before and after games. They are working on some streetcar systems that could make it easier for people to commute to and from games (or at least find different parking spots all over the city). Basically, Kansas City has now what Sacramento wants in a year. Maybe Kansas City doesn’t stick out like Seattle or Vegas, but Kansas City could host a NBA franchise and they could be successful with it. Unlike St. Louis, who has struggle to support three professional sports franchises (i.e. the Rams), Kansas City seems like it would thrive due to the fan loyalty and economic infrastructures (downtown arena) already in place that would correspond to a NBA franchise succeeding in a city.
But, Kansas City needs to prove that it can handle basketball, and what better way to do it than with a D-League team? We have already seen MLS franchises get established due to the minor league teams becoming such wild successes. It is easy to think that the same can happen in Kansas City, as fan support will catch the eye of Adam Silver and the NBA and they will realize that all the pieces are in place for a NBA team to relocate to Kansas City.
And if a successful D-League franchise doesn’t catch Silver’s eye? Well…at least there will be professional basketball again in Kansas City, and that would still be a win for basketball fans in Kansas City.