For the Lakers, what happens in Vegas won’t exactly stay in Vegas — it will be broadcast in front of a national audience across two nights.
As part of their six-game preseason schedule, the Lakers will take the floor twice at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena for games against the Suns and Timberwolves. In a city that knows a thing or two about putting on a show, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and company will star in one of the biggest shows in town, if only for two days.
As this is far from the first time that the Lakers have played a preseason contest in Vegas (remember Kobe Bryant’s poster dunk over Ben Wallace 25 years ago?), these two games are yet another reminder of the growing presence of professional basketball in Vegas and the NBA’s growing presence in the city.
Just months after the NBA hosted its Summer League at UNLV and weeks after the Aces celebrated their WNBA title on the Las Vegas Strip, the murmurs of potential expansion to Sin City could very well become substantiated. Even LeBron himself has been pretty straightforward about his desire to bring an NBA team to Vegas.
Las Vegas’ NBA history illustrates a seamless connection between the city itself and basketball being played at the highest level.
Did you know that during the 1983-84 NBA season, the Jazz played 11 home games at the brand new Thomas & Mack Center, home of the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels?
As part of a strategy to make more money, the Jazz were part-time Vegas residents, posting a 5-6 record during the games. The stint was historic in more ways than one as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar became the NBA’s all-time leading scorer against the Jazz in Las Vegas.
Utah would play two more home games in Vegas during the 1984-85 season before the arrangement came to an end.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers first took part in a preseason game at the Thomas & Mack Center in 1988, which marked the beginning of what was almost a yearly tradition.
With Los Angeles around four hours away from Las Vegas, the trips often yield a major turnout of Lakers fans and have provided major highlights, like the dunk from a 19-year-old Kobe.
In addition to the Lakers’ preseason games in Las Vegas, the team played Game 4 of the Western Conference First Round at the Thomas & Mack Center on May 3, 1992, moving the game to Las Vegas as a result of the LA Riots.
NBA Summer League
In 2004, the Las Vegas Summer League played its inaugural season with just six participating teams. In 2007, the NBA attached its name to the event and by 2018 all 30 NBA teams participate in the Las Vegas Summer League annually.
Summer League games are played on the campus at UNLV at the Thomas & Mack Center and the connected Cox Pavillion. During Summer League, Las Vegas becomes the center of the NBA universe, with young players taking the floor while veterans and retired legends are all in attendance.
For just under two weeks, the who’s who of all 30 teams converge in one place. That place happens to be Vegas.
Las Vegas has played a large role in the United States National Team program.
After coming up short and winning bronze at the 2004 Olympics, USA Basketball held its training in preparation for the 2006 FIBA World Cup in Las Vegas. One year later, members of what would eventually be known as “The Redeem Team” took part in an epic intrasquad scrimmage at Thomas & Mack.
Vegas is now the hub for USA Basketball, with training camps held in the city in preparation for international tournaments, with the men’s and women’s teams training and hosting friendly exhibitions at Las Vegas’ numerous basketball venues.
2007 NBA All-Star Game
In 2005, the NBA awarded the 2007 NBA All-Star Game to Las Vegas, with the game to be played at the Thomas & Mack Center. The choice was unprecedented in that there was no NBA team in the market that was to host the game.
The game itself was a success, with the Western Conference taking a 153-132 victory over the Eastern Conference and Bryant winning MVP, meaning a Laker fittingly won the honor in the team’s second home.
Las Vegas is still the only non-NBA city to host an All-Star Game.
Las Vegas Aces
In 2017, it was announced that the WNBA’s San Antonio Stars would relocate to Las Vegas, where they would rebrand as the Las Vegas Aces and play their home games at Michelob Ultra Arena.
Over the course of five seasons in Vegas (with one played in the WNBA “Bubble” at Florida’s IMG Academy), the Aces have compiled a 103-55 record, capturing the first-ever professional sports title in Las Vegas history in 2022.
G League Ignite
In 2020, the G League announced its pathway program for elite amateur prospects, naming it the G League Ignite, set to be based in Walnut Creek, Calif.
After a COVID-impacted inaugural season and one more proper season in The Bay, the G League Ignite in 2022 announced that it would move operations to Henderson, Nev., part of the Las Vegas Valley.
As part of the move, the Ignite will play its home games at the Dollar Loan Center, just 12 miles from the Las Vegas Strip.