What it will take for Oklahoma City to host an NBA All-Star Game

What it will take for Oklahoma City to host an NBA All-Star Game

The new downtown arena is key to Oklahoma City making a run at the NBA’s marquee weekend, but it’s not the only necessity.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Feb 21, 2024, 9:00am CST

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Feb 21, 2024, 9:00am CST

Draymond Green probably won’t be getting a warm welcome when Golden State next plays at Indiana.

This past weekend, Green was a guest commentator during TNT’s coverage of the All-Star Game, and the Warriors’ big man/loudmouth/cheap-shot artist didn’t pull any punches (no surprise there) when it came to Indianapolis, which hosted the league’s big weekend.

Charles Barkley got to talking during the pre-game show about Pacers’ All-Star Myles Turner.

“I bet it’s probably fun for him being at home for the All-Star Game … ” Barkley said. “Being able to sleep in your own bed, that’s probably the best thing for him this weekend.”

Green interjected, “I think he may look forward to road trips more.”

Later during the game as the alternative-broadcast crew was saying goodbye to former Pacer great Reggie Miller, Green jabbed at Indianapolis again.

“Hey, Reggie, we love you,” Green said. “Let’s not have another All-Star Game in Indiana.”

It’s anyone’s guess what got stuck in Green’s craw, though it’s ironic (moronic, too, come to think of it) coming from a guy who grew up in the bustling metropolis of Saginaw, Michigan, population 43,854. Perhaps it was the cold and snowy weather that bothered Green; temps in Indianapolis only reached the low 30s on Sunday. Maybe it was the laid-back Midwestern vibe; no New York skylines or Los Angeles beaches in Indy.

Listening to Green take at Indianapolis, a city that has hosted Final Fours and a Super Bowl among other big-time sporting events, made me wonder: what would happen if NBA All-Star Weekend came to Oklahoma City?

Heads might explode.

Is it possible?

Yes.

Probable?

That’s hard to say, but the new arena that voters agreed to this past December gives Oklahoma City a chance at hosting the event one day.

“The NBA All-Star Game is a great example of the type of marquee event that we’re always going to hope to attract with the new arena when it comes online,” said Adam Wisniewski, Visit OKC’s vice president of sports development. “We know it’ll be first class and it’ll be attractive to that event and others.

“But of course, when you talk about something like the NBA All-Star Game, it’s a lot more than just the arena itself.”

The NBA has a list of needs when cities bid for All-Star weekends: a certain number of hotel rooms; a certain amount of convention space; ]space for surrounding events; an up-to-date arena.

Once the new arena is built, the biggest piece of the puzzle will be in place in OKC.

But a new arena does not an All-Star city make. In the past decade, four NBA teams have opened new arenas (Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center in 2016, Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena in 2017, Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum in 2018 and Golden State’s Chase Center in 2019), and a fifth team, the Los Angeles Clippers, will open their new arena, the Intuit Dome, later this year. Only two of those new arenas have been awarded All-Star games: the Chase Center in 2025 and the Intuit Dome in 2026.

Of course, those are major metros, San Francisco and Los Angeles, so their selection as All-Star cities likely has as much to do with the NBA wanting its marquee event in their big cities as in their new arenas.

What about Sacramento, Detroit and Milwaukee?

Folks in Milwaukee believe Fiserv Forum would’ve gotten this year’s All-Star Game if not for COVID. The 2021 All-Star Game was set to be in Indianapolis, but when the NBA opted for a scaled-back version because of the pandemic, it didn’t want Indy to have an experience that was less than. 

Indy’s host year was pushed back to 2024.

Even if that kept Milwaukee and Fiserv Forum from getting this year’s All-Star Game, four of the past five that weren’t impacted by COVID have been in some of the league’s smaller markets. Charlotte in 2019. Cleveland in 2022. Salt Lake City in 2023. Indy in 2024.

That means the NBA isn’t averse to putting All-Star Weekend in a smaller city like OKC.

But does Oklahoma City have what it takes to host All-Star Weekend?

Not right now, it doesn’t.

But right now, it doesn’t have a state-of-the-art arena either. OKC hasn’t even announced where the new arena will be built, much less broken ground and started construction. The new arena won’t open for at least five years, so Oklahoma City has time to add what it’s lacking. 

“I think the hotel product is probably the biggest difference between us … and some of these cities that have hosted the games over the last handful of years,” Wisniewski said.

He estimates the number of hotel rooms in downtown Oklahoma City to be between 4,000 and 5,000. 

In Indianapolis: 8,300.

In Salt Lake City: 7,300.

In Charlotte: 6,400.

“Based on some of the numbers we just talked through, I would say we’re probably 1,000-plus rooms short of being at their floor area,” Wisniewski said of the NBA’s minimum. 

But there are several projects already in the pipeline that could bring more hotel rooms downtown. The OKANA Resort and Indoor Waterpark, rising out of the south shore of the Oklahoma River, is set to open early next year. It will have more than 400 rooms. The Boardwalk at Bricktown, a proposed complex that could include the tallest building in the United States, includes a Hyatt Dream Hotel. It could have almost 500 rooms.

And those are just two of the bigger projects.

“We’re growing so fast and so many positive things are happening to the city, in specific to downtown, that the arrow’s pointing straight up for us right now,” Wisniewski said. “You fast forward five years, and who knows what we’re talking about?”

OKC would already meet many of the other needs of NBA All-Star Weekend.  

Convention space: check.

The new Oklahoma City Convention Center is cavernous, and if the new arena is built on the old Cox Convention Center site as many expect, it would only be a couple of blocks from the convention center. Very easy access for everyone involved.

Area for surrounding events: check.

I’m not entirely sure what kind of “surrounding events” would entail exactly, but let’s say it’s concerts or fundraisers or autograph sessions. Public options would include the convention center, Scissortail Park and Myriad Gardens, not to mention a multi-purpose outdoor stadium that is planned to be built just across the railroad tracks from the Omni and is expected to open before the arena. Private options for smaller events abound nearby in Bricktown.

Frankly, Oklahoma City has a downtown well suited for NBA All-Star Weekend.

“The major event organizers … they don’t want spectators to have to choose between going to a fan fest or a public concert,” Wisniewski said. “They want all of this to be as close as it can possibly be to each other. And that’s what I would say is one of the, if not the biggest strengths of Oklahoma City right now and moving forward. The size and scale of the projects that are happening downtown and their proximity to each other is something that really a lot of other cities can’t truly replicate the way we can.”

So, Oklahoma City already checks several boxes for an NBA All-Star Game. 

The ones that it doesn’t — a state-of-the-art arena and a bigger block of downtown hotel rooms — are works in progress. The truth is, even if OKC never gets an All-Star Game, having the new arena and more downtown hotels will be great for our city.

But if those things bring Oklahoma City an NBA All-Star Game, it would be next level. It would bring international attention. It would draw more than 100,000 people. It would be a carnival the likes of which our city has never seen before.

It would be mind-blowing.

And brace yourselves (I’m looking at you, Draymond): an NBA All-Star Game in OKC isn’t impossible.

“We’re very much heading in a very positive direction,” Wisniewski said. “As long as that trajectory continues, I think we could find ourselves in a very viable position someday down the road.”

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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