I spend most of my mornings scouring negative comments about Las Vegas or our chances to support the National Hockey League. The reason I do this is I’m not willing to let the rest of North America take shots at my city based on their false perceptions. Most of the time it’s a spunky debate with Canadians who think our kids can only count to “21”. It always amazes me how people think hockey doesn’t belong in the desert but it’s okay that baseball calls Toronto home. Somehow climate has something to do with whether a team will find success. If that’s the case let’s take hockey completely out of California, the NHL’s most successful state.
I’ve lived in Las Vegas for 24 years. I was lucky enough to be stationed here at Nellis Air Force Base which was a blessing. I was able to play a little bit with the safety net of a place to stay and food to eat. I used to take the bus from the base to the Strip every weekend so I could watch sports and listen to the same guys talk about how many bets in a row they’ve won. I still wonder why they always wore the same clothes with all that success. I later found out it was far easier to talk about wagering glory that to speak of failure. I always had wagering flowing through my veins, not because I was some degenerate that needed to bet but because it provided me with a way to feel close to the game that I wasn’t good enough to play past college. Sports was always my way out, my escape, my life.
Las Vegas was growing on me with every passing month because it, like me, was searching for its identity. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I loved this town. I loved the characters and the flash of it all. I knew that I could make it here because I wouldn’t give in to temptation. I wanted to watch the true ‘city that never sleeps’ grow up. I knew very early that the potential for my city was as great as any city in the county. Las Vegas was my town and I was entered in a long term relationship. In the mid 1990’s we were still in the infant stage of our greatness. Sure Las Vegas held some credibility as a name but it almost felt like other cities were snickering at our attempt to be taken seriously. Over the years a few things changed. In 1989, Steve Wynn decided that the city needed a resort type hotel while others told him that people don’t come to Vegas to eat or lay by the pool. He brought in Seigfried and Roy which changed entertainment in Las Vegas forever.
Over the next two decades visitors watched million dollar hotels evolve into billion dollar hotels with the finest food, clubs, shopping, and attractions in the world. Our visitor count rose to over 42 million visitors a year and our population exploded from 800,000 in 1991 to 2.2 million today. There isn’t a city on Earth that transformed itself more than our community. The cities that used to laugh at us now have very little choice but to respect us because while we were moving forward, most others lay dormant, happy to relish in what once was. We were the news kings but before we can take our place on the throne we had to fill our one glaring omission. Every legitimate metropolitan area has professional sports and we didn’t. To some, sports may be a waste of time and sometimes tax payers money, but to others like me, we realize that professional sports is the glue that holds a community together. Without it you’re just a multitude of land masses filled with people who remember what it was like to watch a ball game back home on a warm Summer day when you would scream for 20 minutes hoping anyone would come over and sign your ball. Sports is a memory maker. Professional sports was my final dream for a city I held close to my heart.
We’ve had our share of teams threaten to move here. The Oakland Athletics, Florida Marlins, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento Kings, to name few. We’ve had our share of people with big dreams roll into Vegas with their fancy drawings but like they said in ‘Rudy’, the problem with dreamers is most aren’t doers. With every empty promise unfulfilled I grew more pessimistic and even found humor in watching the city try to fund an arena. I knew in the end the shovel would never hit the dirt and it never has in the actual city of Las Vegas. Look it up if you’re confused. My arena/stadium optimism turned into pessimism and the words “Let me know when the shovel hits the ground” were used more often than I ever thought they would be. For the first time I fell out of love with the city for a moment. The ‘can do’ attitude that I fell in love with was flat lining when it came to sports.
In the Spring of 2014 when MGM’s giant shovel finally hit the dirt it was a moment that I had waited for. The rumors were swirling about the National Hockey League setting their sights on our town, finally! From that day I was in with every fiber of my heart. The marriage of sports on a full time basis and Las Vegas is long overdue. We have dated for far too long. When the NHL’s Board of Governors meeting takes place in December a positive announcement will validate the time spent watching the Las Vegas Thunder, Wranglers, Posse, Sting, Gladiators, Outlaws, 51’s, Rebels, Silver Bandits, and Slam. I watched, in part, because I was dedicated to Las Vegas but I also watched because I knew if I didn’t support what we had how could we ever get anything more. That’s my story and I know there are thousands who have similar stories. So no matter what your perception is of our town we deserve the opportunity to create moments with our kids as much as anyone else.