On Wednesday afternoon, NBA commissioner Adam Silver stood at a Vivint Smart Home Arena podium to explain why he came to Salt Lake City to make perhaps the biggest announcement in local sports in years.
"Big-time events in sports are part of the DNA of this city,” Silver said.
As Silver told a televised audience, Salt Lake City will host the 2023 NBA All-Star Game on Sunday, Feb. 19 of that year. The event will also mark the 30-year anniversary of the first All-Star Game in Utah in 1993.
Along with the NBA’s commissioner, Larry H. Miller Group of Companies owner Gail Miller, CEO Steve Starks, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski were on stage to make the announcement.
The game isn’t just a 2.5-hour celebration of basketball one February Sunday, though. All-Star celebrations include other public events like the Slam Dunk Contest, 3-Point Shootout, Rookie-Sophomore Game, the Celebrity Game, and many more. The league holds an NBA Cares charity day on the Thursday before the contest, donating time and money to local charitable efforts. And throughout the week, league meetings will take place in the Salt Palace and in area hotels.
“We used to call it All-Star Weekend. Now, it’s very much All-Star Week,” Silver said.
All told, Herbert estimated that the game will bring $45-50 million in economic activity to the state. The NBA says the game will be broadcast in 215 countries and territories, in 50 different languages.
The team’s bid for the All-Star Game was submitted in early 2018. One point of the bid that sought to convince NBA officials to bring the event to Utah included a tie with the annual Sundance Film Festival, which usually takes place a few weeks before the NBA’s game. The Jazz also pointed out the close accessibility of large-scale event locations, with the Salt Palace Convention Center hosting many of the events, and minor basketball events taking place at the University of Utah’s Huntsman Center.
Former interim Jazz president Don Stirling, now reinstated as the chief revenue officer for the team, led efforts on the bid, a process he’s relatively familiar with: he was local marketing chief for the Salt Lake Olympic Committee for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.
"We’ll have all of the most important guests coming in. Players, former players, owners, corporate partners,” Stirling said about the bid. “One of the things that rank very high in the judging is proximity and convenience. We have that, multiplied.”
Several notable Salt Lake City hotel projects have either recently finished or will be finished by 2023, including a 29-story convention hotel slated to be finished in spring 2022. Hotel rooms are one of the NBA’s primary requirements in order to host the game: at least 6,000 four- or five-star rooms are required in the city. Silver noted that the Jazz had met and exceeded the requirements.
Salt Lake City International Airport’s renovation is also scheduled to be finished by the date of the All-Star Game, allowing more efficient travel into the area.
NBA fan reaction was mixed, with some excited to return to Utah, while others worried that the city wouldn’t have a vibrant enough nightlife for the celebrations that typically occur. Officials sought to address those concerns, though.
“You can expect that we will pull out all the stops for the NBA in 2023, and the All-Star Game will be the best ever,” Biskupski said. She also referenced Salt Lake City’s “over 200” restaurants and “some of the best microbreweries in the country.”
“NBA fans from all over the world are going to enjoy a dynamic downtown atmosphere when they’re here for the All-Star weekend,” Starks said.
But the biggest reason Salt Lake City is hosting the event, sources say, is the team’s $125 million renovation of Vivint Smart Home Arena, which set the Jazz to host its first All-Star Game since 1993. That game was given to Salt Lake City in the wake of the Delta Center being built by Larry Miller, completed in 1991.
The 1993 contest, perhaps primarily remembered for John Stockton and Karl Malone being awarded co-MVP, was also notable in the history of the league: it was Pistons guard Isiah Thomas’ final All-Star Game, as well as Hall-of-Famer Shaquille O’Neal’s first.
“In 1993, the All-Star Game was very exciting for me and for my family, for our fans and for the whole community,” Gail Miller said. “It was an electric and thrilling experience, one that I will always remember."
Nearly four years from now, a new generation of Utahns will have that experience.