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Paul Goldman’s Alexandria Arena Redo: Rename the Wizards the “Lucas Lightnings”; Fire All the Players; Sign Caitlin Clark; Hold a Referendum – and, If Approved, Build the Privately Financed “Taylor Swift Arena”

"If Only Youngkin Had Listened To Travis Kelce"

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by Paul Goldman

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, a former basketball player, thought he could easily win a slam dunk contest against grandmother Louise Lucas, State Senator from Portsmouth. But Lucas, the Senate Finance Chair, stole the ball in midair. Then she did a reverse Michael Jordan dunk, breaking the glass backboard in emulation of former Virginia Squires legend Dr. J.

At a petulant press conference, the governor cried foul, echoing the claim of his choice for president – Donald Trump – that the game had been stolen. Admittedly, Lucas picked the Governor’s pocket while stealing the ball. But she was doing it to stop the governor from wasting $1 billion of public money in a flawed process aiming to build a massive sports complex for the worst team in the NBA, the Washington Wizards.

At last count, the inaptly named Wizards had only won three home games and barely more on the road. I agree that Virginia needs a new state song. But “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits is not the right choice. Lucas, right now the de facto first Black female chief executive of any state in the union, patiently tried for several months to get Youngkin to understand this financial reality: the projected costs and revenues underlying his proposal didn’t add up. Accordingly, in the public interest, Lucas had to kill his Alexandria boondoggle.

However, had Mr. Youngkin contacted Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs, the governor might have gotten his arena. The Super Bowl star would have likely told him to follow his friend Goldman’s 10-point plan to success. Travis is thinking of running for governor of Missouri. He wants to build his team a new stadium. So Youngkin could have adapted the following plan, which I have massaged to apply to Virginia.

1. The Alexandria City Council should have used its charter authority to put an advisory referendum on the ballot, asking the threshold question of its constituents: Do you want the Council to look into the possibility of bringing an NBA team to our city if it is a 100% private capital deal? The people of Alexandria should’ve been consulted first — not last. They’re smart, educated folks. My bet is, they would’ve voted Yes.

2. If the referendum failed, then there’s no step two. Therefore, let’s assume voters in their wisdom decided to ask the city council to look into the possibility of bringing the Washington Wizards across the Potomac River as long as it didn’t require diverting public funds needed for education and other vital services.

3. Having helped previous Virginia governors analyze difficult financial decisions, I believe the due diligence required of the Alexandria City Council would focus on the obvious: The current annual salary for the players on the Wizards is roughly $140,000,000. For this staggering sum, the Wizards’ record is the worst in the NBA as mentioned above. Truth is the only times they’ve won are when the opponents played their worst games of the season.

We’ve all heard about the “Moneyball” analysis (or seen the movie starring Brad Pitt) showing professional baseball teams how to get top talent for the least possible price. Why would it not also work for basketball? Do the math: $140 million for just three wins at home? The team right now could likely do no worse than before every home game, randomly choose 12 people from the stands, tell them to suit up, and be careful not to hurt themselves.

Thus, step three is easy: fire all the players and free up $140 million and private money.

4. It doesn’t take a basketball genius to know what Youngkin should have done next: Take $10 million and sign Caitlin Clark right now – before she signs with the Women’s National Basketball Association. Yes, there are better basketball players in America, including many on the teams she faces. But right now, she is the “it” player, dominating the narrative. The University of Iowa phenom broke all the scoring records in NCAA history. She is “nothing but net” from behind the three-point line. But you say: “Paul, she’s a medium-sized woman. The NBA is exclusively for alpha-oversized males.” To which I respond: “She can out-shoot Steph Curry from behind a three-point line, she isn’t being signed up to play center.” She’s like Pete Maravich. People would have come to see whether she can play in the NBA. Which is why Youngkin’s play would have been to take a few more million to hire two of her Iowa teammates, who know how to get her the ball.

As for the NBA’s all-male status: I think Taylor Swift has shown how that “all-male attitude” is not good business for professional football. Why wouldn’t her fans like basketball with Clark playing at the Taylor Swift Arena? Yes, Youngkin would have needed to take more millions to hire other top talents in women’s basketball. The team would have six women and six men. Equality would finally be coming to the NBA.

5. The movie “Invincible” has a scene depicting the true story of the Philadelphia Eagles holding an open tryout for anyone in the city wanting to play for the team. The plot focuses on the one unknown local resident who shocked the coaches by having the skills to actually play in the NFL. I’d bet there any number of great NOVA-area street basketball players who could qualify for the Wizards. Plus, there are of course others already in the NBA who could be hired.

6. Given the Wizards’ record, it would have made marketing sense to change the name of the team. I favor renaming the team the “Lucas Lightnings”. Lucas stood alone to stop the Governor from forcing a terrible deal on the people of Alexandria. I would think citizens would want to thank her for that.

7. The likelihood is the new arena would have opened sometime in 2026. Youngkin in 2026 will have recently left office and be looking for a job. I believe he would have made an excellent coach for the Lucas Lightnings. As his advisors have said, he wanted the Glenn Dome to top off his legacy. That won’t happen. But being a coach in the NBA ain’t bad for someone trying to keep his name before the voters while deciding whether to run for president in 2028. Indeed, he would have been the coach of the first gender-neutral professional basketball team ever.

8. Taylor Swift would of course have insisted any arena having her name should set an example for the rest of the country as regards how the fans are treated. The price of tickets, concessions and parking for such sporting events has now become unaffordable for the average working family. In that regard, all the courtside seating would have been reserved for working families and their children who will attend for free. The politicians, the celebrities and their significant others need to be banned for that area. The concessions would have been sold at cost and the parking fee nominal.

9. Based on my analysis, it would take about $40 million of the $140 million to put a team on the floor and cover the various costs and related expenses discussed above. The other revenue generating aspects of the arena and the NBA, such as local ad revenue and the Lucas Lightnings piece of the NBA TV rights – when all mingled together would have further covered everything else needed to run the arena, and operate the team while still leaving a big profit for the owners.

10. Lastly, we now get to the financing of the world-class, state-of-the-art Taylor Swift Arena. The $100 million remaining would easily have paid pay the debt service on the bonds issued for the necessary construction aspects including any transportation grid improvements.

Bottom line: With all due respect, Virginia’s governor hasn’t been all too swift here has he? Had he received the right advice, it’s very possible Alexandria might’ve decided to be home to the first female-led NBA basketball team playing at the Taylor Swift Arena built with 100% private money.

The first arena truly dedicated to the fans, offering unique opportunities to children and indeed opening up the possibility that local basketball stars yet unheralded might have had a chance to play in the NBA. Youngkin, instead of losing a battle to Lucas, could be looking forward to achieving his dream of being in the NBA.

The owner of the new Lucas Lightnings would have no longer been relegated to being the joke at the annual NBA owners meeting. Instead, he could’ve been the visionary bringing the game into a new era of equality with the most popular and profitable franchise in sports history.

Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda.

Youngkin could have had a legacy. Now, he’s just a former basketball player who tried to make it in the NBA, threw up a brick and missed the backboard.

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