The counterintuitive, inadvisable, and absolutely inevitable collision between rain and desert.
Once it was announced that Seattle would be awarded the NHL’s 32nd hockey team, the comparisons began between the Kraken and their immediate predecessor expansion team, the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Besides being Western Division rivals, Vegas had a lot of success its first year under the same expansion draft formula that would be available to the Kraken.
Alas, the comparisons weren’t favorable as the Golden Knights got to the Stanley Cup in their first year and Seattle as we ended 2022 DFL. We caught up a little this year, making it to the second round of the playoffs. Vegas’ season continues.
It’s still weird to talk about Las Vegas as a sports town. Even as the city more than doubled in population between 1990 and 2015, gambling kept the pro sports out. It wasn’t until the NHL broke the dam with the Golden Knights in 2017 that pro sports showed up in Sin City. They were followed the same year by the relocated WNBA Aces and the NFL Raiders in 2020. Just this week, the Oakland Athletics reached an agreement to move their baseball franchise to Vegas, building a ballpark on the site of the Tropicana hotel. Sorry Oakland, as any city that’s lost a team can say, we feel your pain.
The move leaves one major sports league off The Strip, but not for long. Already underway is construction of a $3 billion casino complex and NBA-ready arena, helpfully by the same Oak View Group folks who brilliantly redid Climate Pledge Arena. Vegas is in a very similar situation to Seattle, who also has baseball, football, hockey, and an NBA-ready arena. The expectation of men’s pro basketball is so close that many, us included, expect the 31st and 32nd NBA teams to be awarded to the two cities simultaneously.
Seattle and Las Vegas will be joined together entering the elite club of cities with four pro men’s teams. We’ll be stuck in the same hockey and baseball divisions, and the same basketball conference. It’s not a match made in heaven, more in the womb. Seattle and Las Vegas are twins in more ways than we’d like to admit.
(YES, we are aware that Seattle already has six teams and that the “elite” club does not include soccer or women’s sports. In retort, unlike the men, there’s not a Wikipedia page devoted to multi-women’s sports team cities. But now, there’s at least a map.)
Peeling off the superficial layers first: Vegas is dry and south, Seattle is wet and north. Vegas has alcoholic slushies, Seattle has the best beer. Vegas gambles everywhere, Seattle gambles by cycling on 2nd Avenue. Good job noticing the cities have differences.
Both cities are young, striving, and trying to show off how we can play with the older kids. We’re ascenders in that third tier of American towns, rising through that gap between half-million and one million people. New York, LA, and Chicago are way out front, and the second tier of Dallas, Phoenix, and Houston, are poseurs who lucked into air conditioning and annexation at the same time. But in this third tier with old guards like San Francisco or Boston, we look around and say “I could do that.” Plus there’s a complete smugness towards those descenders like Pittsburgh or Detroit.
Seattle and Las Vegas are war cities, with manufacturing and tech industries steeped in the development and distribution of weapons. And not just tanks and planes, nuclear war. For years, Nevada was the test site of the country’s nuclear stockpile and Nellis Air Force Base continues with the non-testing mission. This is an important plot point in the book and miniseries, The Stand. (Stick with the first miniseries, it had Molly Ringwald.)
Here in the Upper Left, just over the Cascades is the Hanford site where all that plutonium was manufactured. Washington State got to keep it around also, and those bombs are prowling the waters of Puget Sound on submarines out of Naval Base Kitsap. Not to be outdone with military secrets, Vegas retorts with the granddaddy of them all: Area 51. The closest Seattle comes to those mysteries is Jenny Durkan’s text app.
The two cities also run on tourism, just to slightly different scales. About half of Las Vegas’ economy comes from the visitors to the city’s casinos and resorts, to the tune of $80 billion in 2022. Seattle hits about 1/12th of that, much on conventions and visitors laying over to get on an Alaska cruise. If Seattle achieved Vegas-level tourism, Elliott Bay would would be parked with cruise ships like 1st Avenue after a game finishes and their cloud of choking exhaust over Belltown would look like a summer-long, carcinogenic version of April 20th.
I’ve gotten dinged in the past during discussions of the U District crane farm for suggesting that Seattle is the only real US city that has a state flagship university campus within the city proper. Others pointed to Minneapolis (legitimate) and Austin (not a real city) as counter examples. No one ever brought up the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, which is closer to the Bellagio than the University of Washington is to Pike Place Market.
But there’s a caveat. UNLV, plus all of The Strip south of the Wynn Resort including the famous Las Vegas sign, are not in the City of Las Vegas. They are in the township of Paradise, a county-created tax haven for the mobsters that built the casinos. What a weird situation to use political boundaries to enclave oneself from the city in an effort to segregate from taxes and unseemly people. What do you think, Mercer Island? Weird, right?
We must now address the Californians in the room. Las Vegas owes a lot of its success to the proximity to Los Angeles. The Hollywood elite had a short trip for a weekend escape to relax with friends or a long term, well-paying residency at a resort. Seattle owes a lot to California too, having stripped our lumber to rebuild the Bay Area and getting tech firm outposts in return. And a significant portion of Seattleites’ personality is dependent on being passive aggressive towards new arrivals from down the coast, fully budding into harsh side-eye when that blue-numbered, red-script license plate takes one of our street parking spaces.
Which is likely the biggest place that the two cities diverge. Las Vegas is essentially honest, being very forward how it was founded by gangsters, peddles smut, and drains the countryside of water to sate its thirst for spectacle. It knows it doesn’t have a downtown, so they put a LED dome over Fremont Street and run zip lines down it.
It’s difficult to say the same about Seattle. The city literally buried the smut when it raised the streets in Pioneer Square and left the brothels on the original ground floor. We drain the region’s water too, straight into storm drains along with tire grit that poisons the salmon we love so much. And it would be hard to label the founders of Seattle as gangsters in any way. They were worse. They were pious. Except for Doc Maynard, who probably would have been fun in Vegas.
Which raises the question among all twins. Which is the evil one?
As Seattle and Las Vegas take the next step into the world of late-stage capitalist athletic spectacle as a deeply intertwined pair, it’s useful to remember that we’re both going to be the bad guy some times. It’s actually best if we’re not always the sympathetic one. That’s going to be a pain for Seattle, who has a deep need to be liked. But look how much better the Seahawks did with the abrasive Legion of Boom than we did with the ever appeasing, backstabbing, mincing Russ and Pete show.
It’s good to have a foil, a villian. It’s even better when your opponent sees you the same way, as their recognized archenemy. What’s shaping up between Seattle and Las Vegas is ready to be something bigger, something brutal and familial across so many venues. The best rivals get to say that if it’s not going to be us, we want it to be you. Because we hate you so much that we’ll be the best when we take you down next time. That might go for this Stanley Cup playoffs too, just give us another moment to recover from Monday.
Seattle and Las Vegas are set for a glorious rivalry spreading to all sports, any time of the year, on every field of play. Hopefully well stocked with both craft beers and boozy slushies.
Ray Dubicki is a stay-at-home dad and parent-on-call for taking care of general school and neighborhood tasks around Ballard. This lets him see how urbanism works (or doesn’t) during the hours most people are locked in their office. He is an attorney and urbanist by training, with soup-to-nuts planning experience from code enforcement to university development to writing zoning ordinances. He enjoys using PowerPoint, but only because it’s no longer a weekly obligation.