Remember how LeBron James shifted the balance of power in the NBA from Cleveland to Miami when, as a free agent in 2010, he announced he would be leaving the Cavaliers and “take my talents to South Beach”?
Well, now not just James but the whole league presence has made a big free-agent move within the “Orlando Theme Park League.” If you’re a hoops fan who wants your theme park experience to have an NBA flavor, it’s a game-changer.
To paraphrase: LeBron and friends are taking their talents to Blizzard Beach.
More accurately, to the expanded and refreshed Downtown Disney, which soon will be renamed Disney Springs. “The NBA Experience at Walt Disney World Resort” will be an interactive entertainment venue that also includes an NBA-themed restaurant and retail store. The attractions will be innovative, hands-on and family friendly. They’ll use the latest video technology to take fans inside the NBA.
Disney has yet to publicize an opening date or exact location for the NBA Experience. Disney Springs construction is expected to be complete sometime in 2016, and some reports are suggesting the new attraction will physically replace DisneyQuest, the indoor virtual reality park that will be closing in 2016.
What the new NBA attraction also means is that the popular NBA City restaurant at Universal CityWalk will be closing as well, on August 31, 2015. Park goers to Universal Orlando® can look forward to a new and exciting venue in its place, but with a different theme. NBA City treated guests to videos and interactive experiences, as the NBA Experience will. But the NBA Experience will present a new generation of activities not only using newer technology but on a larger scale. It’s expected to be almost three times the size of NBA City.
The NBA Experience developed from one of the most lucrative business relationships in the sports-media world. Disney owns ESPN/ABC, which has televised NBA games since 2002 and will pay the league over $1 billion per year to keep that right through a nine-year deal that starts in 2016-17.
The NBA is enjoying unprecedented popularity around the globe. Stars like Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans the Los Angeles Clippers duo of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have skyrocketed almost to James’ stratosphere of commercial recognition. And highly skilled rookies infuse the league with new telegenic talent every year even as members of the Old Guard, like Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Paul Pierce, are entering their final layup lines.
Interest in the NBA will rise even more worldwide in summer 2016 as players compete for Team USA at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Meanwhile, back in Orlando in 2016, construction is expected to be complete at Disney Springs. The finished area will be more than twice as large as Downtown Disney—150 venues compared with 70. Disney Springs will feature entertainment, shopping and dining along open-air walks grouped through four separate neighborhoods: The Landing, Town Center, Market Place and West Side.
And they’ll have a basketball team, too.