The NBA and esports: How we got here

Mark Cuban's investment in an esports gambling company called Unikrn two years ago was the first move an NBA-related investor made to get into the expanding esports industry. Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports

This weekend, the NBA will host its 18th annual Tech Summit and a NBA 2K Championship event as a preface to 2017 All-Star Game in New Orleans. The summit will bring owners of NBA teams, as well as influencers in sports and media, together to talk not only basketball, but often other business endeavors. The NBA 2K event is a launching pad for their NBA 2K league set to begin next year.

As the NBA and its affiliate's interest continues to grow in esports, the past two years have been monumental for the relationship between the esports industry and its basketball peers. More than any other sports league, the NBA has made huge investments in esports teams, in particular.

Here's a look back at how the NBA and esports have evolved together.

Cuban starts the fuse

It has been over two years since Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban voiced his interest in esports. His initial interest came in teams and League of Legends, even competing onstage in an exhibition at the Intel Extreme Masters San Jose in 2015.

And while he remains one of the most publicized potential investors, Cuban, who's worth $3.3 billion according to Forbes, has still not thrown his hat into the team ring. Instead, Cuban was a part of an investment round, totaling $7 million, in the second quarter of 2015 for esports sports book Unikrn, one of the few legal esports betting platforms.

The first wave

In League of Legends specifically, there has been two large investment rounds, both toward the tail ends of 2015 and 2016.

The first, which began in October 2015 with the launch of Immortals, a venture capital-funded esports team that purchased the League of Legends spot previously owned by Team 8. As a part of the investment group behind it, Memphis Grizzlies co-owner Stephen Kaplan invested into the team, marking the first NBA owner to make the dive in the ownership.

That investment was followed by the launch of NRG Esports, which also expanded into League of Legends and was owned by Sacramento Kings co-owners Andy Miller and Mark Mastrov, formerly of Apple and 24 Hour Fitness respectively. NRG didn't stop there, and in March 2016 it got investment from NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal.

And finally, to close off the big boom of 2015, there was Rick Fox, the former Los Angeles Laker who served on the court with O'Neal and legend Kobe Bryant. Fox and his group purchased Gravity Gaming's League Championship Series spot for a reported $1 million.

Second act

In similar fashion to the year prior, 2016 had an esports investment boom of its own.

That train began with Boston Celtics forward Jonas Jerebko, who purchased Renegades in September, an esports franchise that had previously held a team in League of Legends and at the time of the purchase, fielded a team in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

In the same month, two other large purchases came to fruition. First, the ownership group behind the Philadelphia 76ers, the New Jersey Devils and the Prudential Center purchased two esports teams, Team Dignitas and Apex Gaming, and merged the two under the Dignitas banner. That deal netted the organization multiple teams across League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch and more.

Second, Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, Golden State Warriors co-owner Peter Guber and NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, as a part of investment group aXiomatic, purchased a controlling interest in Team Liquid, marking one of the largest team purchases in esports history. Team Liquid, considered one of the biggest brands in the industry, marked a huge move for these three NBA affiliates.

In December, Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Wesley Edens joined the list of NBA owners investing in esports. Edens purchased the second League of Legends spot owned by Cloud9 and used by its Cloud9 Challenger team, as well as four of that team's contracts, for a collective $2.5 million. He has since launched the brand FlyQuest, which now competes in the League Championship Series.

Then in January, the Miami Heat became the latest NBA affiliate to enter the esports space. The NBA team invested in Misfits, a multi-game organization co-owned by Syfy channel co-founder Mitchell Rubenstein and his son-in-law Ben Spoont.

Looking ahead

This might just be the beginning. With the NBA's announcement that it will be running an NBA 2K league beginning next year and a city-based Overwatch League courting high-profile owners, expect even more interest and money from people associated with the NBA to pour into esports.