- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com Sports Business reporter
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The Knicks topped the list at a worth of $1.4 billion, helped along by the renovation of Madison Square Garden, which in part led to an all-time record profit of $96 million last season.
The Los Angeles Lakers finished second with a valuation of $1.35 billion on the heels of turning what Forbes says was a $66 million operating profit last year despite a league-high payroll and a luxury-tax bill of $29.3 million. The Chicago Bulls, at $1 billion, are the NBA's third billion-dollar team. Four years of league-leading attendance and control of player costs have turned the Bulls into a solid cash cow.
The Boston Celtics, at $875 million, are No. 4.
The magazine estimated that the average franchise is now worth $634 million, up a remarkable 25 percent from just a year ago. Profits doubled to an all-time high of $23.7 million per team.
Franchise values have soared in recent years thanks to the anticipation of a business that will continually grow -- including national television rights deals that are currently being negotiated for beyond the 2015-16 season -- as well as unprecedented turnover. More than 30 percent of the league's teams have changed ownership groups since 2010.
New venues have certainly helped teams, especially the Nets' move from New Jersey to Brooklyn. In two years, Forbes estimates the move to the Barclays Center has contributed to a 108 percent rise in franchise value.
Just two years ago, Forbes said the Nets were the 14th-most valuable team with a worth of $357 million. This year, the team owned by Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, is worth $780 million and is the fifth-most valuable franchise in the league. At 47 percent, the Nets' franchise value rose faster than any other team in the league in the past year, Forbes estimates.
As commissioner David Stern prepares to hand the reins to longtime deputy Adam Silver after a 30-year tenure, Forbes notes the immense business the league has become. The magazine said the NBA had revenues of $118 million for the 1982-83 season, the last full year before Stern became commissioner. Last year, the league's revenue was $4.6 billion.
Kobe Bryant was the top-earning NBA player last season, pulling in $64.5 million in salary and endorsements, followed by LeBron James ($61 million), Derrick Rose ($38.6 million) and Kevin Durant ($31.8 million).
Franchise values in the NBA still pale in comparison to the NFL. Forbes estimated that the average NFL team is worth $1.17 billion, with 23 teams having a worth topping $1 billion.
The New York Knicks, for the second straight year, are the NBA's most valuable franchise, according to the annual league list that was published by Forbes on Wednesday.