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Louisville is Prepared for NBA Team

By Jordan Baer -- September 03, 2012 7:37 PM EDT


Will the NBA's Sacramento Kings become the Anaheim Royals or the Seattle SuperSonics? Will they make a coast-to-coast move to Virginia Beach to become the next incarnation of the Virginia Squires? Or, will they simply stay in Sacramento?

For those living in the Kentuckiana region, the answer to the Kings' future is not listed above. It's been more than 36 years since the city of Louisville, Kentucky hosted the highest level of professional basketball. In 1976, the Kentucky Colonels of the American Basketball Association decided to cease operations due to the ABA-NBA merger. Despite the Colonels being better off financially, the NBA decided to take the Pacers because Indianapolis was seen as a more lucrative market than Louisville. And with that decision, Colonels owner John Y. Brown Jr. agreed to fold the organization in exchange for $3 million which he used to purchase the NBA's Buffalo Braves (now the Los Angeles Clippers).

Since 1976, the city of Louisville has gone through many transformations while growing by leaps and bounds. But through it all, the main debate in Louisville has always lingered- Should Louisville pursue the NBA and could Louisville support the NBA?

In an interesting twist of fate, the return of professional basketball to the city of Louisville has been plagued more by the city itself rather than anything else. In the early 2000s, Louisville had not one, not two, but three NBA franchises interested in relocating to the river city. But in the end, the Houston Rockets stayed in Houston, the Vancouver Grizzlies moved to Memphis, and the Charlotte Hornets moved to New Orleans.

Despite a study being released that confirmed that Louisville had an adequate amount of corporate and residential support for the NBA, proponents of bringing the NBA to Louisville were defeated by the most powerful organization in the city- The University of Louisville. During discussions about building a new downtown arena for a NBA team, Rick Pitino, head coach of the Louisville Cardinals, came out against bringing the NBA to town. Then, as the city was trying to incorporate Muhammad Ali's museum into the arena design in an effort to attract the NBA Players Association, Ali joined U of L's side as well.

With the most influential members of the University of Louisville speaking out against the NBA and a new arena, the movement died a quick death when the final candidate for relocation, the Vancouver Grizzlies, choose to relocate to Memphis where (then) University of Memphis Basketball head coach John Calipari welcomed the NBA with open arms. After the city of Louisville handled the situation so badly it turned into a community fiasco, J. Bruce Miller, the attorney who was put in charge of bringing a team to town, wrote the book, Air Ball which chronicles the multiple mistakes the city made in pursuing the NBA.

Now, as we flash forward to 2012, things are much different. The city, realizing that Freedom Hall didn't have enough dates open to book all of the city's events, decided to build a new arena. And to build this arena, they needed a primary tenant immediately. At the time, U of L was threatening to build a new arena on campus or next to Freedom Hall out by the Kentucky State Fair Grounds. In order to make the deal acceptable for both sides, the city offered U of L primary status at the new downtown arena which was accepted by the university. Today, the KFC YUM! Center overlooks the Ohio River as it greets guests coming into the city off of I-64.

Even though the KFC YUM! Center is now two years old, the movement to bring the NBA to town has still been dead due to the inability of a NBA team to accept being a secondary tenant behind U of L. But just like the hot summer temperatures giving way to the autumn winds of fall, the winds of change are blowing once more in the city of Louisville. It is now more than obvious that giving U of L the designation as primary tenant of the KFC YUM! Center isn't working anymore. There hasn't been an adequate amount of events booked at the facility, U of L isn't sharing enough revenue with the facility for it to pay off its construction bonds, and the TIF district around the arena isn't meeting its projections that were suppose to help pay off the construction bonds.

Although there are many people who would support both U of L and the NBA in Louisville, it has now become crystal clear that U of L got a deal that was too sweet when they moved into the KFC YUM! Center. If things do not change, the arena will default on its bond payments, a move that has been deemed unavoidable by some city leaders.

Thankfully, the city is now becoming aware of the need to bring the NBA to town to fill over 43 of the KFC YUM! Center's open dates. A few weeks ago, Louisville mayor Greg Fischer said the city will pursue a NBA team with "full force." Just this past week, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, who has all but admitted that the Kings will leave Power Balance Arena and be in a new home this time next year, told the city of Louisville to "be prepared" for the NBA to come calling.

So now, the city of Louisville has been given yet another chance to make right what has been wronged. As you walk through the tunnels of Freedom Hall, a venue that still stands today, you can hear the echoes of Kentucky Colonels from the past. As bad as some of the city's college basketball fans want the spirit of the Colonels to vanish, the truth is, the Colonels are stronger than ever in Louisville, Kentucky.

The city of Louisville now has two facilities with enough open dates to bring the Colonels back. The city also has an adequate amount of corporations to support the next rendition of the Colonels. If the Kings truly feel that they have exhausted all resources in Sacramento, then they need to do the right thing and bring back the Kentucky Colonels!


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