Mark Story: NBA team would be good for commonwealth

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 21, 2010 

I never cease to be fascinated by the anger ginned up anytime there is even remotely serious talk about trying to bring an NBA franchise to Kentucky.

So it was last week that I heard a media friend of mine in full tirade mode against the latest attempt to lure big-time pro hoops to the commonwealth.

Why would anyone want to watch that?, he groused.

(To effectively read the following paragraphs, you'll need to activate your Sarcasm Receptor).

Very good question.

Why on earth would a state that likes to claim it is second to none in basketball passion want a team to call its own at the highest level of the sport?

Why would anyone want a chance to watch Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant, to boo LeBron James and the Heat, to see the Lakers and the Celtics and do it all here?

In an era when so many of the best college players are so fleetingly on campuses, why would we want more opportunities to watch John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, Francisco Garcia and Terrence Williams, Courtney Lee and Jeremy Evans play hoops in our state?

Why would we want our state's largest city to have a chance, via sports, to brand itself on the same level of Nashville, Indianapolis and Cincinnati?

Heck, why would we want to have one basketball team the whole state could get behind without regard to the increasingly acrimonious conflict between the athletics departments of the commonwealth's two most prominent public universities?

What kind of dolt would want any of that?

(You can now deactivate the Sarcasm Receptor).

Disclaimer: I grew up in Kentucky when we had pro hoops. I remember what a blast it was when Louie Dampier, Dan Issel and Artis Gilmore of the Kentucky Colonels were battling Julius Erving, George McGinnis and George Gervin back in the old ABA days.

So I am reflexively pro-pro hoops in Kentucky.

Whether the latest effort to bring the NBA to Louisville is viable is unclear. Past experience argues for skepticism.

In prior bids to lure pro basketball back to the Derby City, the people fighting against it have always seemed to hold more power than those who wanted it.

This time, J. Bruce Miller — the Louisville attorney who, for good or bad, always ends up the point man in the drive to return major-league pro hoops here — says he has an unnamed foreign billionaire who may be both willing to buy an NBA team and to (help) foot the bill on a retro-fit of Freedom Hall for pro hoops.

We'll see.

What is different this time than in the failed attempts earlier this century to woo the Rockets, Hornets and Grizzlies to Kentucky is that the University of Louisville now essentially has its own arena, the KFC Yum Center.

Rather than the taxpayers having to build a new facility for the NBA, if an owner really were willing to refurbish and play in Freedom Hall, they would be doing the tax-paying citizens of the commonwealth a huge favor.

Even without pro hoops, it is a legitimate issue whether the state of Kentucky has the economic base to support all the luxury suites and premium seating it is being asked to buy.

In its expansion of Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, U of L went from 26 luxury suites to 59. The KFC Yum Center has 71 luxury boxes, where Freedom Hall had 26.

Presumably, the University of Kentucky will be adding suites in any future football stadium expansion (Commonwealth Stadium now has 40) or basketball arena construction (Rupp Arena has none).

Churchill Downs and Keeneland have luxury suites; so does Kentucky Speedway.

Do the commonwealth's corporate entities and rich people have the means and desire to also support an NBA team with its own premium seating to sell?

The idea that if we got pro basketball it would somehow hurt the college basketball teams in our state is silly.

The NBA's Grizzlies going to Memphis hasn't exactly emasculated the Memphis Tigers.

Having the Pacers (and Colts) in Indianapolis didn't keep Butler from reaching the 2010 basketball national championship game.

In 1975, the Kentucky Colonels won their only ABA title. The building process that led up to that was so bad for college basketball in the commonwealth, that earlier the same year, the University of Kentucky went to the Final Four. So did the University of Louisville.

The economic viability of the NBA in Kentucky may be open to debate, though it deserves dispassionate study.

From an entertainment and basketball standpoint, there's no argument at all: Kentucky (the state) would be far better off with an NBA team of its very own.

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