Mark Story: The guys using social media trying to (help) bring the NBA to Louisville

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 3, 2012 

Ballard High School graduate Albrecht Stahmer is an international business consultant working in Singapore.

Manual alumnus Stephen Hill is an Internet marketer living in Lexington.

The two have never met face-to-face.

Yet along with Louisvillians Phil Baker and Nick Evans, Stahmer and Hill are volunteering their time and working together using social media to drum up enthusiasm for the ever-elusive dream of bringing an NBA team to Louisville.

The Twitter account @nba2lou had 860 followers as of Saturday evening. An online petition (you can find the link at the Web site http://nba2lou.straitpinkie.com/) supporting bringing pro hoops to Kentucky had 1,424 signatures as of 6 p.m. Saturday.

The nba2lou Facebook page had 3,775 likes (although a precursor to that page Bring the Sacramento Kings to Louisville, has 7,222 likes).

"Our present group has really just been working on this for a few months," says Hill, a University of Kentucky graduate whose "actual job" is in the horse racing industry. "We've seen steady growth in interest in what we're doing."

The social media sites devoted to returning pro hoops to Kentucky comes at a time when Louisville government leaders have spoken more positively about the idea than at any time in my memory.

Of course, they now have financial impetus to do so.

The posh, 2-year-old KFC Yum Center has not lived up to financial projections so far and, along with the special taxing district around the arena, is struggling to produce the revenue necessary to pay the interest on the debt accumulated to build the facility,

Speaking to the Metro Chamber of Commerce earlier this year, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said "When we take a look at the Yum Center, what do we need? We need more revenue ... How do you get more revenue? We need more nights (in use)."

Interestingly, neither Stahmer nor Hill is old enough to remember when Kentucky did have pro basketball.

Hill, 26, was born 10 years after the Kentucky Colonels of the old American Basketball Association went defunct in 1976. Stahmer, 41, was 6 when his family moved to Louisville in 1977.

Why, then, the fascination?

Stahmer says it was 2005 when he got really interested in the idea of NBA hoops in the commonwealth. That came after he read a searing book written by the public face of several failed attempts to lure pro hoops back to Kentucky, J. Bruce Miller.

In Air Ball, Miller, a Jefferson County attorney, called out the people — some among the most powerful in Louisville — he blamed for foiling bids to induce the Hornets and the Grizzlies to The Ville.

"After I read that book, I was really disappointed that the city (of Louisville) couldn't close the deal when it was so close to getting a team," Stahmer said. "I got on the Internet, searched for (Miller) and, after I found him, I contacted him and just asked if there was anything I could do to help."

When a group of five Louisville 20-somethings went up with the Facebook page Bring the Sacramento Kings to Louisville, Stahmer says he knew from his prior contact with Miller that NBA Commissioner David Stern "does not like it when somebody targets a specific team. That's why we've tried to steer this in a more general direction," he says of the nba2lou project.

Hill was looking for an outlet to use his Internet networking skills for a cause. When he found the nba2lou Facebook page, something clicked.

"The reason I got involved, I saw something happening in this state that a lot of people my age thought would not be possible," he said.

(As anyone who has read my column across the years knows, I grew up in the 1970s in the Louisville media market, Hardin County, and loved the Kentucky Colonels. I am reflexively pro-pro basketball in Kentucky. If marketed properly, I believe a pro hoops team in the commonwealth would do well.

However, each time in the 2000s when an NBA team seemed close to coming to Louisville, powerful interests aligned with University of Louisville sports rise up and stop it.

If Fisher and other current leaders in the Derby City are serious about pro basketball, they need to go to U of L Athletics Director Tom Jurich and find out if anything can be done to get U of L on board with the idea of sharing the Yum Center. Failing that, if they are serious about the NBA, city officials need to find out what it will cost to buy the university out of its current sweetheart lease in the Yum Center.

In my view, there will never be NBA basketball in Louisville unless someone finds a way to appease U of L.)

When the NBA's Stern recently announced his eventual retirement, he mentioned Louisville by name among many other cities as a place interested in adding a pro hoops team.

Having worked in Miami, Tokyo and now Singapore, Stahmer says he sees the international presence the NBA has and believes that would be a boon for the business image of the city of Louisville.

Of course, it's not likely a billionaire looking to buy an NBA team and move it to Louisville is going to be found via the social media.

"You have to be realistic about what we are doing," Stahmer says. "We're not the ones responsible for bringing an NBA team to Louisville. But if we can keep the subject of pro basketball front-and-center, I think we are making a contribution."

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230Email: mstory@herald-leader.com.Twitter: @markcstoryBlog: markstory.bloginky.com

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