The story, written by Joe Nocera, Eben Novy-Williams and Michael McDonald, pointed out that in 2001 a group of Louisvillians trying to lure an NBA team to their city had a non-binding agreement with the owners of the Charlotte Hornets to move the team to Kentucky — only to see their efforts sunk by opposition from then-U of L athletic director Tom Jurich and the then-new-Cardinals basketball coach Rick Pitino.
“Jurich and Pitino had other ideas,” the article said of the Hornets’ possible move. “They had no intention of sharing an arena with an NBA team — they didn’t even want to share the city with an NBA team. Louisville was theirs. David Stern, who was then commissioner of the NBA, recalls thinking, ‘If Rick Pitino doesn’t want us there, why are we going there?’ The Hornets went to New Orleans instead.”
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Now that Jurich and Pitino have been deposed after presiding over one U of L men’s basketball scandal too many, I wonder if there is a window of viability for the city of Louisville to again make a serious bid for an NBA franchise.
Apparently, U of L’s prior role in foiling the NBA coming to Kentucky was new information for a lot of people on Twitter.
There was much lamenting Wednesday that the former Hornets — now the New Orleans Pelicans — could presently be playing in our state with a roster that includes ex-University of Kentucky luminaries Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo and Darius Miller.
However, the fact Jurich, Pitino and others with strong ties to U of L athletics fought viable efforts to bring NBA basketball to Kentucky was not technically “news.”
The point man for Louisville’s attempts to lure an NBA franchise, the controversial attorney J. Bruce Miller, wrote a book in 2004 — “Air Ball: The Complete and Unvarnished Account of Louisville’s 30-Year Odyssey to Acquire an NBA Franchise” — that lays out in great detail the opposition of Jurich and Pitino to bringing pro hoops to The Ville.
Heck, if you asked, Jurich would tell you he didn’t want the NBA in Louisville. In 2005, I asked Jurich if U of L was steadfastly opposed to an NBA team.
Jurich proceeded to cordially explain why an NBA team in Kentucky was, from his view, unnecessary.
In terms of corporate support, entertainment value and big-time basketball atmospheres, Kentucky “already has two pro franchises,” Jurich said, referencing U of L and UK men’s basketball.
“And I mean that in the good way,” Jurich added, meaning he was not referring to NCAA-forbidden payments to players.
Much has changed since the city of Louisville, as the 20th century turned to the 21st, tried to lure the Rockets from Houston, the Grizzlies from Vancouver and the Hornets from Charlotte.
Back then, some opponents of bringing NBA basketball to Kentucky said they feared building a new downtown arena in Louisville for a pro team would turn into a boondoggle for taxpayers.
Well, without a pro team, Louisville built an NBA-worthy arena anyway. The problems the city has faced in meeting the debt requirements on the KFC Yum Center have been exhaustively documented.
So, rather than creating a problem for taxpayers, attracting an NBA franchise now would presumably be a boon by creating more dates of use at and additional economic activity around the KFC Yum Center.
Another thing that is different now seems to be statewide interest in pro basketball. With UK in its one-and-done era having sent so many players to the NBA, enthusiasm for pro hoops seems keener in our state.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said this year he believed league expansion was “inevitable,” though there is nothing that suggests it is imminent.
Currently, Seattle and Mexico City seem to be the “buzz cities” if the NBA does expand — but that can change.
In its 21st century efforts to get an NBA franchise, the city of Louisville has always been a house divided.
With Jurich and Pitino out at U of L, might there at last be a window of opportunity to make a unified effort to finally bring the highest level of basketball to our state?