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NBA to Louisville Looking Unlikely


While it is often identified as a contender for an NBA franchise, Louisville seems unlikely to obtain a team, according to a recent report. 

Louisville is frequently mentioned as a possible fit for the NBA, particularly if the league tries to expand. After all, the city has a solid minor and collegiate sports league scene, with a passionate fan base for basketball. It also has a relatively new downtown arena in the KFC Yum! Center, and the arrival of an NBA club would not only provide Louisville with its first major basketball franchise since the ABA’s Louisville Colonels, but give Kentucky its only major league team.

Yet, those arguments are countered by some major question marks. As was noted on Arena Digest back in 2014, it is hard to foresee a scenario in which the NBA and the University of Louisville share the KFC Yum! Center. There is only so much revenue to spread around, and the arrival of an NBA team to the KFC Yum! Center is unlikely to change that.

The Courier-Journal recently took an in-depth look at some of the hurdles Louisville faces in joining the NBA. Aside from potential conflicts with the team sharing the arena with the University of Louisville, it was also noted that Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon may object to having another franchise within his team’s designated marketing area. The city has another problem, which is limited potential for majority investment in the ownership of the franchise. More from The Courier-Journal:

There are few people anywhere who can afford a stake in an NBA team, and if we’re looking locally or regionally for likely owners, that pool is small.

Bruce Lunsford, an entrepreneur, CPA, lawyer and founder of the nursing home company Vencor, said that if he were approached now, and he hasn’t been, he’d not be interested in taking part in a bid to bring a team to Louisville.

“Twenty years ago, I would have jumped on it.”

Lunsford said that he’d heard rumblings recently about local interest in an NBA team, but he’s heard nothing credible about serious investors. Only a handful of people could handle the price tag. More than that, it would be difficult to make a case for Louisville having the per capita income and size to sustain a franchise.

“This is not a game for anybody with short pants,” Lunsford said. “It would take the kind of” cash that only a few in town have – the likes of Papa John Schnatter or W. Kent Taylor, who founded Texas Roadhouse.

The Courier-Journal also quoted NBA spokesperson Mike Bass as saying that there are no ongoing expansion or relocation talks, which contains some significance as it relates to Louisville:

Of course, a skeptical reader will point out that the NBA would say that until the league was ready to roll out any expansion or relocation plans with its own timing and spin, so that statement goes only so far as your trust in an official NBA source. Fair enough.

But it’s worth considering that Bass’ statement stands as the only on-the-record league source named by any media outlet covering this issue as it pertains to Louisville. The NBA site that seems to have boosted the interest in this topic last week,, cited unnamed sources saying Louisville was already a finalist for an expansion team. And Louisville Metro Councilman Dan Johnson, who introduced a referendum supporting interest in an NBA team, was rebuffed by other council members and by the local group Bring the NBA to Louisville because Johnson had refused to name the sources he says are interested in bringing a team to Louisville.

Johnson later admitted the sports website was his source and submitted a revised resolution that took out claims saying the NBA was planning expansion.

Perhaps there will come a point where Louisville will make a serious run at the NBA. For now, however, the city faces more questions than answers when it comes to ownership and potential arena revenue, while the league’s public stance on expansion and relocation makes the opportunity to obtain a franchise seem far from certain.

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