Is Louisville the Next NBA Expansion City?
G'day Sports Talk Social tribe, I hope y'all having a great day! Today I'm going to start off my series about which cities deserve the next NBA expansion franchise in what will likely be a five part series. I'll start off with Louisville in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Louisville is already famous for Kentucky Fried Chicken and was home to boxer Muhammad Ali but the city wants to become famous for having its very own NBA franchise. The Seattle Supersonics are heavily favoured to be the next team to join the NBA as an expansion team who would slot straight into the Western Conference. That means a team would be needed to balance the Eastern Conference and an NBA expansion franchise in Louisville may be just the right fit.
Kentucky Colonels History
Louisville was home to the Kentucky Colonels, one of the most successful ABA franchises with a rich history. The Colonels can lay claim to three basketball Hall of Famers; Dan Issel, Artis Gilmore and Louie Dampier. The Colonels also had the most wins and highest win percentage in ABA history with many basketball fans believing they could beat the perceivably stronger NBA teams. Their best moment for the Colonels came in front of over 16,000 Kentucky fans at Freedom Hall where the Colonel's clinched the 1975 ABA Championship.
But despite having one of the best fan bases in the ABA, the Colonels along with the Spirits of St. Louis would fold in 1976 and miss out the merger into the NBA. The Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New York Nets and San Antonio Spurs would all be a part of the ABA-NBA merger and create the NBA as we know it today.
The NBA didn't want a team in Kentucky and paid out businessman and Colonels owner John Y. Brown a total of $3.3m for the franchise. St. Louis owners Ozzie and Dan Silna however kept on negotiating with the NBA and eventually came to terms on an agreement worth $3m plus a one-seventh share of the TV revenue from all four former ABA franchises. In what was one of the best deals in sports history, the Silna brothers collected a total of $300m up until 2014, finally accepting a conditional buyout of $500m to bring their total earnings from the Spirits of St. Louis sale to over $800m.
Former Colonels owner John Y. Brown didn't do too bad for himself either. The mastermind turned the Kentucky Friend Chicken franchise into what it is today and he used the $3m payout from the NBA to purchase the Buffalo Braves in 1976. He then traded the Braves for the Boston Celtics a couple years later.
When Will Louisville Join the NBA?
Louisville was heavily favoured to gain an NBA franchise in 2001 as a finalist city for relocation of the Vancouver Grizzlies. The city had offered to build a $200m arena and Tricon Global Restaurants; now Yum! Brands and operator of KFC, had offered Vancouver owner Michael Heisley $5m per year for 20 years if the franchise relocated to Louisville. The very similar Memphis bid eventually won out because of what was seen as poor local executive leadership in Louisville.
In the lead up to an expansion NBA franchise set to join the league in 2004, Louisville was again in the running. The Charlotte Bobcats would end up joining the NBA as the leagues 30th franchise, two years after the New Orleans Hornets had relocated to New Orleans. The Charlotte bid won out mostly because the league wanted to avoid a lawsuit similar to that of the Cleveland Browns, where the city of Cleveland and Browns season ticket holders filed a lawsuit against Browns owner Art Modell.
Louisville has missed out on a franchise the last couple times the NBA has expanded but the city remains a strong contender for an NBA expansion franchise. The city is a hotbed for college basketball and with no other major league teams in the city, local radio, television broadcasting rights and attendances would be maximised.
The state of the art 22,000+ capacity KFC Yum! Center, home to the Louisville Cardinals, is an NBA ready arena and could host an NBA game tomorrow if it had too. And although Louisville is a small market area, it's bigger than both New Orleans and Memphis who have existing NBA teams.
Remember Kentucky Colonels Hall of Famer Dan Issel? He's the president of the Louisville Basketball Investment & Support Group and he believes that Louisville is ready to host the next NBA team.
“There is no doubt in my mind that we would be able to support an NBA team in this area”, Issel said in early 2020.
It would be expected that a franchise in Louisville would be called the Kentucky Colonels because of the rich history and success in the ABA. But let's not discount the name the Kentucky Buckets; a double entendre to ‘scoring buckets’ as well as a wordplay on the world renowned Kentucky Fried Chicken. And 2K video game players will know the Louisville Liberty as an NBA expansion franchise option for those that play franchise mode. Whatever the name, Louisvillians won't give a damn so long as they have the next NBA expansion franchise to call home.
All the way from the Land Down Under, I created Wolfgang Sport as I enjoy writing and watching British and American sports. Started in 2017, I started the blog as a way to connect my passion for sports in the US & UK. Sign up to the newsletter today_ and I'll prove Aussies know more about your own sports than you think.