LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Louisville will play host to an NBA exhibition game next season for the first time since 1996, and the KFC Yum! Center will welcome NBA teams for the first time ever when the Miami Heat and New Orleans Pelicans meet on October 4.
Rupp Arena in Lexington has welcomed NBA preseason games for years, and it kicked up some buzz around the city when the KFC Yum! Center made its announcement yesterday.
Maybe arena leadership is softening toward the NBA, local proponents said. It's a "baby step" I heard on more than one radio show.
I'll go on record again, I think the NBA would be a great thing for Louisville. The studies don't back me up, but I think the city and region would support it.
But an exhibition game, no matter how successful, will have zero bearing on whether this city gets an NBA team at any point in the future.
Billy Joel played the KFC Yum! Center last weekend. I didn't hear anyone speculating that he was going to relocate to Louisville. I'm not expecting his next song to be "NuLu Girl."
The Cincinnati Reds played an exhibition game against the Louisville Bats here a couple of weeks ago. I don't hear anyone saying this could be a "baby step" toward luring a Major League Baseball franchise.
The notion that this opens up NBA discussion or progress in this city is wishful thinking, and I don't want to rain on that parade, because wishful thinking is certainly allowed.
But come on. Let's be realistic. This is a group of fans passionate about the NBA in this city seizing on an exhibition game to wag the local media into creating a buzz around their efforts.
And that's fine, too. But let's understand. An exhibition game isn't what will get the ball rolling on the NBA to Louisville.
Could something come of this game that would help? There is one thing, but it has nothing to do with grass-roots fan activity. If the players themselves left the arena with a great experience, that could be something that sticks in the minds of possible owners down the road. It certainly worked for Kentucky Speedway, which was one of NASCAR's more popular test tracks for years, and the word-of-mouth from drivers it got helped in finally landing a Sprint Cup Race. It helped. What really landed it was Bruton Smith buying the track. And it's a similar situation with the NBA in Louisville. Facebook fan pages are nice, but the only thing that will really get the job done is the right ownership group -- oh, and a few more things.
There are three primary things needed for the NBA to Louisville to happen.
1). A team. There needs to be an NBA team that wants to move here. Until that happens, there's not much point re-igniting a discussion that's been had here for three decades. There's no team in play. Some have speculated that a team in Seattle might create a need for a team in the East, and if that ever comes about it'll be interesting to watch. But the league also announced a series of exhibitions in foreign countries yesterday. Those markets are as attractive to the league as Louisville, Ky., at the moment. Regardless, even if a team becomes available, there are two other things that need to be dealt with.
2). Local leadership needs to want the NBA. I can fairly say that at no point has no important segment of Louisville leadership, and we're talking political leaders, been committed enough to the idea of the NBA in this city to make it work. If that changes, if local government goes all-in, then we'll have gotten somewhere.
3). The arena lease deal with the University of Louisville would need to be amended. No new deal, no NBA team. Pretty simple. The city would need to make it worth U of L's while to consider sharing the arena — and the city's corporate dollars — with an NBA "partner."
There are arguments to be had about all of these things. I choose not to get into them, because they don't matter at the moment. Whether the lease deal is good or bad, or whether the NBA might or might not be interested in coming here, whether the community would or wouldn't embrace it, we've been hashing these things out for years.
I heard a couple of other things yesterday. Somebody, and I can't remember where, floated the idea that NBA teams in other markets who aren't drawing well could play home games here.
Impossible. The Pacers had trouble drawing not too long ago. But do you think the city of Indianapolis, which had to jump in with the state on a $30 million aid package for Bankers Life Arena not too long ago (and that's with an NBA tenant, not a college one) is going to give up the revenue from one of its home games to ship all that money down to Louisville? No way. Neither will Charlotte, or Orlando, or anyone else. These dates mean money for these cities. U of L just played in the NCAA Tournament in Orlando, in an NBA Arena whose bonds were downgraded to junk status even as construction was ongoing (and that's with an NBA tenant, not a college one). Times are tough all over.
The NBA for this city would be a wonderful thing. This is a basketball town. Orlando is not. But like Allen Iverson, who wasn't about to get worked up over practice, I can't muster getting worked up over an exhibition game.
We're talking an exhibition.
Enjoy the game, but don't get your hopes up for anything more.