The state of Kentucky loves basketball, and while basketball fans in the Bluegrass State love their college teams, many basketball fans in the state have long campaigned for a professional basketball team in the state.
While basketball fans like myself continue to campaign for an NBA team in the state, a new report from Bloomberg shows just how close of a reality the NBA in Louisville was over a decade ago... only to see the deal torn apart by Tom Jurich and Rick Pitino.
According to the Bloomberg article, there was a non-binding agreement for the Charlotte Hornets to relocate to Louisville. But Jurich and Pitino didn’t want to share an arena with an NBA team, or share the same city for that matter, according to the report.
Around the time Pitino arrived, a group of Louisville businessmen and politicians were making a concerted effort to land an NBA team. In part, this was a play for economic development. Louisville could see how pro football and hockey helped revitalize Nashville. But it also came just as much from a desire for respect. The city burghers even had a nonbinding agreement with the Charlotte Hornets, which wanted to relocate. The plan centered around building a downtown arena that the Hornets and the Cardinals would share.
Jurich and Pitino had other ideas. 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.
In 2013, the New Orleans Hornets became the New Orleans Pelicans... the same team that currently boasts Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo, and Darius Miller.
Obviously the city went ahead and built the downtown arena, the KFC YUM Center, but the only tenant would be the University of Louisville. That has led to another set of problems, which are further analyzed in the Bloomberg piece.
It’s likely that sometime down the road, the NBA expands or a team decides to move and Louisville is likely a top five option to either be an expansion team or a potential relocation spot.
However, this story just goes to show how much these two were looking out for themselves with disregard on the positive effects that bringing an NBA team into the state could have had.
Check out the rest of the Bloomberg article here which provides great analysis of the Jurich-Pitino reign at UofL.