A few members at Wednesday’s Hardin County Chamber of Commerce luncheon were wearing University of Kentucky blue as basketball Hall of Famer Dan Issel made an appearance to talk about his efforts in bringing professional basketball to the area.
Issel, who averaged more than 25 points per game during his career at UK and played under legendary coach Adolph Rupp, is president of the Louisville Basketball Investment and Support Group, an organization whose goal is bring a National Basketball Association franchise to Louisville.
There’s already buzz around Louisville’s name should the NBA decide to expand, Issel said. He referenced a recent Sports Illustrated article, where writer Michael McCann predicted the NBA will add Louisville and Seattle franchises at some point during the 2020s.
“It is great our name is out there. A lot of people in the NBA know our effort,” Issel said.
Should the NBA decide to expand, Issel said they’ll take applications and then presentations will be made to NBA owners who decide which cities to select.
“What we have been charged with is making sure when that day comes that Louisville and the Commonwealth of Kentucky are ready with an application that will make a compelling argument to have a NBA team in Louisville and in the state of Kentucky,” Issel said.
“ ... We have a tremendous group of people that have joined us from across the state to help us support and grow this effort and it is very, very important in our application that the league knows we have support of the people. And it can’t be just Louisville, it has to be across the entire state.”
With that, Issel said there are several myths about professional basketball that need to be addressed, including questions about a tax obligation for residents of Kentucky to have a team.
“The answer to that is simple, there will be none,” he said.
Issel said there also are questions as to whether residents could afford it. He admitted NBA tickets are expensive should a person want court-side seats or a box seat, but the economic model built for a potential new franchise projects an average ticket price of $46.
Issel said he thought that would be affordable.
“There is no doubt in my mind we would be able to support a NBA team,” he said.
There also is a question of whether a NBA franchise would detract from college sports in the state. Issel said when the Grizzlies moved to Memphis, Tennessee, coach John Calipari, who at the time coached at the University of Memphis, embraced it.
Issel said players think they are going to be a star. Having an NBA franchise in the state would enhance the ability of recruiting and drawing players to colleges in the area, he said.
Issel is widely regarded as one of the most legendary players in the history of the UK basketball program with a school-record 2,138 points scored. His professional career included time with the American Basketball Association Kentucky Colonels (1970-75) and the Denver Nuggets (1975-85). In 1976, four ABA teams — the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New York Nets and San Antonio Spurs — merged with the NBA when the ABA dissolved.
In 1975, the Kentucky Colonels won the ABA championship. Issel said that was the favorite moment of his career and one of the reasons he is involved in the effort to bring a NBA franchise to Louisville.
“Remembering that championship and remembering how special it was and what a great feeling everybody in Kentucky had about having a championship team is terrific and that is something that I would like to see duplicated,” he said.