On Friday, Sept. 14, local businessman Junior Bridgeman and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer hosted a meeting at the Galt House with some select local leaders to discuss the potential pursuit of an NBA franchise.
Bridgeman, a 13-year NBA veteran, and the Mayor addressed the group, as did J. Bruce Miller and former UofL star, Darrell Griffith. It was a chance to get power brokers in one room to gauge any interest in being a part of what could be an exciting process for Louisville. After the closed-door meeting, I talked with Bridgeman and Mayor Fischer.
Kent Taylor: What was the goal in calling the meeting?
Junior Bridgeman: We invited a lot of people here and were just happy that they came. You know that people have interest in the city of Louisville and trying to see things that can move the city forward and make it more progressive, and that’s really what the meeting was all about.
Kent Taylor: What did you get out of the meeting, as the Mayor of this city?
Greg Fischer: People want to see our city grow. Young people in particular want a lot of opportunities and nationally and internationally, Louisville has a lot of buzz right now, we have a lot of momentum. I feel part of my job is to put our city in a position to win, whatever it is that we want to compete in.
K.T.: How much was the potential pursuit of an NBA team discussed?
G.F.: The NBA was the topic of the morning, at this point it’s a “what if this, what if that.” Obviously the city has had interest in the NBA for a long period of time. We have assets here to work with and we have some issues that we need to work through as well, in terms of the stakeholders in the community. We talked a little bit about that, but certainly brought interest in the room to continue to (be) everything we can be as a city, and if that includes pursuing an NBA team, with all of the appropriate stakeholders having wins in the community, than that is something that we should do.
K.T.: How important was it to have so many of the decision makers in this community in one room?
G.F.: It’s important. Any kind of big decisions that we make in the community, there needs to be broad input, different points of view. Something like this is a journey, it takes years, but you have to be ready. We have to get community input on whether or not this is something that the community wants to do. We have to understand the financials behind it. We have to understand the facility issues behind it, so this isn’t something where you just call a meeting, snap a finger and it’s done. It’s a lot more complicated than that, but it was important that we had this discussion with everybody in the room today.
K.T.: What was the most important thing that you took from the meeting?
G.F.: Keep pursuing opportunities for the city, whatever they might be, whether it’s an NBA team, whether it’s corporate relocation. We’re a city that is a “can-do” city, an entrepreneurial city, and even though a challenge might be difficult, winning cities don’t back away from those situations. They jump in and if it makes sense for us, they try to figure out how we can make a win out of it for everybody.
K.T.: As a former NBA player and president of the NBA Players Association, do you think the NBA makes sense in Louisville?
J.B.: Your feelings are that it does, but it’s not just feelings. All those things have to be proven, and I think that is the right thing to do for the city, not just going by what I feel, but going by what reports say, what numbers say, and I think as the Mayor said, what all the stakeholders say. It’s got to be something that everybody is in favor of, something that everybody benefits from, and I think that when cities do that, I think you move along and I think that if you proceed that way, there is no task, nothing that you can’t accomplish. I think we’ve proven that with the arena itself.
K.T.: How encouraged were you by the feedback you received?
J.B.: Very encouraged, but it wasn’t necessarily about one topic. I think the thing that is the highlight is that everyone that came today has a deep feeling about the city of Louisville, and a feeling about the city moving forward. Whether it’s this topic or another topic, that was the main idea: what can we do to make sure that the city keeps moving forward?
K.T.: Most people assume that for the NBA to come here, a deal would have to be worked out with the KFC Yum! Center. Is there a sense at all that this is possible?
G.F.: That is one of the issues. Obviously, the University of Louisville controls the lease in the KFC Yum! Center, (so) this would have to be a win for the University of Louisville and many stakeholders in the community, and that’s what this process is about – to pursue what all those options are, to see if we can do it. … There are a lot of people with goodwill that want to see this city continue to grow, we’re a part of that team and we’re going to pursue those options when they present themselves.
K.T.: If the NBA can work in Milwaukee, why can’t it work here?
J.B.: That was one of my thoughts a number of years ago, having been a part of that, seeing it work there and seeing everybody be successful. That’s my thought, but that’s a thought that is an opinion and it needs to be proven and the good thing about today is that you can go out and get data and get information and go on that, more so than on what my gut tells me.
K.T.: What is the next step?
G.F.: We’re not going to go off half-cocked here with anything. This will be fully thought through, everybody will be engaged and we’ll let the data speak for what could be an exciting opportunity.
Kent Taylor is a sports anchor for WAVE 3. See more of his work at www.wave3.com or by tuning in to the NBC affiliate.