LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky coach John Calipari has a message to Louisville officials hoping to lure an NBA team to the Bluegrass: Go for it.
"I don't think there's any downside," Calipari said.
The Louisville Metro Council has retained an attorney to gauge the possibility of bringing professional basketball to the state's largest city, perhaps to play at the recently opened KFC Yum! Center, home of the University of Louisville men's and women's basketball teams.
"This state is driven by the city of Louisville," Calipari said. "Anything that's good for the city of Louisville is good for our state. I believe (the NBA) is good for the city of Louisville, which makes our state even better."
Calipari scoffed at detractors who believe the arrival of an NBA team would affect the following for the two biggest schools in the basketball-crazed state.
"It will never take away from the University of Kentucky, never, ever," he said. "It will never take dollars away, it will never take seats away."
He's had experience with the NBA before. He coached the New Jersey Nets in the 1990s and shared a home with the Memphis Grizzlies after the team relocated from Vancouver while he was coaching at the University of Memphis.
Calipari described the relationship between the school and the NBA team as symbiotic. He said his ability to lure quality recruits to Memphis increased after the Grizzlies came to town. He believes the same could happen at Louisville, where coach Rick Pitino has been skeptical about the viability of an NBA team in his backyard.
"The recruiting for Louisville will go up because there will be pro scouts in there every day," Calipari said. "That's what happened to us in Memphis, every day, because they're going in to see the pro team that night. Where do they go that afternoon? They go to the gym to see the college players."
Calipari joked he hoped an NBA team would take some of the focus off the 17th-ranked Wildcats (7-2), who host Mississippi Valley State on Saturday at Rupp Arena.
"This isn't healthy," Calipari said with a laugh while gesturing to the two dozen media members gathered around his podium on Friday.
Professional basketball has spent time in Kentucky before. The Louisville-based Kentucky Colonels were one of the American Basketball Association's most popular teams while playing in Louisville between 1967-76. The Colonels were absorbed when the NBA and the ABA merged and the city has been unsuccessful in trying to get the Vancouver Grizzlies and the Charlotte Hornets to relocate.
Calipari does see one other potential upside to Louisville landing an NBA team: The impetus for Lexington leaders to replace aging Rupp Arena, an issue starting to gain momentum in the city. He figures maybe a game or two could be held in Lexington when whatever team LeBron James — a good friend of Calipari's — plays for visits.
"When (the Louisville team) is playing LeBron, come here and play here in the new building we'll have in four years," he said.