A group seeking to bring an NBA franchise to Louisville announced Thursday that it has hired basketball legend Dan Issel as its new president, in addition to securing $750,000 in startup capital from local investors to help make the city “NBA-ready.”

Issel will serve as the president of the Louisville Basketball Investment and Support Group, the LLC founded in 2016 by Signature HealthCARE CEO Joe Steier and J. Bruce Miller, the Louisville attorney who has attempted to bring an NBA team to the city for decades. Issel starred for the University of Kentucky, ABA team Kentucky Colonels and NBA team Denver Nuggets in his playing career, before coaching and serving in the front office for the Nuggets.

The $750,000 in capital was raised by a team of over 20 local investors, including prominent names such as entrepreneur Gill Holland, former United Kingdom ambassador Matt Barzun and Brown-Forman chairman Garvin Brown.

A news release announcing the hire and investors stated that this startup capital “represents the first round of a $3 million private placement memorandum” that help kick off the initiative the group has dubbed “NBA 2 Louisville.”

According to the release, the organization and initiative’s primary purpose will be “to ensure that Louisville and Kentucky are ready should there be an opportunity for an NBA expansion franchise or if an existing team expresses interest in relocating.”

The NBA has no immediate plans to add franchises, but if it chooses to do so in the near future, Seattle is widely regarded as the favorite, while Louisville and a host of other cities like Mexico City, Las Vegas and Vancouver would vie for that second spot.

The city has a professional-level arena in the downtown KFC Yum! Center — which an NBA team would have to find a way to share with the current tenant, the University of Louisville Athletic Association — as well as the aging but large Freedom Hall at the fairgrounds.

NBA 2 Louisville will use the new capital to focus on developing relationships with NBA owners and with its league office, as well as securing a major investor and strengthening relationships with the local business community and government leaders.

Issel stated in the release that Louisville’s chances of being chosen as a new franchise for the eastern U.S. and the impressive list of new investors “is the impetus for the formation of the NBA 2 Louisville initiative” and “the reason why I am so excited to be involved in trying to bring professional basketball back to the Commonwealth.”

The organization said it had established an advisory committee to support the staff and board to carry out its strategic initiatives. Issel will join the LBISG offices in downtown Louisville later this month to begin working on the project, the group added.

Mayor Greg Fischer was also quoted in the release, saying he welcomed the collaboration of those seeking an NBA franchise as the city looks to “compete on a national and international level.”

“Data shows we have the population and the enthusiasm for basketball necessary to support a team, and I know that bringing back the Kentucky Colonels and Dan Issel has long been a dream for many Louisvillians,” stated Fischer. “I look forward to exploring this possibility.”

Greater Louisville Inc. CEO Kent Oyler also contributed a supportive quote for the initiative, stating that an NBA team “would be a boom for Louisville and the entire state,” bring national exposure that “could supercharge our existing efforts to market our region for talent, business recruitment, tourism, and conventions.”

The founding investors to the initiative include Barzun, Brown, Holland, Neace BA LLC, Jessica Bird and Neville Blakemore, Greg Weishar, Ingrid and John Johnson, Neil Ramsey, Joe Reeves, Mark Lamkin, Joe Steier, Dianne Timmering, Damon Garrett, Nick Jacoby, Bearno’s Inc., Paul Beam, Ankur Gopal, Jason Zachariah, Jason Waters, Adam Hornek, Joe Tichenor and Todd Strause.

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]