Based on his reception last week in Elizabethtown, Dan Issel is idolized today in much the same way he was when playing for Adolph Rupp at the University of Kentucky a half century ago.
His legend stands as tall as he does and local residents seem captivated. After speaking at the Hardin County Chamber of Commerce luncheon, he graciously posed for every picture and interacted with every well-wisher.
It’s obvious he’s the right choice as an ambassador for basketball.
His mission these days is bring professional basketball back to the state
Upon leaving UK in 1970, Issel joined the ABA Kentucky Colonels. Although a founding franchise and one of the upstart league’s most stable organizations, the Colonels were not part of the merger with the National Basketball Association.
Issel played for the Colonels from 1970 to 1975, including an ABA championship which he calls one of his most memorable career achievements. He went on to play another eight years with the Denver Nuggets, having his jersey retired by that team, and returning to serve as its coach, then later general manager and team president.
His personal accolades also include induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the College Basketball Hall of Fame and the University of Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame in 2005.
Now 71, he’s heading the Louisville Basketball Investment and Support Group, a liability company founded in 2016 to pursue an NBA franchise. It’s mission is expressed succinctly by its website, nba2lou.com.
There’s optimism, these days with speculation about an NBA expansion in this decade. And certainly Issel made his case well. He addressed concerns about tax implications, ticket prices and competition for interest with college teams.
He also stressed that support outside Louisville is critical.
“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,” he told the crowd at Pritchard Community Center.
Corporate support will have a significant impact on a pro team’s success. As the only big league team in a basketball-hungry state, it’s likely support can be shown. The KFC Yum! Center certainly provides an appropriate venue and would benefit from a steady client needing a minimum of 41 dates per year.
A lot of business matters and negotiations remain — not the least of which is an NBA decision to add teams.
But his reception at the chamber luncheon makes one thing clear: If Issel is associated with it, Kentuckians still are very interested in listening.
This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.