Thursday, December 9, 2010

False Pride

It’s amazing what the University of Kentucky and its fans take pride in these days.

First, it was NBA draft day, which UK Head Coach John Calipari called, “the biggest day in Kentucky basketball history.” I guess draft day is better than the NCAA tournament because it doesn’t have to be vacated.

Then, this week, Kentucky recorded an even greater achievement when it played on a blue basketball court in Freedom Hall. No less than UK mouthpiece Jimmy Dykes declared it another monumental moment in Wildcat history.

If you believe the story, the Kentucky State Fair Board took it upon itself to spend more than $10,000 in taxpayer dollars to refurbish the former University of Louisville basketball floor in Wildcat logos and colors. Kentucky fans were downright giddy, despite the fact that their archrival doesn’t even play there anymore.

To me, playing in Freedom Hall is a lot like getting a nice pair of hand-me-down pants. They look and feel great, but you still got them only because someone else doesn’t want them anymore.

But what do I know? Instead of being at 54-year-old Freedom Hall on Wednesday, I was at one of the nation’s newest and nicest arenas where the fans concern themselves with such insignificant things as winning basketball games.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

No Place Like Downtown

Ed Manassah was right.

Manassah, the former publisher of Kentucky’s largest newspaper, The Courier-Journal, served as visionary and head cheerleader for building the University of Louisville’s basketball arena downtown instead of alternative sites near the Louisville Water Company or at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center. For having this vision, Manassah was criticized more than a bad basketball team. When Manassah’s newspaper crusaded for the downtown site, people accused him of sacrificing his journalistic integrity. Others suggested there must be some kind of nefarious hidden agenda at work.

Manassah was undeterred by those criticisms as well as concerns about cost and parking. He said a downtown arena would add sizzle to Louisville’s riverfront, while bolstering downtown businesses. As a result of his steady leadership – and that of Jim Host and others -- the downtown arena gained momentum and became a reality.

Today, I drive by the magnificent new arena at least twice daily. I’ve had the pleasure of attending several basketball games there. I’ve ridden a boat from southern Indiana to these games. I’ve felt downtown abuzz both before and afterward. Clearly, the downtown arena has benefitted both states.

In fact, it’s hard to imagine it anywhere else. After all, you can’t take a boat to the Water Company or revitalize a Central Business District from the fairgrounds. Furthermore, because of its location at the community’s doorstep, the arena is like a 720,000-square-foot welcome mat to the city and its university.

Maybe that’s why you so rarely hear from opponents of the downtown arena these days. If you did, even they’d probably admit that Manassah was right.