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Remembering Professional Basketball in Kentucky


There is a K in there somewhere.

Steam continues to pick up on the ‘NBA to Louisville’, with opinions running the gamut. On the radio show today, Matt spoke with J. Bruce Miller. Miller really gave some great insight deeper into the inner-dealings that may or may not bring a professional basketball back to Kentucky. Its been many years since the Commonwealth has had a high-level professional basketball team. I grew up listening to my dad’s stories of running over to Kentucky Colonel games whenever he got a chance, grabbing autographs from players and watching his heroes up close and personal. Their stretch from 1967-1976 gave fans a chance to watch great basketball, whether at the Convention Center or Freedom Hall (post-1970). This site takes time to ‘remember the ABA, and is worth a look if you are interested in learning about or revisiting the past. (Be sure to check out the fan memories pages there, too)


Louie Dampier and Dan Issel are examples of University of Kentucky legends who saw their professional careers take off in the Bluegrass as Colonels. Both went from All-America college players to being pro stars.


Wendell “Mr. Excitement” Ladner only played two seasons with the Colonels, but he made a lasting impression (presumably on that locker room bench). He was a known enforcer, as evidenced by his mustache. Also served as inspiration to Burt Reynolds during the 1970’s.


Artis Gilmore was never a Wildcat, but he did something John Wall and several Wildcats will do under John Calipari: become the over No.1 NBA Draft pick. When the ABA went under in 1976, the Chicago Bulls selected Gilmore as the first overall pick in the dispersion draft. Despite not being inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame, he made several All-Star games and holds the record for career field goal percentage. Hopefully, we will see more UK guys as All-Stars in the near future.


One year after winning the ABA Championship, the Kentucky Colonels held their final season in 1975-1976. The ABA’s collapse and the NBA’s impending dominance doomed the highest level of basketball in the state of Kentucky. Whether or not you were lucky enough to have lived through this Jackie-Moon-esque time, the Kentucky Colonels provided over a decade of great pro basketball in our state. The chance that we could see another team come back to the state is very exciting, even if being able to fully supporting it may only be a dream. The idea of foreign investment discussed by Matt and J. Bruce Miller gives hope for an NBA team in Louisville, and that has to make Calipari happy.

Article written by Chris Thomas

64 Comments for Remembering Professional Basketball in Kentucky

  1. Ryan S
    4:05 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink


  2. DavenderCatTheSequel
    4:08 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    If Lexington ever gets an NBA franchise, I propose “Lexington Traffic Beaters” for the team name.

  3. 78 NCAA Champions
    4:09 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    1975 ABA Champions!! Games played at Freedom Hall. It was awesome.

  4. Gamete
    4:11 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    Gamut dammit!

  5. KSR1080Fan
    4:14 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    It’s a travesty that Gilmore is not in the NBA.
    Even though he caused my first UK Wildcat induced depression
    when his Jacksonville team upset Issel/Pratt he deserves
    to be in the HOF. Ask Hubie.

  6. blueblooded
    4:21 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    When Van Breda Kolff was a coach at Vandy, I don’t remember anybody ever bringing up the fact that he played for the Colonels. I wonder if & where he coaches now?

  7. Mark Liptak
    4:23 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    Every year the Colonels would play a few regular season games at Memorial Coliseum. Saw them a few times there while I was at UK. I remember them playing Indiana and noticing that George McGinnis had the biggest set of hands I had ever seen.

    Mark Liptak

  8. Ben
    4:23 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    I was at that championship game! Had season tickets that costs all of $10.00 each. Great year and a lot of fun. As I remember, it would have cost 10 million to take that team to the NBA. John Y. Brown offered to put up 5 million if the city or someone else would put up the other 5 million. No one stepped forward for our best shot at an NBA Team. What an investment that would have been since most franchises are now worth 800 or 900 million.

    Maybe we are getting a second chance! We will know soon.

  9. btowncatfan
    4:25 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    7. You beat me to the punch. I am old enough to remember seeing them play in memorial, and looking over at Stoll field. God I’m old.

  10. enispresley
    4:34 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    Although you could not get many games on tv, I remember being a fan of the Kentucky Colonels. I saw them play an exhibition game at Hoptown Gym. I remember that the Kentucky Wildcats and the Kentucky Colonels were almost the same to me. I think Daryl Carrier(Josh Carrier’s dad) played on that team. I wish I had kept those basketball cards.

  11. bob
    4:37 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    Nuggets, Spurs, Nets, and Pacers paid 3.2 million to join. JYB cashed in at 3 million not to join, plus sold the rights to Gilmore for 1 million. That’s finger lickin good!

  12. bung
    4:42 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    5,6)yep Gilmore and Pembroke Burrows got us at Jville and so did big Jim McDaniels and Clarence Glover at WKU… Van Breda Koff also played at Vandy, Stamper only knew one way to stop him… he did

  13. bung
    4:43 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    people were mad at Adolph….so dont get upset Cal

  14. O'boro Cat fan
    4:43 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    I went to the Kentucky Colonels games with my dad from ’70 to ’73. My dad is gone now, but I can still remember hearing him yell at the refs when they wouldn’t call a foul when Issel went in for a score. And I can remember seeing Wendell Ladner “fly” into the stands trying to save a ball from going out of bounds. UK basketball replaced the Colonels for me from that point on.
    Big Blue Forever — I miss you Dad!

  15. Emmert still sucks
    4:47 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    I too remember the Colonels well. Does anyone remember that Adolph Rupp was also involved with them for a while after UK put him out to pasture. He was a goodwill ambassador or something like that.

    I remember as a kid my dad asking me to take a ride with him and I didn’t want to go. We went Allied Sporting Goods on Shelbyville Rd and he bought me a red/white/blue basketball. He says he has someone he wants me to meet, and lo and behold, there is Louie Dampier and Darrel Carrier autographing them. Would do anything to still have that ball! Great memories!

  16. bung
    4:48 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    Jimmy Dan Conner is in that pic

  17. SaveUofL
    4:50 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    bung-what the hell are you talking about?

  18. bung
    4:50 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    Heck, Bird Averitt was from Hoptown

  19. bung
    4:51 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    about what?

  20. LindaS
    4:52 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    A little history. When the NBA expanded John Y Brown asked for $100k or $200k from the city in good faith money. He was going to put up the other millions but wanted the support of the city. The city told him no and John Y sold the colonels and bought the Boston Celtics. Needless to say, Boston was afraid he was going to move the Celtics to Louavull. If the city had backed John Y, instead of Louavull just now building a new arena (IMO for the wrong team) they would have been building their second arena. A year or so after the city turned down John Y, the spent millions to help by a Rembrandt for the Speed Museum. Nice picture and I like looking at it when I go. However, the painting has not filled up hotels or created new businesses and jobs as the Colonels would have done if they stayed and were a part of the NBA. I have many fond memories of the Colonels. My husband and I went to many games. Won’t bore you with them all only the night they won the Championship I was sitting in the box with the wives. I worked with Ron Thomas’ wife at the time. It undoubtedly ranks up there as one of the primo highlights of my life. #1 highlight was meeting Mickey Mantle and seeing Ali in person…those 2 are tied. At this time I don’t know where I stand on having a pro team. The tickets are expensive, most owners are cry babies and Louavull although being a ‘large’ city still thinks like a little town.

  21. Tree Hugger
    4:53 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    Auburn reportedly spending $400,000 to bring in 2 JUCO Oak Trees.

  22. KSR1080Fan
    4:53 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    14)Miss my Dad too… he took me to the games.
    I was at the last home game and they had ex-players
    and staff lined from baseline to baseline with the lights out,
    “the way we were” was playing, while a spotlight scanned
    the court. Ed Kallay (Wave 3) was there too.

  23. LindaS
    4:54 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    BTW I still have that poster of Wendell and it hangs in my laundry room!

  24. old_school
    4:54 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    I went to a couple of those games back in 74-75 as a kid. Good crowds and very good basketball.

    I remember the P.A. announcer sayihng something like “KaBlooie – there goe’s Louie” whenever Dampier did something good!

    That and the cheerleaders/dancers prancing around to disco music during timeouts.

    Van Vance used to call the games on the radio.

  25. SaveUofL
    4:54 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    #13 -people were mad at Adolph….so dont get upset Cal

  26. bung
    4:55 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    17) sorry, if u from UL i will type slower…..

  27. bung
    4:57 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    25…we lost to Jville and Western in the NCAA tourney games and some folks were upset with Adolph….So Cal shouldnt worry that fans get upset over some of his losses

  28. SaveUofL
    4:59 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    #27 I got ya now.

  29. Boogie Band
    5:02 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    The Kentucky Tropics will be awesome. I can see woo on that bench now.

  30. KSR1080Fan
    5:03 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    24) You might also remember that they used to do Ads and
    give away stuff during the game by matching a number that
    was in your program. One such ad that for some repair shop
    they would give away a case of motor oil, the announcer would say…
    “When you car goes phooey, call Toohey’s”

    5:10 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    The question Matt whiffed on in his interview was to ask J. Bruce how much money he’s been given over the last 20+ years by the city in his multiple, failed “attempts” to bring a NBA team to KY. Money better spent elsewhere inmy opinion.

  32. KentuckyHouse
    5:11 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    Jesus, bung, explain your freaking self!

    “people were mad at Adolph….so dont get upset Cal”

    WTF do you mean by this??? I think you’re misreading the last line of the post. Cal would LOVE for this to happen. It would only help UK. It’s Pitino that doesn’t want an NBA team in Louisville. And why were people mad at Adolph???

    Damn…stop talking in circles.

  33. 5, that Jacksonville game was the first disappointment for me as well, at least that I remember.This shows you how differently kids think:

    I remember after the game they were showing the J’ville players at center court with their cheerleaders, and the players were chanting, in a sort of sing-song style, “Jacksonville! Jacksonville!” I started thinking, “How can those people NOT be for Kentucky???” That’s just how I thought it was supposed to be. Oh for childhood innocence!

  34. Good Lord
    5:15 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    #31 The amount of money is minimal in comparison to the work that has actually been done.

    There is no denying that the Hornets and Grizzlies were absolutely interested in relocating to Louisville, but the idiots who run this city blew it in both occassions. That was not Miller’s fault.

  35. KSR1080Fan
    5:16 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    33) My first memory as well. I would give anything to have
    a recording of that game. Wouldn’t you?

  36. 4 beat me to it
    5:17 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    4- you are correct. It’s Gamut. Not Gamete. That’s a joining of cells that leads to reproduction. Seriously, KSR writers, that’s something you guys should catch. I am just average Joe factory worker and I caught that, as well. Time to step it up and proff read alittle, ya think?

  37. RidgeRunner
    5:19 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    Good read, Chris. I enjoyed that trip down memory lane.

  38. ShagOnSports
    5:20 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    You should visit with Pinky Gardner for some some great insight to this franchise… Had the pleasure of sitting down with him at his house and it was like walking into a Kentucky Colonels museum…

  39. bung
    5:21 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    32) see 27

  40. 4 beat me to it
    5:22 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    4- you are correct. It’s gamut. Not gamete. That’s a joining of reproductive cells. Seriously, KSR writers, start to proof read, please. I’m Joe factory worker and I caught that one. Take the extra time and double check yourself.

  41. RidgeRunner
    5:22 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    Mr. Excitement looks a lil feminine in that spread.

    What an awesome team nickname “Colonels” we had as well. Very fitting.

  42. RidgeRunner
    5:26 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    36 & 40…speaking of reproductive cells…??

    5:27 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    Louisville isn’t going to get an NBA team. None of the money realities add up; the NBA isn’t going to add teams, the Kings would have to be sold by the Maloof’s or moved. If they moved, they’re going to move to a larger market like Vegas (where the Maloof’s live or Seattle). The only team available is New Orleans that the NBA now owns, and are more than likely going to disband. Miller has said a Louisville team would have 20 + owners, that’s totally insane, and the NBA isn’t going to mess with a team with so many owners.

    To back an NBA team in Louisville, you would be putting your money into a total financial disaster.

    Who ever had the idea that bringing an NBA team to Louisville would somehow make Louisville relevant is an idiot. Louisville could have an NBA, NFL, MLB teams, and Louisville would still be irrelevant.

  44. OldGuyin Lex
    5:31 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, Van Vance here. Tonight-Colonels/Cougars!”

  45. BigBluePappy
    5:34 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    Anyone else remember when Ladner “hugged” the water cooler and got stitches thanks to his hustle?

  46. RidgeRunner
    5:37 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    Whatever happened to Vance? When I moved from Ky years ago, he was calling UL games. Is he still doing that?

  47. RidgeRunner
    5:47 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    Kevin Joyce…wow, down in South Carolina this dude is still their icon.
    In the pic, he looks like anything but a basketball player.

  48. Adaburg
    5:48 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    You young pups probably don’t know it but Wendell Ladner is the reason why today all arenas have plastic water coolers instead of glass ones. Diving out of bounds for a ball he crashed and broke one of the old large glass jug ones resulting in some horrible gashes and several stitches and a lengthy recovery. Real soon after that happened plastic jugs replaced the glass ones. (Gatorade coolers came along much later) Wendell later died in a plane crash.

    Anybody else remember Freedom Hall played a siren everytime someone hit a three? I remember going to the 5th ABA All Star game there and several regular season games. The rest came in via WHAS provided by Van Vance , that was before he went over to the dark side.

  49. bung jr
    5:58 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    bung – I swear you are my dad. He is always talking about the same things you post on this site. Fast break points, Adolph Rupp, John Hood and how Stamper punched Van Breda Koff..

  50. Former Colonel
    6:01 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    Wonderful memories. No reason not to chase the dream again and again. If it happens, Louisville and the state of Kentucky will be better for it. Let’s all give it a chance and be positive about it.

  51. David Brent
    6:03 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    I prefer a flan.

  52. lousyvilleCat
    6:06 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    who has a dan issel bubble gum card from the colonels ? i do

  53. RidgeRunner
    6:15 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    52…smarty pants. j/k

  54. LatoniaTom
    6:51 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    Dad had season tickets 10 rows back, Artis Gilmore was 8ft2, DR. J, Rick Barry, Wilt the Slit coaching. Can not forget Rupp’s PRO TEAM.

  55. pccatsfan
    7:10 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    I still miss the Colonels. I’m proud to have a red, white & blue ball signed by the 75 championship team. I got to play in a high school game as the warm up, prior to one of the Colonels games. They used to do that for some of their home games. Gilmore should be in the HOF.

  56. Carl
    8:21 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    Back in 1974-75 I was at the old Executive Inn for a teen conference. The visiting team was staying there I got the autograph of one of the players for a buddy I knew back at school who was a fan. You might remember the guy’s name “Julius Erving”. Unfortunately, I didn’t know much about at the time and passed it on to my friend. Who knew ! DY I hope you still have it.

  57. Blue Mist
    8:25 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    I remember going to see an exhibition game the Colonels put on in the Owensboro with my aunt and uncle. The uniforms were short and tight and looked like they hadn’t been washed on the barnstorming tour lol. But it was great to see Issel put on his offensive show. The Colonels should have won 2 or 3 championships in a row. They had a lot of great players.

  58. Blue Mist
    8:27 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    *Owensboro Sportscenter*

  59. Chris Thomas
    8:35 pm February 17, 2011 Permalink

    56) My dad used to show me his autographs he got at Colonel games. He got Dr. J’s autograph as Julius Irving twice, before he signed it as Dr. J. I bet that was a great experience.

  60. el hombre juan
    4:57 am February 18, 2011 Permalink

    uhh, what about Roy Munson???

  61. bluesince66
    6:05 am February 18, 2011 Permalink

    The ABA sure was fun to watch. They had some very good teams and some nice rivalries. One of the best sports name I can remember Zelmo Beatty played for Utah I believe.

  62. markp
    7:47 am February 18, 2011 Permalink

    The year the Colonels won the ABA championship they played the NBA Champs in an exhibition and beat them. That team was great.

  63. Gardner-Webb Alum
    11:57 am February 18, 2011 Permalink

    Artis Gilmore played for one of Kentucky’s greatest nemesis: Gardner Webb University. Thanks for the reminder, Chris! Go Artis Gilmore…

  64. poopteeth
    12:12 am February 19, 2011 Permalink

    hi everybody