Today’s Columbus Dispatch had a story that mayor Michael Coleman recently sent a letter to NBA commissioner David Stern about the city’s interest in having an NBA franchise. Something a few of us at 97.1 The Fan have been clamoring for the past few years. Coleman says the NBA franchise would play at Nationwide Arena, current home of the NHL’s (worst team) Columbus Blue Jackets. Now that the CBJ, the city, Franklin County, and Nationwide has settled the lease issues, Coleman is ready to capitalize. Sports fans in Columbus have spent today debating on-air and online whether or not Ohio’s capital city would support an NBA team. Can it? Yes. Will it happen? Don’t hold your breath.
Columbus has the metropolitan area population to support two major professional teams. When I first moved to here nine years ago, I was under the impression that people here didn’t care about the NBA. However, with Ohio State becoming one of college basketball’s premier programs under Thad Matta, along with several former Buckeyes currently playing in the NBA, the number of basketball fans in this city has grown exponentially. Talking to people around town, Columbus sports fans are right now more interested in the NBA Playoffs than in the NHL Playoffs. That’s not just because the Blue Jackets are terrible. The casual sports fan in Columbus is more likely to know who Russell Westbrook is than Steven Stamkos.
Even though the NBA would thrive in Columbus, don’t expect it to come here anytime soon. It has nothing to do with the city of Columbus or its image. NBA Commissioner David Stern has said expansion is not happening anytime soon (nor should it). So the only way for Columbus to get an NBA franchise in the foreseeable future is by relocation. Problem is, Seattle and Anaheim would get teams before Columbus. After William Clay Bennett moved the Sonics to Oklahoma City, Seattle hoops fans have since voiced its outrage loud enough that the NBA hierarchy says if another team moves, Seattle would be at the top of its list. Unless that list includes Anaheim. The Maloof brothers, owners of the Sacramento Kings, have been flirting with the Big ‘A’ about relocating. Outside of the Kings, there aren’t any NBA franchises that appear to be moving anytime soon. Saints owner Tom Benson just bought the Hornets, thus keeping that team in New Orleans.
Columbus is a transient city, and a fast growing city. A 21st century city. It can support two major professional franchises. I’m confident the NBA will come to Columbus someday. Count on it. Just not anytime soon.