Kentucky is in a prime position to generate NBA rooting interests solely off who plays where. The most obvious reason, of course, is that there are no teams in-state, and not really any team close enough to the border to take the title of the “local” team.
So, if we start with the conditions that UK fans have a zero percent rooting interest in every NBA team if everyone’s entire roster was filled with generic players, what team becomes the favorite of Big Blue Nation (only considering teams with a UK player on the roster)?
13. Miami Heat (UK player: Jamaal Magloire)
Magloire was a great player, and he retains love from UK fans. Kentucky Sports Radio founder Matt Jones considers his favorite player to be Magloire. Even though Magloire doesn’t have anything to do with who he plays for, I have to deduct points for playing on the reviled Heat. He could have made it up by punching LeBron James at some point in the various fourth quarters, but he didn’t.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (UK player: Nazr Mohammed)
Mohammed is in the tail end of his career, lessening his relevance on the NBA stage in hearts and minds. But the Thunder have an endearing quality to them outside of Mohammed.
11. Philadelphia 76ers (UK player: Jodie Meeks)
Meeks had the famous “54” game before leaving a year early, a move that was completely understandable but took away a championship from the perspective of many (including UK head coach John Calipari). He didn’t quite capture as large a fan favorite status as he could have simply because of the team’s lack of success during his tenure, which diminished the shine on his career.
10. Los Angeles Clippers (UK player: Eric Bledsoe)
The Clippers are a relative “meh” team, as is Bledsoe. UK fans celebrate when Bledsoe does well, but due to both distance (he’s on the West Coast), the easiness with which we can be ambivalent about the Clips, and the fact he got lost in the shuffle behind Wall/Cousins/Patterson, Bledsoe doesn’t garner a whole lot of nostalgia.
9. Orlando Magic (UK players: Daniel Orton and DeAndre Liggins)
Daniel Orton was the black sheep of the 2010 Draft Cats class. He had zero impact for the Magic, as he didn’t play a single game. And he drew the ire of the UK fan base by leaving school early. If Liggins hadn’t been drafted by them, Orlando would be the least-favorite pro team. But Liggins and his lovable (for UK) habit of getting into opponents’ heads are heading to the Magic, so he boosts their ranking.
8. New York Knicks (UK player: Josh Harrellson)
The ultimate country boy is going to the ultimate city. And if he brings jorts to Times Square, well, he honestly wouldn’t get weird looks because a) everybody dresses differently, and b) everybody — especially tourists — is looking up, not at your pants. Harrellson moves the needle for this particular ranking more than almost anyone else, launching the Knicks up the board.
7. Chicago Bulls (UK player: Keith Bogans)
Bogans doesn’t play a prominent role for the Bulls besides backing up Derrick Rose — but that right there is cause for bonus points, because many UK fans regard Rose as their own, to varying degrees. Calipari gives mad love to Rose, which trickles down to some love for Bogans, which boosts his standing.
6. Sacramento Kings (UK player: DeMarcus Cousins)
I tend to have a bit of a lower take on Cousins than most. While he was certainly a cheerful personality who brought style and dominance to the court, I had trouble accepting his hard-to-coach persona back then — and continue to do so. I’ve had more than one coach tell me that Cousins was not easy to coach, nor was the experience a positive one. And unlike Rose, Tyreke Evans doesn’t — for whatever reason — seem to be a semi-UK product.
5. Boston Celtics (UK player: Rajon Rondo)
Rajon Rondo is easily the most successful of the pre-Calipari Cats, winning a championship while emerging as a prominent player for both his team and in the league. Some slight points (why I keep acting like I actually created a points system I don’t know, because I certainly did not) are deducted because of his lackluster UK career.
4. Houston Rockets (UK players: Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes)
Two of the all-time favorites, joined on one professional team. Hayes has continued to be the little-big-man, and Patterson retains all the love he earned for sticking around another year and becoming a beloved player. However, both players’ time with Houston may be ending, as the Rockets drafted two forwards who will be fighting for playing time alongside Yao Ming in the frontcourt.
3. Utah Jazz (UK player: Enes Kanter)
Kanter remains one of the most embraced UK players, mostly because he didn’t ever play in a UK uniform. After his selection in the NBA Draft, he dedicated his speech to the UK fans who stuck with him despite his ineligibility, and he warned Utah fans to watch out because “the Undertaker is coming” afterward, according to Cats Illustrated Publisher Brett Dawson. Now, UK fans get to retroactively and vicariously live Kanter’s “should-have-been” UK career through his time with Utah.
2. Detroit Pistons (UK players: Brandon Knight and Tayshaun Prince)
Similarly to the Rockets, the Pistons boast not only one but two UK players, both of whom were liked by UK fans. Prince has been a consistently solid player for Detroit, and Knight now adds a young talent who is bent on “making people pay” that they passed on him. Both players have memorable moments in UK uniforms — Prince’s 3-point barrage and Knight’s double dosage of NCAA game-winners — and because of the pairing, the Detroit imports make Michigan matter in Kentucky.
1. Washington Wizards (UK player: John Wall)
Washington doesn’t earn points for being good, or for having quantity (i.e., more than one UK player on it). But it does have John Wall, the most charismatic and enjoyable player on the team that brought energy back to the UK program. Between the John Wall Dance, the John Wall Shots, and Being John Wall, he carved out a legacy that has carried into the next level.