Louisville long ago hosted teams in the National Football League and Major League Baseball and fielded a strong franchise, the Kentucky Colonels, in the American Basketball Association before the ABA–NBA merger in June 1976. The Colonels won the penultimate ABA championship in 1975, defeating their archrival, the Indiana Pacers, in the 1975 ABA Finals.
The Kentucky Colonels were the winningest team in the history of the American Basketball Association, but the Colonels were not included in the ABA–NBA merger in June 1976. A later team with the same name played in Louisville in the ABA 2000 league but moved to Murray, Kentucky in 2007 before folding. Louisville and the corporate community had also attempted to pursue the Vancouver Grizzlies franchise before their ultimate move to Memphis in 2001, as well as the Charlotte Hornets franchise, which ultimately moved to New Orleans in 2002 but was revived in 2004 as the Charlotte Bobcats, regaining the Hornets name and the team's pre-relocation history in 2014.
College basketball and college football are very popular in Louisville, which prides itself on being one of the best college sports towns in America.
The city is home to the University of Louisville Cardinals, who compete in the NCAA's Division I and are a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The U of L men's basketball team won the NCAA Division I basketball championship in 1980 and 1986 under head coach Denny Crum, and recently achieved the NCAA Final Four in 2005, 2012, and 2013 under head coach Rick Pitino, and winning the National Championship in 2013 which would later be vacated. The women's basketball team, under head coach Jeff Walz, reached the final of the NCAA women's tournament in 2009 and 2013, losing both times to Connecticut. The 2008–09 team featured 2009 WNBA Draft #1 pick Angel McCoughtry. Both basketball teams ended their tenure at Freedom Hall in 2010 and moved to the new KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville for the 2010–11 season.
The U of L football team, with coach Bobby Petrino, finished No. 7 in the nation for the 2006 season, 19th in the final BCS rankings of 2005 and 10th in 2004. After winning the Orange Bowl—the school's first Bowl Championship Series game—in January 2007, Petrino left the Cardinals to be the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. Steve Kragthorpe was hired to replace Petrino less than two days later. Kragthorpe was fired after three years and replaced by University of Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong. Petrino returned for a second stint with the Cardinals in 2014, after Strong left for the head coaching vacancy at Texas. The U of L football team plays on campus at Cardinal Stadium. U of L won the Allstate Sugar Bowl in 2013, upsetting the Florida Gators.
The U of L baseball team advanced to the 2007 and 2013 College World Series in Omaha, where eight teams competed for the national championship. In 2012–13, U of L became the first school ever to appear in a BCS bowl game, the men's and women's Final Fours in basketball, and the College World Series in the same school year.
Bellarmine University, home of the Knights, fields 16 competitive NCAA Division II teams and competes in lacrosse at the Division I level (the only men's collegiate lacrosse program in the state). Bellarmine will move all sports up to the NCAA Division I level in the 2019-2020 academic year. Spalding University, home of the Golden Eagles, plays in NCAA Division III and in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.