Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Kentucky basketball and me

(Picture found on Tumblr, I do not take credit for it)

For the most part I am a book blogger.  However recently anyone who follows me on twitter or is my friend on goodreads has realized that I have another passion.  College basketball, particularly University of Kentucky basketball.

Some may wonder why a short, fairly un-athletic girl who hasn't played team sports since elementary school lives and breathes college basketball.  Once, I thought there were sports fan then there were bookworms.  But I've discovered that sports is about more than boys throwing balls and that people are rarely just one thing.  I did not go to the University of Kentucky.  I never even thought to apply there. But I cheer them on in every sport.

So why do I love UK basketball?  Here in Kentucky we are raised to bleed blue.  Anything else is an aberration.  There's a tradition of greatness that dates back to the days of Adolph Rupp, a name that every Kentucky child recognizes.

Sports somehow transcend the players and the game that is being played.  Sports is about connecting--to your family, to your community and to something great than yourself. In Kentucky when you walk down the street odds are you'll see a lot of people wearing Kentucky blue.  Here in Eastern Kentucky we don't have much.  We have our beautiful mountains, we have a oft maligned coal industry, we have a lot of poverty, but do you know what unites everyone? UK basketball. You have an immediate connection with 90% of the people you meet here.

If you start talking basketball you'll hear stories, from the glory days of Rupp, to the great Joe B. Hall, to the dark days of probation and Eddie Sutton, to the Camelot of Pitino then his betrayal, to the horrible mistake of Billy Clyde Gillespie.  Finally we have re-entered the basketball promised land under Coach Calipari. After a long 14 year drought we've brought the championship trophy back to Kentucky.

I love Kentucky basketball because generations of my family have loved Kentucky basketball.  Last year when we reached the Final Four, an unexpected glorious ride, my only regret was that my Papaw had not lived to see UK return to glory.  As I celebrate winning a championship, I remember my Papaw.  I remember how he couldn't watch close games, how he'd pace and walk out of the room.  Loving UK was something we shared.

Today I went to Orange Leaf in Lexington KY (for free yogurt, the store was celebrating too).  It was filled with families.  Almost everyone I saw had a Kentucky t-shirt, the mood was joyful and celebratory.  I drove home listening to the celebration at Rupp Arena on the radio--a broadcast I know my dad and friends were also experiencing.  Then I stopped at the local Wildcat Warehouse, yes we have a UK apparel store 1.5 hrs away from campus in my small town, and couldn't find a parking spot.  The tiny store was packed.

How often do you get to celebrate a victory with your whole state?  How often can you walk in a room of strangers and know that you shared the same magical experience?  Today the joy is tangible, floating from Lexington to Corbin to Hazard to Harlan.  Every time the radio mentions the 2012 NCAA champions the UK Wildcats I get chills.  When I saw a picture of the banner hanging in the rafters of Rupp I almost cried.

Last night a team of 13 young men, 6 freshmen 5 sophomores, 2 seniors, won a basketball game.  But it was so much more than that.  It's hard to find the words to describe what winning that games means to the state of Kentucky.  As much as I love words, love writing, I find that words are inadequate.  It's a magic that I can't capture with my keyboard, that I can't explain to people who aren't part of Big Blue Nation, to people who aren't sports fans, but it's a magical feeling that I hope everyone experiences someday.

Last night something great happened. It happened in New Orleans. It happened in Lexington Kentucky. It happen in Harlan, in Ashland, in Corbin and in the home of every wayward Kentuckian around the world.  It happened to all of us and wherever we found ourselves.  Together we hoped, dreamed, won and celebrated.  Today we are the National Champions and I hope this feeling never goes away.

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