It starts with the word across their chests.
I never ponder the depth of my attachment to Kentucky basketball until the end of the season. Whether I’m soaring with a national championship or sludging through the mire of what could have been, I’ll pause to ask myself, “Why am I so wrapped up in this team’s success?”
It starts with the word across their chests. The school’s players represent more than the school; they represent my home state. They carry the banner for Kentucky, and I, too, am Kentucky. I have degrees from both UK and Transylvania, and while my heart belongs to the people and experience of Transy, my soul belongs to Kentucky.
My love for Kentucky basketball is a legacy passed down from my father and a community of Kentuckians. For many in the commonwealth, our basketball heritage is our shared pride. Outsiders often say Kentucky fans cleave to basketball because there’s little else that’s positive in a state beset by poverty. I’m not blind to the difficulties of my Bluegrass brethren, but my life has been extraordinarily fulfilling, and yet I still attach myself to the fortunes of our basketball team.
And Kentucky’s recurring success buoys my devotion. Decades of loss and frustration would likely lead me to a lesser level of dedication. (Kentucky football comes to mind.) But I can’t say that for sure, because I’ve never had to live too long between successful seasons, whether it’s an SEC championship or a run at the national title.
Am I a rabid fan—a Kentucky crazy? I’m not. Oh sure, I’ve dabbled in the irrational: When Louisville beat UK in the 1983 NCAA Elite Eight, I gave away the TV I had watched the game on (after first vowing to throw it off an upstairs balcony). Granted, it wasn’t a great TV, and a friend in our watch party didn’t own a TV at the time, so it almost made sense. But really, the whole episode was little more than a public display of my allegiance to the Cats.
I no longer wrap my identity around the success and failure of our boys in blue, nor do I wrap on a black armband after a March loss. (Yeah, I did that, too.) But I have not divested myself of a deep-seated dedication to Kentucky basketball. Especially at tournament time. During each game I yell. I curse. I pace. I fall down to my knees. When we win, I am elated. When we lose, I am crushed.
But I’ll be ready for next year. I’ll follow every step of the journey toward a championship. And if we reach the Final Four, I’ll wear my favorite sweatshirt.
It’s the one with KENTUCKY across my chest.