Explaining Kentucky’s basketball fans, by Tim Riley

As many readers know, I’m a big fan of guest bloggers here at Hence, after having a mimi-Twitter war with some Wildcat faithful last week, I asked Tim Riley—Kentucky grad—to come and offer his perspective …

It’s December 2011. At a bar in Louisville Kentucky. In a span of 30 minutes I’ve gone from being in a calm conversation with my best friend Steve about his upcoming wedding to screaming at the television with the fervent intensity of a bloodied soldier on the losing end of a battle—“DIE CHRISTIAN WATFORD* YOU FUCKING DIE!!”

Kentucky—my beloved Wildcats—has just lost to rival Indiana on a last-second three. (I think it’s interesting that a couple of “Christians” have made names for themselves after sticking a dagger in the heart of  every Wildcat fan. I wonder if this means Pontius pilot belonged to the BBN?). Within five minutes I had calmed down and gained some perspective. Of course I did not want Christian Watford to die—well maybe just sprain an ankle.

My point? This example, however incriminating, appropriately shows the often polarizing attitude and fanaticism that surrounds Kentucky basketball.

Generally speaking, Kentucky fans—the majority of the time—are smart, rational, students of the game .One North Carolina blogger wrote after his first trip to Lexington this December that “Kentucky fans are some of the smartest basketball watchers I have ever seen.” However, in the blink of an eye the most sane of all Kentucky fans can become the internet-thrashing, Twitter-bashing, obnoxious, rude stereotype we have become known for in this internet age.

The internet, in all its glory, has become the most vivid display of polarity for the Kentucky fan. With it we have shown our passion, our love of the game, and our unwavering support. Simultaneously, however, we have shown this crazy, irrational hateful—and often hurtful—side that was previously drowned away during late nights at Rosebud’s bar in Lexington. Or, for instance in my case, released in a weeping, quite pathetic “fall” down the stairs in my Bryan, TX home after a devastating loss to Arizona in the 1997 championship.

The root for a lot of this, however, is how we are perceived, which is, again (you guessed it), quite polarizing. People either love us or hate us, and it’s that extreme. While John Calipari has been the zeitgeist for many current discussions about the program, UK has unfortunately aligned itself on a few very memorable occasions with the seedy underbelly of college sports. (Point shaving, duffle bags full of cash) For many we are the face of what’s wrong with college sports.  And as Benedict Arnold as it may sound to some of those over at KSR, my friend Austin, or my brother, Calipari doesn’t help that situation. But this may explain why he was hired. What does everyone say about Calipari? You either love him or you hate him. I’m not going to deny the buzz that surrounds the program.
Hey man, Michael Kidd-Gilchrest is freakin insane! I will personally go on record and say I’ll take this class over Cousins-Wall-Patterson-Bledsoe any day. That’s a bold statement, I know. But you want to know who was more impressive than any of these recruiting classes? Saul Smith. That’s right—I said it. Tubby’s kid. Took more shit than any player in Kentucky history held his head high, and played for four years.

But hey I’m not going to up and become a Louisville fan because of Calipari. If he is our guy, well, I I’m a fan. But just because he’s our coach doesn’t mean we can’t question his methods. In any case, we Kentucky fans have always been a little bat-shit crazy. If we’re going to be as manic as we are, let’s let our insanity out during the games then leave it alone. Scream at the television. Maybe a few less Tweets this week.

I’ll leave you with another anecdote. It’s March 1998. My brother and I are in one of the shadiest MacDonald’s downtown San Antonio has to offer. My dad has just followed a stranger into what looks like a janitor’s closet to get tickets for the night’s championship game: Kentucky vs. Utah. Was it stupid? Probably. Crazy? Definitely. But we got the tickets. Sure the Cats won but we would’ve had a great time either way.

If there’s one thing the Big Blue nation has more of than crazy, it’s love.