JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

Bluegrass Bluenose

I have been called a jealous hater.

I have been called an asswipe.

I have been called a dickweed.

All true … all true.

But I maintain this: I don’t understand how Kentucky basketball fans get any true pleasure out of the modern basketball team. Oh, I get it. You win. And win. And win. You cut down nets and sport commemorative caps and hold parades. Your coach is famous, your arena is classic, your games sell out.

And yet … so what? So friggin’ what? The young men who suit up for the University of Kentucky aren’t doing so because they love your state, or your traditions, or your citizens. Oh, they might pay lip service to such … might even develop some genuine affection. But (with rare excepion) they’re there to reach the NBA—ASAP. That’s it, that’s all. Which, of course, is within the NCAA rules and regulations. But where is the satisfaction? The sense of accomplishment? The sense of … “Us”?

Back when I was at the University of Delaware, members of the basketball team were our peers. They went to classes, went to parties, could be found in the Scrounge eating lunch and kicking back in the sun out on the mall. They were, quite literally, student-athletes; ones who would stick around for four years. Their accomplishments were our accomplishments, because they went through the exact same experiences. Plus, their ultimate objective was our ultimate objective—to graduate. To earn a degree.

From the folks who’ve reached out to me via Twitter, it seems as if Kentucky has one singular goal—victory. Which, on the surface, makes sense. Who wants to lose? Who doesn’t want a national title? Who doesn’t want to burn automobiles in the street—oh, wait. That was a slip. Who doesn’t want to win?

What I want, dearly, is for a Kentucky fan to explain this to me: If the players have no interest in graduating, and if they come for but a single year, and if they are students only because they have to be students, and if they’re only at your school because it offers the best chance at NBA glory … well, where’s the sense of community and accomplishment? I know … I know—”We love our guys! They’re Wildcats for life! Blah, blah, blah.”

It just doesn’t seem … real.

But I’ll keep an open mind. Really. Tell me what I’m missing.