I grew up in Sports Mecca where I’ve witnessed first hand the magnificent glory of champions. Champions who have won because they were the best and champions who have won because they refused to loose. That mecca is a wonderful world known simply as Kentucky.
Today I’m committing a sin so large that I may never be forgiven.
I have had the honor of witnessing basketball greatness in the hallowed halls known as Rupp Arena. Now I’ve been to a lot of arena’s before from the pro level down to the youth league level, arena’s large and small, quaint and magnificent. But no arena I’ve ever been in matches the awe of small square building attached to a mall in downtown Lexington, Kentucky. Small is rather an understatement. From the outside it does not stand out like major arenas around the country, but like the Tardis of Dr. Who (a British telephone booth) once in side, a large arena sits holding 23,000 fans of one of the greatest basketball programs of all time.
But its not a building, it is a feeling. You know the spirit of Adolph Rupp, the former coach, rest in peace, watches over every game played there. You feel it from the moment you walk into the seating area, full or empty, you feel his presence. You feel the great games and players who have played in the building before. I’ve seen many games there and have even had the honor to sit on the floor photographing a game.
Kentucky Basketball is religion to the people of Kentucky. To bleed blue is a way of life. Even in Kentucky’s largest city, University of Kentucky fans outnumber University of Louisville fans and they are deeply passionate. As loyal as they are, a lot of times, its because they haven’t experienced other teams, other arenas and other coverage. Its all they know.
But I’ve had the chance to experience the other world and I can tell you hands down, there is no place like Rupp Arena.
Now 15 years after leaving Kentucky, I’m now stuck in the middle of the ACC where for a Kentucky fan exists the ultimate evil and his side kick, the University of North Carolina and Duke University.
Duke is a pesky annoying pimple to Kentucky fans. Like a child with a stick, they reach out for attention, poking you saying “hey look at me, I’m great too”. Duke is a traditionally good team and no one can deny that their current coach, Mike Krzyzewski has done wonders for basketball in general. Duke was involved in the best college basketball game of all time against Kentucky (Dear John Pelphry, why didn’t you at least contest that shot….)
But Duke’s overlord resides 20 minutes down US15/US501 in a small unassuming town of Chapel Hill, there the Tarheels of UNC have been climbing to the top of basketball mecca. Their total wins are now neck in neck with Kentucky and they have an almost legitimate claim to the title of “Best College Basektball team of all time”.
Today I go to the Dean Smith Center to experience UNC basketball. I commit a mortal sin to my Kentucky heritage but I also believe in knowing your enemy.
I’ll report back after the game. I hope my soul doesn’t rot for this.