My beloved University of Louisville Cardinal basketball stands precariously on the brink, at the edge of a cliff, staring into the abyss.
Despite all the travails of recent years, most, to be frank, self inflicted, I have never until this very morning awakened with the belief that the program would be shut down for a year. Or more.
Outside the Jefferson County line, U of L hoops has been a pariah for some time now. In the aftermath of the latest imbroglio, the nation’s hoops scribes have commenced piling on.
It is not a good thing.
I need to vent.
I need to stay in touch with the joy my almost seven decades of fandom has wrought.
There have been a few great loves of my life.
The Film Babe. Lila the Love Dog. Abbey, my sweet, sad eyed rescue beagle.
And . . . well, other than New Orleans JazzFest, U of L hoops is it. With apologies to the memories of Professor Longhair, those canines and my ex-, Cardinal basketball really tops the list. With annual treks to the Crescent City next.
So, I’m going to relate, need for my own serenity to relate a couple you’ve heard before. Because they underscore the spirit force that is Cardinal hoops for me.
Thanks for indulging me.
So imbedded is my love that I’ve never felt compelled to wear Cardinal gear around town. But, when away, it’s another matter.
Several years back, before heading out before noon for another day of music and food at JazzFest, I went for a jog in the Quarter, as is my wont.
From Canal down Royal, watching the early morning tourists, pastry in hand, peering in the galleries. To Esplanade, then up the verdant median to Rampart, back down Barracks to Bourbon, where I’d stay in the middle of the generally trafficless streets, as the morning crews hosed down the night before, back to the uptown side.
I was wearing a Cardinal soccer jersey, and stopped for coffee before heading back to my room.
A fellow in front of me obviously knew hoops, knew U of L hoops from the glory years. He started asking me questions.
About Milt. About Pervis.
He was trying to determine if I really knew the history, or was just wearing the colors.
“You questioning my knowledge,” I inquired with a smile, “bring it on.”
He was a New Orleanian, who really admired the Cardinals from those halcyon days. We had a sweet conversation. He got his coffee and exited the shop.
A few seconds later, he came back in, and while holding the door, called across the room to me.
“I love the McCray brothers.”
“So do I,” I whispered.
And, at this moment. Sitting in my office. With tears in my eyes.
I refer a lot in this space to Shapiro’s Deli in Indy.
A lot of that has to do with its connection for me to Louisville basketball. The first time I ate there was the morning after the ’80 title was won. There were those days of the Big Four double dip in the old dome. Tourney games. Hundreds of U of L fans savoring corned beef before and after the games.
The time The Professor and I wrapped three meals there around a Cardinal W over Arkansas Little Rock in the NCAA.
Yes, you’ve noticed there hasn’t been a mention of any on the court moments. The conquests. The defeats.
That’s ’cause it’s about more than that.
My friend Fred once told me, he simply loved just being in the gym. So very true.
It’s about the continuum. The irrational fealty that somehow makes one a part of something. A member of community.
I have lots of friends who cherish U of L hoops as much as I. Some of them, worn down by the scandals, seem to be abdicating.
Unnerved by all that’s happened, and still happening, I still cannot do that. I do not want to do that.
My love is for the succor U of L basketball has provided.
It’s too late to stop now.
— c d kaplan