I thought I would be done posting these stories after a week or two but they keep coming in droves into my email inbox, and some of them are just so memorable and funny, I want to keep posting them. I hope you are enjoying them as well. If you have a story, send it to me at [email protected]. And one request, try and keep them shorter. I don’t want to have to edit them but when it gets into the 7th and 8th paragraph, they are just too long for the blog. Other than that, keep them coming.
The first post-probation UK games I got to attend were the first and second rounds of the 1996 NCAA tourney in Dallas. I was a sophomore in college, and my parent went and I tagged along. Not the hippest crowd to travel with but I was going to watch the ‘Cats. My dad learned the team was staying at the Adolphus Hotel, and we decided to do a little stalking.
First of all, I spotted Cameron Mills walking through a hallway on the main floor. He walked back a hallway carrying a bunch of apples and oranges and bottles of water. He got on an elevator and I followed being as smooth as I could be in my 6’8″ gangly frame, decked out in UK gear. I was trying to figure out where the team was staying and I would say he knew my game. He hit the “4” button on the elevator. I was closest to the door, and when it opened, I sauntered out like that was where I was supposed to be. I took about two steps and the elevator door closed behind me with him on it. Well played, Cameron.
We eventually found the team in a downstairs conference room having a meal and film session. I sat in the floor behind the double doors and listened to piturncoat break down film and go from X-and-0 basketball instructor to complete-Clark-Griswold-crossed-with-Andrew-Dice-Clay-psychopath, calling Antoine Walker everything under the sun. The team eventually came out and I got everyone’s autograph on a cap except Ron Mercer and Wayne Turner, who wouldn’t sign them. I have always felt guilty about that and have come to the conclusion that autographs are for kids…..but I still have the cap.
I guess it was around 1982 that a good friend and I went to see UK play Notre Dame at Freedom Hall when we were 20 years old. As we were in traffic pulling out of the parking lot we noticed a car next to us kept looking into our car and yelling at us. Finally my friend rolled down the window and a car of “kids asked him, “Are you Jim Master?” I must say that he did bear a little resemblance to him, about same height, hair color and features. My friend hesitated, but being the good friend, I yelled “he sure is!!” Well the kids jumped out of the car and game over to our car asking for autographs. I gave my friend a pen and he started autographing things for them. Well since we were sitting still, other people started coming over as they spread the word that Jim Master was in the car. He probably signed 25 or 30 autographs before the traffic opened up and we started moving. One lady who had a program had him sign the picture of Master, looked at it and said, “you look different in person.” Of course we were laughing our butts off as we drove away. We got to Frisches Big Boy to eat and he jokingly said “I didn’t sign anything for you” so signed a napkin and handed it to me. I asked is this how you signed all of them and he said yes. He had signed them all J I M M A S T R S . Misspelled his own name !!!
I was on a business trip to Atlanta, Georgia (I was working for a company out of SF, CA) and was having breakfast with my boss and his wife at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown ATL…when I look over and see Denver Nuggets GM Dan Issel and his new coach Mike D’Antoni…apparently in town to scout some high-school talent (before the one-and-done rule)… I was nervous and felt like a little kid again as the waitress kept nudging me to go over and introduce myself…my boss was laughing and his wife had no idea who he was and why I would want to be so bold as to go over and talk to an “old man” eating his breakfast…finally, the waitress grabs me by the arm and walks me over to the their table to make the introductions…right as their breakfast shows up…I tell both of them that I apologize for interrupting their breakfast but I just wanted to tell Mr. Issel how one of my first memories of UK basketball was sitting on my dad’s lap watching Dan fill it up vs LSU and Pistol Pete and that he had been one of my fathers favorite players and my first…Dan seemed genuinely touched by the fact that I didn’t want his autograph…just wanted to let him know what he meant to me and my father…as I said my thank yous and shook his hand to leave, I caught D’Antoni asking Dan if that happens alot…and Dan replied “yes, but usually in Kentucky, not so much in Georgia”…it was a great day after that…
The day that I met Travis Ford was like any other day at Greenup County High School. I was a senior and trying to think of an excuse to leave, of course. We had a very good basketball player that was ruled ineligible but was still pulling offers from colleges.
As I walked to the library to check out the autobiography of Malcolm X, I see someone talking to the aforementioned potential recruit and who do I see? Eastern Kentucky Head Coach Travis Ford. Not only am I amazed that a living legend and my favorite UK player of all time is in my high school’s library but no one even seems to recognize him. Here we are in Greenup County where everyone wears UK and talks about their respective fandom but no one recognizes Travis Ford.
So I walk up to him after he finishes with the player and ask him if I can have his autograph. He asks me if I have anything to sign and all I have is a the Malcolm X book. Lucky for me it has no markings of being a library book and he signs it: “Stay in School…. Travis Ford.” I believe I am the only person in history to have “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” signed by a UK star but I could be wrong.