Prior to this season, Mrs. Fake Gimel never understood why I scream at the TV.
“I don’t like watching basketball games with you,” she told me right after the loss in Columbia. “It’s just basketball!”
Even though Mrs. Fake’s childhood was spent mostly in southern KY and Lexington, her family was not into sports. While attending UK, Mrs. Fake went to basketball games and enjoyed them, but wouldn’t necessarily seek out the sport. Her passions directed her attention elsewhere; there’s nothing wrong with that, at all.
I encouraged Mrs. Fake to talk to my family about it, since my explanations over our nearly 5 years of marriage seemed to be not making any sense to her. During a phone call, my uncle (The Fake Roger Harden) finally worded it in a way that made sense.
It was a big part of our family, he told her. My Pepaw — his father — loved basketball and especially loved Kentucky basketball. Our family gatherings were almost always centered around UK playing on television. The anticipation of reading season previews from the nearest-big-town paper would always fill October. Talk to nearly anybody around our little farming town from October through March — especially the men of Pepaw’s generation who’s businesses and farms powered the town — and the discussion would always be about the Wildcats and the local high-school basketball team.
I have no idea why Pepaw loved basketball so much. It just was his way, and I never thought to ask him before he passed away.
I have no idea why generations of men and women before Pepaw’s time came to love basketball. Its easy to surmise that basketball became popular in this section of the United States due to the cold winters and the downtime of farmers during the winter months. Back in the early 1900s, basketball started spreading into the state, starting with games at the old Louisville YMCA back in 1895.
In 1921, hundreds of fans in Lexington gathered to receive reports of UK’s (then State College) men’s basketball team in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association basketball championship by telegraph. By the 1950s, Coach Rupp’s games were being broadcast on radio. Across the state, thousands of young Kentucky men drove their dates to the highest points of their counties. They would listen to the games; I’m sure some of the men would scream at the radio while some of the women would say, “It’s just basketball!”
Clearly those generations of fans have passed the love of Wildcat basketball down through their families, like a family heirloom shared with tens of thousands of families across the Commonwealth and beyond. Surely Coach Rupp’s success in the 1940s and 1950s helped convert families that had no alumni ties to the University or ties with Lexington. But the passion and the love tricked down to the younger generations who now eat, sleep, breathe, bleed, rant and scream Big Blue Basketball every fall, winter and spring.
Exhibition games — a.k.a. public practices — are over. The season starts on Friday. Hopefully by the end of the season, we children of the Big Blue Family will all be screaming the number eight.