The always venerable Wikipedia defines an expatriate as “a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country or culture other than that of the person’s upbringing.” In other words, they’re strangers in a strange land. University of Kentucky fans have always identified themselves as members of “Big Blue Nation,” and in many cases, the BBN really CAN be found almost anywhere your travels take you. With that in mind, the series “The Ex-Pats of Big Blue Nation” will profile those Kentucky fans who have moved away from the Bluegrass State for whatever reason, asking how they’ve managed to maintain their devotion and fanhood despite living in areas where every exhibition game isn’t televised or where no one in the neighborhood understands the significance of the date April 2, 2012. Our first expatriate is Derek Brown. Read on and enjoy hearing about his life as a UK fan outside of Kentucky.
Let’s start with the basics. Please state your name, where you’re from, and current location for the official record. No need for exact addresses, I don’t want to get you in trouble on the Internet.
Derek Brown. Normally, I answer only Kentucky as my hometown, because I lived in Flatwoods, Owensboro & Lexington. I claim a little bit of each of those fine, Southern cities. I currently reside in Southeast Portland, Oregon.
In the background, we have Mount Ranier on the left and Mount Adams on the right. In the middle, Derek Brown himself, standing on Mount Hood. He’s the one in the UK t-shirt throwing three goggles. See him? Right there!
How did you get from Point A (Kentucky) to Point B (where you are now)?
I was in my third year at UK and had a bit of an existential dilemma having never lived outside the Bluegrass/Ohio Valley region. I decided I needed to travel and live elsewhere to provide some perspective. I chose Portland and transferred to Portland State.
Have you ever met (or tried to meet) the Wiltjers or the Jones?
No. But my boss did play basketball with Terrence Jones and Terrence Ross of Canadian dunking fame. Wiltjer’s from the burbs.
What team’s fans dominate your area? (College or professional)
The Ducks are very popular in the fall, leading some diehard webbed-foots to claim that others have jumped on the Phil Knight bandwagon. The Blazers have a following, but their roster is being rebuilt (Damian Lillard is the real deal, for those of you that don’t watch basketball after 10:30). But the most passionate, without question, is the Timbers Army of the MLS’ Portland Timbers. YouTube these guys. They really do provide a European style atmosphere for the games that is unmatched in the US. I’m talking smoke bombs, F-word ladened songs and chants, flags… the full nine.
How many Kentucky fans would you say are in your general vicinity? Is there a local UK alumni group or bar?
I’m always surprised when I spot Wildcat Brethren, but it happens more than I would have ever expected. There’s a surprising amount of Kentuckians that have followed the Oregon trail out west. It’s always exciting to see that Blue.
How do you show off your fandom while living away from Kentucky?
I’m always in the Wildcat gear on game days or around the house. I also have Kentucky tattooed on my ribcage, so I rep the KY even without a shirt.
What’s the hardest thing about being a fan outside of the geographic BBN? The best thing?
The hardest thing about being outside the geographic BBN without question was not being in Lexington for the ensuing melee following number eight. I was away from family for Thanksgiving and Christmas that year, but none of that compared to missing 4.2.12. I had been waiting for that since I was eight years old. The best thing is living in the Rose City. I can be on top of a mountain 45 minutes from my front porch or on the Pacific Coast in 60, all while still enjoying the benefits and culture of urban Portland.
How annoying is it trying to watch games from a time zone that is three hours behind? Because speaking as someone in Central Time, even one hour behind is a struggle.
Adjusting to the earlier game times is difficult. I don’t make it up for much before 8:30, but I’ve never missed a 9 AM (noon in Lexington) tip. I normally watch those Saturday games over breakfast with a bourbon and coffee. Which is nice. When I first moved here I had to call around looking for an open bar that’s also showing the game. People are always surprised that I’m there for basketball on a Saturday in November.
What do you do for games?
I go out for a lot of games. I have some other friends from Kentucky who join me for some. I’ve also, with the assistance of MKG and crew, converted some others into semi-UK fans. Everyone likes a winner.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to follow a game live?
I had to work during the second round, Iowa State game. I had the game taping at home, as I’m sometimes forced to do because of the early starts, but I couldn’t handle not knowing. So, I wore a wire while serving tables with Tom Leach in my ear. True story.
How do you keep up with UK news without the local media readily accessible?
People still turn to Lexington media for UK news? I follow the Cats the same way I did since about ’07 with KSR. We go way back. (We love you too, Derek)
If I embark on a cross-country road trip with my friends, a la Britney Spears in Crossroads, do you have a UK-themed room I can stay in?
Sorry Kris, no UK-themed rooms. Maybe we could build a fort out of my Kentucky blankets and snuggie.
Since becoming an ex-pat, have you returned to Kentucky to watch the team play or seen the team play live in a different area?
I haven’t seen the team since I left home. I wish they’d come back to the Rose Garden, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. I did however get to see the Hoops Summit. Julius Randle can sky.
How do the locals respond to your fandom?
The locals try to make sense of it, and some even think they understand, but they don’t. It was frustrating to try and explain the magnitude of the Final Four game against little brother. No one could truly grasp just what I was going through. Portland’s a town full of transplants, so some people from back East get it. During the championship run, the Nike headquarters store downtown had MKG and A. Davis mannequins in their window display. I remembered walking past one day and thinking, “a lot has changed, very quickly, in my life since I sat front row of the Gardner-Webb game.”
What advice do you have for anyone who may be considering a move from Kentucky who is concerned about missing out on following UK?
To paraphrase the one and only Al McGuire: Kentucky basketball was there before you and it will continue after you. Simply put, Kentucky basketball never stops. The exposure the program demands, especially under Cal, combined with the abundance of media options in this day and age make it possible to follow the team any where. After throwing my remote against the wall following the buzzer to the 2011 game in Bloomington, I told my girlfriend that, “I am living proof that when the Kentucky Wildcats lose at the buzzer, the whole country feels it”. Big Blue Nationwide is very real.
Any general stories that the readers of KSR would be interested to hear about living as a BBN ex-pat?
Wildcat basketball has always been about family to me. Growing up, this was a period of time where my family was always together, united in Blue. Even still, when it’s game time, I know, that everyone in my family is watching. I mean extended family. On both sides. And my girlfriends family too. There’s something comforting about that. I know that even when separated this far, for a couple hours each week we’re connected by a shared interest and goal. Go Big Blue.
Derek set the bar high for the first feature of this series, but if you or anyone you know are interested in being interviewed, e-mail [email protected]