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What if ESPN did a UK-related “30 for 30?”


ESPN has hit the jackpot with a number of their ideas and marketing strategies over the years. Some of their commercials which incorporate famous athletes and the ESPN staff are nothing short of brilliant. Even if you hate some of the 30-minute shows they run–which all essentially shell out the same news but in a variety of different ways– there’s probably at least one format which suits your liking. For my money though, ESPN has never nailed it more than they have with their “30 for 30” series. The idea stemmed from celebrating ESPN’s 30th anniversary by producing 30 films from some of today’s finest directors. Each film maker was able to put their own twist and creative touch on whatever issues, trends, stories, athletes, teams, rivalries, games or events from the sporting landscape between 1979 and 2009. The result? Some of the highest quality and most talked about stories, some which almost everyone has heard of, and some that would have never become household stories without the series.

As soon as ESPN signed on for Kentucky to do the recent “All Access” program, my mind went to the “30 for 30” series. The production value of the UK All Access shows is similar to that of the films. I began to wonder how long it would be before a UK-related “30 for 30” film came along, and when it did…which story would be told? When it comes to Kentucky basketball, it’s rich history, notable characters, memorable teams, passionate fan base, string of coaches, etc, there is no shortage of options for a filmmaker.

I asked for the help of many Kentucky fans on Twitter to help me come up with a list of possibilities for the hypothetical (for now) question: “What if ESPN did a UK-related 30 for 30? What would the subject be? What would we see? What would you want to see?”

The probation period: Many of you all suggested a closer look at Eddie Sutton and the events that led to Kentucky being put on probation. Obviously from a Kentucky fan stand point, of all the stories, this is probably the one you don’t want told in great detail. If you wanted to go a more positive route…

Jamal Mashburn as the most important recruit during Pitino’s tenure at Kentucky and how it changed the trajectory of the program. In a variety of ways, many of you suggested, with a slight tone of “ugh, it needs to be told,” Rick Pitino’s time at Kentucky and how he turned the program around following a period of probation. The film could start with how Kentucky was put on probation, followed by the arrival of Pitino, touching on the “Unforgettables,” Mashburn, the 1996 and 1998 titles, Pitino’s departure for the Boston Celtics and could conclude with Pitino’s return to Rupp Arena for the first time as the rival school’s coach. Whether or not you hold a grudge against Pitino, or whether or not you approve of him now that he’s at Louisville, his story and journey would be a fascinating one. And you know he would have some quotes you would probably love as a Kentucky fan, and hate as a Kentucky fan. He has gone on record at times about his decision to leave Kentucky, but I’m sure the film would bring out some more details, exploring what could have been if he had stayed.

What if Derek Anderson plays in the 1997 championship game and Kentucky 3-peats, 96-97-98? Derek Anderson’s injury and then subsequent recovery that some believe led him to be able to play if Pitino had given him the green light in the 1997 championship game is intriguing. Pitino said he was looking out for Anderson’s future NBA career. It’s certainly arguable that he could have played in that game. Most side that Kentucky would have won that game with Anderson playing. If Kentucky had been able to 3-peat, how would that have changed the course of history for Kentucky basketball in the years immediately following?

Mr. Wildcat- Bill Keightley’s story is one that almost all Kentucky fans are familiar with. Keightley was the Kentucky basketball equipment manager for decades, experiencing the ups and downs of more coaches than anyone else. Everyone who knows his story though knows that he was so much more than an equipment manager. He was the face of the program throughout the years, and a true friend and even more like a family member to the players who went through the program during his time. He will forever be a part of the fabric that makes up Kentucky basketball, and I think the rest of the world would enjoy hearing his story.

Bob Wiggins- Continuing in a similar direction, Bob Wiggins has probably seen more Kentucky basketball games than any human being on the planet. He has become a beloved figure at Kentucky basketball games in Rupp Arena. Since Calipari’s arrival, the team has taken Wiggins under their wing even more so, embracing the history and commitment he brings to the word “Kentucky basketball fan.” I’m sure he has some great stories to tell, and he’s the most precious man in the world. Who wouldn’t want to see a film about him?

“The Unforgettables”- One of the most suggested stories was that of the Unforgettables. Someone even went as far as to describe what the opening scene might look like. If this doesn’t give you a chill bump or two, I don’t know what will. Imagine dramatic lighting, clever camera angles and a perfectly selected song. Now imagine hearing the voice of Morgan Freeman or James Earl Jones similar saying, “What if I told you loyalty lasts forever?” as the screen turns to the rafters, where the jerseys of the Unforgettables are displayed in Rupp Arena. Chills.

Big Blue Madness- Many of you suggested Big Blue Madness– more specifically the camp out, which is as unique of an experience as I can think of when it comes to one of the coolest displays of affection and dedication by Kentucky fans. If a camera were there to document the entire thing, talking to fans, hearing the stories, showing the images of hundreds of tents, as well as player interactions– I think the result would be excellent. The film could even go more general in fact, and just examine what has become known as “Big Blue Nation.” Being a Kentucky fan is an experience unlike many others. Kentucky fans catch a lot of grief for being crazy and the most passionate fans in the world. It’s only a matter of time before more people start crafting brilliant stories from it.

The UK/UL rivalry– I’m not sure this rivalry would be the one a “30 for 30” crew would choose to highlight, considering some of the more nationally-hyped rivalries, especially the one ESPN loves almost as much as Tim Tebow– UNC/Duke. With that said, there have been some classic games and moments, and an examination of what it means to fans in the state of Kentucky, especially a city divided like Louisville, would certainly be interesting.

The 5-year post Tubby era- I’ll get into the details of each side of this coin in a moment, but the 5-year era post Tubby Smith at Kentucky has had more ups and downs than perhaps any other 5 year period at the University of Kentucky for men’s basketball. Five years seems like such a short amount of time but think of all the things that have happened?

Eric Manuel and how the ’88-’89 sanctions scandal derailed his career- Often times the “30 for 30” crew likes to focus on one athletes’ story. I’ve got to say, I wouldn’t have thought of this one, but I think it certainly has potential as far as focusing on one individual from a famous time period in Kentucky basketball history.

The Hal Mumme Era- Most of the suggestions were centered around Kentucky basketball, but of the few football suggestions, I think the Hal Mumme Era leads the way. Hal Mumme’s time at Kentucky was so unique, and at the same time controversial. Mumme gave Kentucky football fans a brand to identify with for a while. The “air raid” offense was unique and has inspired many other teams that still have success to this day.

Rashaad Carruth or Alex Legion- What has happened to these two guys? Two of the most promising prospects to arrive in Lexington. Both left on uneasy terms and not much has been heard about either one since. What are their stories?

Big Blue Sadness: The Billy Gillispie era-  More than one person obviously suggested a look at Billy Gillispie’s time at Kentucky. A number of suggestions came in about what it might be called as well, stemming from the one I bolded to “Billy G: The Downfall of a Dynasty.” What Billy Gillispie was able to do to Kentucky basketball in only a 2-year time period, where he took it, the embarrassing losses and his oddball ways and treatment of players and those close to the program, would make for an unbelievably interesting documentary. I don’t think what we would watch unfold on camera would be pretty, but from the bits and pieces we’ve heard over the years…it would be hard not to watch. Others also just suggested a documentary on Billy Gillispie’s life and/or coaching career in general, including his most recent woes as well as his success at Texas A&M.

John Calipari: A return to glory- Almost in direct contrast to Billy Gillispie’s type of documentary, Calipari’s 3-year stint so far at Kentucky has been nothing short of incredible. What he has been able to do not only at Kentucky for the program, but also the way in which he was changed the world of recruiting, would make for a great film. I don’t think I have to sell you on how interesting this documentary could be.

“Dance Like Nobody’s Watching:” The Matthew Mitchell Story – I love this. I love this a lot.

Sam Bowie being picked before Michael Jordan- This could be an interesting topic to take a closer look into. Looking back, it seems improbable considering Michael Jordan was arguably the greatest NBA player of all time and Sam Bowie’s career was riddled by injury.


Do you have any other ideas for a good UK-related “30 for 30?” Would any of these be films you’d be interested in seeing?



Article written by Ally Tucker

I once successfully requested "The Wobble" to be played 6 times at one wedding.

50 Comments for What if ESPN did a UK-related “30 for 30?”

  1. Jonah Hex
    5:04 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    Nope- it would have to be on Trent DiGiuro.

  2. bill
    5:07 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    I think they should make one called “madness” and it simply should focus on that of Kentucky Basketball as a whole. Theres no other program like UK. Not just the winning and tradition but how it is to be a fan, and how much it means to everyone in the state.

  3. goochie goo
    5:10 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    Some good ones on this list. But I don’t think Keightley or Wiggins would have much appeal outside of KY. And ‘Carruth or Legion?’ Seriously? Even people in KY wouldn’t watch that. But most of these would be good.

  4. Joe
    5:16 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    Thin Thirty?

  5. D
    5:22 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    The Rob Bromley Story. How can someone provide so little input, yet be kept around so long. Sorry Rob, hate to be mean, I guess I’m just jealous.

  6. bigcat
    5:23 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    how about one that highlights the inherent racism that has always been a part of UK’s tradition and then the turnaround when UK decided black athletes could help them make more money and win championships? They could talk about the interesting juxtaposition of UK fans making fun of inner city black people, line beards, and flat bills yet supporting the ones that play for them! Sounds gggrrreeeaaattt!!!

  7. tom5673
    5:23 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    without question, the probation and the best team that never played in 1989 would be an incredible “30 for 30”. think about rex chapman, chris mills, eric manuel, leron ellis and shaun kemp as a starting five. with reggie miller, derrick miller and a young group of “unforgettables” coming off the bench. are you kidding me?

  8. JR
    5:23 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    Dwight “blur” Anderson story on his rise and fall

  9. IUhater
    5:23 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    “Blue Rules the Court” a movie on UK and Duke in the 90’s and how for so many years one the teams was in the Final 4 and how UK fans became Duke haters for ever. A d I have been thinking about this since 30 for 30 started.

  10. tom5673
    5:23 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    sorry…reggie hanson, not reggie miller!

  11. Isaac Shelby
    5:24 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    What about something relating to the time when Rupp and Bear Bryant were both at Kentucky? How the athletic program might have been different if Bryant stayed and Rupp left.

  12. tom5673
    5:27 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    gillispie certainly did nothing to win over the hearts of bbn, alumni or his players, but he wasn’t the only problem. the dynasty began to fall the last 5 years of tubby’s tenure. everyone forgets about tubby’s recruiting classes that gillispie inherited. the cupboard was completely bare, and gillispie managed to go 12-4 in the sec his first year and won sec coach of the year. i’m not supporting billy g. by any stretch, but he did recruit better than tubby smith. the program was driven into the ground by tubby and billy g. grabbed a shovel and buried it.

  13. tom5673
    5:29 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    i like where your head’s at #11. nice! imagine our football program under coach bryant went to three straight bowls from 1950-1952 (orange, sugar and cotton!). they beat #1 oklahoma in the sugar bowl and should have been awarded the national championship, but back then, they already declared the national champion to be oklahoma before the bowl game was played. uk would have been national champions in both basketball and football in 1951! unbelievable.

  14. needs to be
    5:33 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    on tubby and how much he was basically ran out of town

  15. needs to be
    5:34 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    or on rick pitino at UK and then at U of L

  16. tom5673
    5:36 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    sorry to be so negative bbn, but coach smith’s recruiting classes (except for the rondo, morris, crawford, bradley class) were downright criminal. obrzut, alleyne, perry and s. thomas…yuck! how about jared carter and adam williams with rekalin sims transferring in. what? who? unreal how far we have come under coach calipari. those were some really tough years because outsiders and even espn analysts would assume that we had top level talent because we were “UK”. the fact is that our talent was mediocre at best, and tubby fell asleep at the wheel. hell, they even want him out at minnesota. that’s right…minnesota! not exactly a basketball powerhouse, and they’re tired of his boring style and mediocre results. coach smith: great coach; terrible recruiter.

  17. SneakyB
    5:41 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    Let’s just hope it wont be similar to “Pony Excess”..

    5:51 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    How about the recruit John Stewart, the 7 footer from Indiana that died of heart attack. He wanted to be and is a Wildcat forever. Another couple would be Tom Payne, Harry Lancaster and Phil Spivey, great stories there too, I would expect.

  19. Dwight anderson
    6:00 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    The Blur

  20. Two Thumbs Up
    6:01 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    I agree with #11

  21. MartyFeldmanEyes
    6:03 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    There already is a film in post production about the fandom of UK that is being shopped to espn.
    The director from Winchester that came in second on a reality show for young, hot filmmakers
    is the one doing it.

  22. Alex Trebec
    6:05 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    @one eighter: That would be “Bill” Spivey.

  23. Fake billy Clyde
    6:06 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    What If I told you a player never appreciated his role? Pine time: the Brian long story

  24. David Sprague
    6:08 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    1. Rupps Runt’s-They greatly surprised me in my second year following Uk. We have all heard the popular, racist perception.
    People lose sight of how beloved this team was. Of all season ending UK losses the depression went halfway through the summer. To me they are my favorite team. They are above the Unforgettables(#2)and the most loved championship teams.

  25. DukeSUXone
    6:16 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    How about Joe B. taking over from Rupp & continuing the Tradition of excellence known as Kentucky Basketball.

  26. AUbleedblue
    6:18 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    The first thought that came to mind when Gene Wojo’s book “The Last Great Game:” came out earlier this year I thought that would be great “30 for 30” idea, even though it does include dUKe in it. I know that it isn’t a popular idea but it’s a great story.

  27. bluristhurr
    6:19 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    You out did yourself on this post! LOVED IT like I did my Mary Jane in my college years

  28. Lost
    6:26 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    Why do they keep saying “i hope brian long appreciates this”?

  29. datroof
    6:38 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    #14, do you mean when he gave the AD an ultimatum to require waiving university regulations against nepotism? (hiring Saul)

  30. datroof
    6:39 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    #14, and how would that look this week?

  31. David Sprague
    6:42 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    The runts had great chemistry, great passing and excellent shooting. The fast break was at it’s best with this team. It was a thrill to witness this team climb the charts early in the year.
    I believe painful exits such as 1966 and 1975 build the hunger in a program and fanbase that lays the foundation for future greatness.

    2. 1975-Wooden’s retirement and the huge psychological advantage that gave UCLA. At the time it made no sense this maneuver could be successful.

    3. Jeff Sheppard the role model. How many humble, Christian very good athletes have excelled on a team and in the NCAA? I will never forget those 3 pointers off the curl. Maybe this is too subjective; but, perhaps others can identify.

    4. The Super Sophomore’s comeback down 20 with 5 minutes to go. They tied the game and then lost. This is forgotten. Only the 31 point deficit being overcome vs L.S.U. compares. Follow this up with the Mike Casey injury and what might have been.

    5. The SEC tournament and seeing Charles Barkley on the floor crying. Victories such as this that were so close and could have gone either way. How would the program have been affected with these games going the other way.

    6. The year we lost to Georgetown. What are the chances in all probability that a team this good be so inept shooting? If they just shot a normal poor percentage it was a win. This same team went to Houston and beat an outstanding Houston Cougars earlier in the year.

    These may not be 30 moments of college basketball history but they will never be forgotten in my era following the Big Blue.


  32. NkyCatfan55
    6:47 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    Alex Legion plays overseas in Hungary for the Pecs

  33. timer
    6:54 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    They should do a program about Jim Host. Without Host, there probably wouldn’t be an ESPN today.

    Dan Issel deserves a profile as well. When Issel retired from the NBA he was third all-time in points scored in professional basketball.

    And finally, they should do a program about the “Voices of the SEC.” Cawood Ledford, Claude Sullivan, John Ward, Larry Munson and others who contributed so much to the development of the fan base of SEC teams.

  34. Bulldawg
    6:57 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    Hey Ally, what if KSR did a spin off of 30 for 30? Sounds like a great idea to me. I will patiently wait while I listen for nose whistles…

  35. ERL
    7:10 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    The one about the Unforgettables would without a doubt be the best choice. I get goosebumps everytime I read the line “What if I told you loyalty lasts forever.” Think about it, these players were the foundation for a rebuilt Kentucky. They showed others how to lead by example and made Kentucky relevant and not a tarnished program. The Unforgettables capture the essence of what UK basketball is. Without these guys, Kentucky might not have ever returned to prominence.

  36. Jackson Puchase
    7:13 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    I would nominate a Cawood Ledford 30 for 30 or UK athletics when Rupp and Bryant both coached at Kentucky.

  37. Jeff
    7:29 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    The Fabulous Five.

  38. MartyFeldmanEyes
    7:40 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    How about a look into the many “benchwarmers” through the years and how being affiliated with
    UK afected their lives during and after their tenure. A profile of Gettlefinger (sp) – Massiello –
    Long – etc. – etc.

  39. MartyFeldmanEyes
    7:44 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink


  40. needs to be
    8:15 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    @29 i never said it was a bad thing….

  41. Kenny H
    8:21 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    Does anyone know what ever happened to Eric Manuel?

  42. TheBigToe
    8:40 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    Definitely the Billy G saga. So the whole world can see how far this program has come in just 3 years from that shit heel.

  43. Jenny Craig Pitino
    8:50 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    Derek Anderson was on the radio not long ago, and said that in 97 he was practicing fully with the team at the end of the year. If RickyP was worried about his knee, he should not have had him going thru every hard practice, then not play him in the NCAA games.

  44. TheRealBillyOcean
    9:04 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    “Just the Fax M’am” – the story of Randolph Morris and his elusive fax message sent to Tubby.

  45. Duke Sucks
    10:56 pm October 25, 2012 Permalink

    Would have to be Mr. Wildcat. Every idea here is great and would be hard to argue against. I do think there are probably are 4 or 5 programs out there that could have similar story’s about there programs. But I can’t think of any that have a man that ties so many eras together like Mr. Bill did.he seemed to be loved by every generation of wildcat since the program became relavent.
    One could only imagine the story’s he could have told. I’m sure somebody has some tapes of him reliving his take of the Program from Rupp to Smith(I like to leave out the other guy).

  46. yo
    10:02 am October 26, 2012 Permalink

    How about a documentary of all the handouts that RJ Corwin gives to players! Kenny Walker, LeRon Ellis and who knows how many more over the years.

  47. old man
    11:37 am October 26, 2012 Permalink

    Dwight Anderson the Blurr

  48. Chris
    12:26 pm October 26, 2012 Permalink

    A program riddled with scandal, cheating, and racism. Surely they can find something to do a story about.

  49. FarmersKids
    1:55 pm October 26, 2012 Permalink

    “Our Pappy is REALLY “unforgetable”…he “forgot” to rememeber his Child Support,Mortgage Payments and the fact he was married.”
    Starving in Clay County

  50. Jax Teller
    2:36 pm October 26, 2012 Permalink

    “Everyday is Senior Day: The Mark Coury story” — I think that about says it all.