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?