On the latest episode of my podcast, Nazr Mohammed debunked a popular story from his time at UK about Rick Pitino making him run home from Rupp Arena instead of taking the team bus to lose weight. In a time before social media, that story was everywhere growing up, the feel-good fable for Nazr’s quest to shed pounds his freshman year; however, Nazr swore it’s not true, chalking it up to another UK urban legend.
That got me thinking…what are some other famous UK sports urban legends? With help from fans on Twitter, I came up with a list of six.
1. The Bear Bryant/Adolph Rupp lighter/Cadillac story
By far the most famous urban legend surrounding UK sports has to do with two of its most famous coaches. Before building a dynasty at Alabama, Bear Bryant was on his way to building one at Kentucky, but left after eight seasons for Texas A&M. Bryant had several years left on his contract, and, over the years, the rumor became that he left because, at an athletics banquet, head basketball coach Adolph Rupp was presented with a Cadillac while Bryant was only given a cigarette lighter, symbolizing the school’s preference for basketball over football.
Diehard UK Football fans still cling to this story as proof the administration will always favor basketball over football, but it turns out it’s not true. Bryant actually told the story — which was made up — as a joke at a luncheon in 1950 and was quoted in an AP article, but the reporter didn’t check with Bryant to see if it was true or mention that it was a joke in the piece, so an urban legend was born. Ironically, Rupp was given a Cadillac, but it wasn’t until 1955, and even then, it was from UK boosters and not the school itself.
Jon Scott has an excellent breakdown of this story on BigBlueHistory.net if you’d like to learn more.
2. Billy Clyde went skinny dipping at the Merrick Inn pool
We could fill an entire book with Billy G. urban legends, but the most widely-circulated rumor about Billy’s nightlife escapades has to be the one about him skinny dipping in the Merrick Inn pool. Word around Lexington was Billy got so drunk one night that he and two women stripped down to nothing and jumped in the pool at the Merrick Inn, and were promptly thrown out.
Merrick Inn management says the story is false, and there are no pictures to prove it’s true. The Billy G. rumor mill was spinning at warp speed during his time in Lexington, so, like many Billy G. rumors, I think this is false, but there’s no way to know for certain.
3. The Josh Harrellson bathroom stall story
Again, so many Billy G. urban legends, so little time, but one that we actually verified on KSR was Gillispie forcing Josh Harrellson to sit in a bathroom stall during halftime of the UK/Vanderbilt game in 2009 while he addressed the rest of the team. After the game, Harrellson was told to ride back to Lexington in the equipment van rather than on the team bus with the rest of the players.
Josh confirmed the story to Jerry Tipton in 2009 and on KSR in 2013, saying that while the incident was humiliating, he shook it off pretty quickly. In fact, Harrellson has defended Gillispie a number of times since then, insisting that Gillispie’s harsh coaching style made him a tougher player.
While true, this story isn’t nearly as disturbing as other Billy G. urban legends, such as stealing his own player’s girlfriend, making Darius Miller play on an injured ankle, forcing Perry Stevenson to eat Pop Tarts to gain weight, etc. etc.
4. Rajon Rondo stole Patrick Sparks’ girlfriend
To put it nicely, Rondo had a reputation as a bit of a punk while at Kentucky, and the rumor that he stole Patrick Sparks’ girlfriend (and potentially got her pregnant) did not help. Many claim this is why Sparks and Rondo didn’t play well together and why the team didn’t have much chemistry in the 2005-2006 season.
Who knows, but man, there sure are a lot of Google search results on the topic, including an entire page on a celebrity gossip website called “Lipstick Alley,” as well as at least four queries on Yahoo’s Answers forum.
5. Rex Chapman had an IROC Camaro with “I-Rex” on the side
Rex’s days at UK were before my time, but when I put out a Twitter call for the best UK sports urban legends, @Augustine8 brought this one up. Apparently, Rex had an IROC Camaro with “IREX” printed on the side of it during his time in Lexington.
Rex sort of but not really addressed this during a Twitter Q&A a few years back, but how does a rumor like that start if it’s not true? Unless the school paid for it, it actually seems pretty cool and badass.
Regardless, we will file this with the other UK Basketball car rumors, including “Todd Tackett had a pewter colored Corvette.”
6. Melvin Turpin had pizza delivered to his dorm window
The story goes that Joe B. Hall and the UK coaching staff wanted “Dinner Bell Mel” to keep his weight under control, so they stationed someone outside his room to make sure he didn’t go on late night food runs; however, Mel got around this by having pizza delivered to his window at the Wildcat Lodge.
Kenny Walker confirmed this story on an episode of KSR with Ryan Lemond back in January, adding that because Melvin lived on the second floor, he would throw out a rope to pull the pizza up.
Any more to share? Maybe we’ll even make this a series…