Kentucky fans: We call ourselves “passionate”, other people call us “crazy”.
But, any way it shakes out, a Kentucky basketball fan is a unique person, unlike probably any other fan base in college sports. The program is a year round obsession for many, which brings pride to some and ridicule from outside fanbases. This obsession allows people like Dick Vitale to wax poetic about the team but also what partly why Tubby Smith left. It’s a love hate relationship that has brought much good to the people of Kentucky and some negative. But, what exactly makes us love this team so much? I give my 5 reasons:
-Obviously, above all else, Kentucky basketball has been very successful over the past 75 years. Eight national titles, numerous Final Fours, and huge wins throughout the history of the program makes it very easy to cheer for the team. What has also been helpful is that the team has rarely had more than a 2-3 year slump before becoming elite again. Even during probation in the early 1990’s, there were only 2 poor years. Kentucky has been to a Final Four in every decade since the 1940’s, sans the 2000’s. Frankly, people latch onto winners, and when Kentucky wins year after year, its becomes addicting, and you can’t let go of that attachment.
2) THE STATE OF KENTUCKY
-We are a small state overall. Very few “important” figures come from the state. We don’t have many elite universities academically (overall). So, as Kentuckians, we have to find something to be proud of and Kentucky basketball fills that void. We can flaunt the team to people from other places as something important. It’s the same reason that some fans don’t care for or watch any other sports. They want to continue to place the Kentucky basketball team on a pedestal, and at least in their minds, make it the most important thing in the state.
3) NO PRO SPORTS
-Going along with the previous point, there is nothing else sports wise that competes with Kentucky basketball. It’s the same reason that Nebraska football is as big as it is. The only pro sports team that has ever come through the state is the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA, not exactly a strong competitor. So, we don’t have any attachment for an NFL, NBA, or MLB team. Add onto that, the Kentucky football team has never been a serious competitor in the SEC, means that the fanbase interest in that sport is greatly diminished. There is only one thing that has consistently been in Kentuckians sports landscape for decades and that is college basketball.
-As much fun as we have calling UL “little brother”, the honest truth is they have done good things for the UK basketball program. The pressure to stay ahead of Louisville in basketball forces Kentucky to continually stay on it’s toes and striving to win the state. This applies not only to games on the court but the recruiting battles off the court. Without a serious in-state challenge, the passion wouldn’t be as great from UK fans to rub it into their UL counterparts. Consider this, when you approach an EKU fan, do you get as heated into discussion as when you are face to face with a UL goober.
-For whatever reason, parents feel a sense of pride passing their fanhood of UK basketball down from one generation to another. Some people pass the family business down to their children, people in Kentucky pass their passion for UK basketball. This is especially the case in Eastern Kentucky, where it truly becomes a family get-together to watch games. It’s an event. I have seen parents who seem incredibly disappointed when their son or daughter doesn’t show any care when Kentucky is playing. What is especially amazing too is that the love of Kentucky scales all races and economic backgrounds. For instance, Vandy is a rich fans school, Tennessee is a poor fan’s school, or at least that is the perception. But, Kentucky fans span all different kinds of people, who can all find common ground with the Cats. It’s pretty amazing.
So, what am I missing. What makes us the most rabid fanbase in the country and maybe in all of sports?