"I am Louisville. I am not Kentucky."
So begins an illuminating piece Bill Plaschke wrote for the L.A. Times a year ago. Entitled "His Old Louisville Home Isn't in Kentucky," the article explains the sportswriter's loyalty to Louisville basketball over its in-state rival Kentucky Wildcats. It also profoundly impacted my views on college hoops fandom.
The piece appeared days before the two schools met in a national semifinal game. We all know how that ended up:
But as a Los Angeles native and Lakers fan, Kentucky hoops meant nothing to me. Coach Cal and Pitino were names I merely knew peripherally. Only by chance did I come across Plaschke's piece during a lunch break at work.
After reading it, however, I knew I was a Cardinals fan.
Plaschke lovingly describes his hometown university's relative underdog position: “Louisville was the smaller city school," he claims, while "Kentucky was a giant country university. Louisville's students spent their weekends working to pay tuition. Kentucky's students spent their weekend tapping kegs while their Daddies paid tuition.”
Heartwarming David vs. Goliath set-up? Check.
The author then touches on the schools' contested racial history. We're discussing the American South, after all: “Louisville's basketball team was one of the first in the South to embrace African American players, and the Cardinals were even derisively called 'The Black Birds.'"
Alternately, the Wildcats refused to sign a black player until 1969. In 1966, they'd lost the NCAA title game to a Texas Western squad featuring an all-black starting five: “Louisville felt urban and hip and tolerant. Kentucky looked country and conservative and entitled.”
Not a great look for the Cats. Cards win again.
Overall, Plaschke's piece elucidates an age-old rivalry that few outside of Kentucky know in detail. But if this isn't enough to convince potential Louisville bandwagoners, here's Exhibit B:
Photo Credit: USA Today
Cardinals starting point guard Peyton Siva had it rough as a kid. According to a November ESPN article, the Seattle-native grew up surrounded by gang violence in a household where his mother worked three jobs to support the family. His father struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, and spent time in and out of jail.
At age 13, Siva taught himself how to drive, and went looking for his dad after he'd gone missing one night. He came across the elder Siva in a drug den, holding a handgun. That was the night Peyton successfully talked his father out of killing himself.
Peyton then dedicated his life to basketball, ignoring persistently disparaging remarks about his size. This month, the 5'10" point guard will try leading his team to an NCAA championship.
How can you not root for this kid?
I understand my position is questionable from a fan perspective. Is my support of the Louisville Cardinals devoid of any personal or geographical connection to Kentucky? Yes. Am I a bandwagon supporter? Yes. Will Louisville basketball even cross my mind once the NCAA tournament is over? Probably not.
But this is March Madness, people. Everybody needs a team to root for.
Join me on the Cards bandwagon. You won't regret it.