No one likes to lose. However, losing is part of sports, one of the only two outcomes we’re afforded. Losing in the NCAA Tournament feels so sudden and so final, no matter where the loss occurs. Be it in the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, Final Four or in the title game, it just… hurts. With Kentucky losing to Kansas State in the NCAA Regional in Atlanta, there’s nothing, basketball wise, for the Big Blue Nation to look forward to until next season’s Big Blue Madness. For most of us, there’s a sports void that only Kentucky Basketball can fill.
The biggest gripe that people within and without the BBN seem to have with head coach John Calipari is the notion that he should have more titles than just the 2012 title. I think there’s some validity to that idea, who doesn’t want more titles? I do, however, think that overlooks the very nature of the NCAA tournament. A single elimination tournament lends itself to unpredictability, the best or most talented team doesn’t always win. It’s been that way throughout the 80 years of the NCAA tournament.
The 2018 edition of the NCAA tournament is, in fact, the 80th edition. So, regardless of the outcome, the Kentucky Wildcats have won an amazing 10% of all the NCAA titles. (As an aside, one of the great selling jobs in sports is that the NCAA tournament is wide open when UK and UCLA have nearly 25% of the titles). For the Cats, that’s pretty remarkable and amazing and only adds to the legacy of the program, the best in the history of college basketball. UK’s history in the tournament is nearly without peer and there have been great moments scattered over decades of basketball excellent. Even with 10% of the titles, that means that Kentucky doesn’t always win it.
Have we really become championship or bust as fan base? If nothing matters but a championship, are we really going to discard every team, player or coach that didn’t measure up? Do we go up into the rafters and pull down the banners of the Unforgettables? Is Dan Issel a loser? Is Jamal Mashburn? Pat Riley? Mike Pratt? Rex Chapman? Kenny Walker? Sam Bowie? I understand that championships are the main goal for any team, but is that the only reason to follow a sports team? Just for the championships?
When it comes to sports, all we can ask for is best effort. Best effort from the coaches and players of our favorite teams. Let’s all assume that every player wants to hit every shot and no one wants to turn the ball over. Coaches and players don’t lose ballgames just to upset their fans and ruin their gamedays or weekends or seasons. Fans root for and support the team, whether by watching on TV or buying tickets or buying games. Still, does that mean that they’re more invested in the wins and losses and the people whose livelihoods depend on the Wildcats’ record?
The all-time NCAA wins record is great. Being second in NCAA titles is fantastic. Isn’t being a part of the Big Blue Nation more than just numbers? Doesn’t mean watching young men come together as a team? Doesn’t mean watching a team reach its peak, whatever that may be? A generation ago, one of the most beloved teams in Kentucky history fell one point short of a Final Four. As unforgettable as that team was, it seems that we’ve lost sight of what makes Kentucky Basketball special and it’s more than just trophies.