Temecula, CA – It was during my first writing gig and I was living in Louisville, KY, a beautiful old river city located on the Ohio. Louisville is a very cosmopolitan river town with a rich history. The Kentucky Derby is held there and is the only major sporting event that has never been segregated, at least in the infield which is the spot for all the 99%ers. The 0ne Percent sit in the stands. The Derby started beforethe first Jim Crow law was ever enacted because America didn’t start out racist. It became that way after people like George Zimmerman’s father, a retired judge, switched the country onto the racist track it is still on today. Luckily I talked to my grandfather who was born before the turn of the 20thcentury. Seventy miles ESE of Louisville is Lexington, KY, voted one of the cleanest cities in America.Lexington also has a rich history and really is the top spot for many Kentuckians. Louisville with its cooperages, tobacco manufactures, and riverboat atmosphere has always been a place that was different from the rest of the state. Besides the freer culture, bounded by a much bigger river, and having a much less distinct southern/hillbilly dialect, many Louisvillians ‘notice’ the out of town speech of new arrivals as hick-ish. Louisville is still the biggest city in the state, despite the ‘uni-gov’* consolidation of 5 counties now under the Lexington banner [officially Lexington-Fayette Urban County]. In the 60s, rightly or wrongly, Lexington’s white picket fences became the symbol of ‘a place for everyone and everyone in their place’ state/country racial barriers. And though located in the heart of the Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region, called the "Thoroughbred City" and the "Horse Capital of the World", it is and has always been Louisville’s Kentucky Derby that the world comes to watch.
Living in Louisville’s west end, I was unaware of the rivalry until my friend Clarence Knox, a U of L grad popped over one day to tell me the news, “Louisville was going to play Kentucky in the NCAA semi-finals”. The year was 1983. I stared at him blankly at first. “So?” What did I say that for?
For the next twenty minutes or so, a very animated Mr. Knox explained how the two schools never played each other, a position that Kentucky had cemented on purpose by positioning itself in a different tournament league. In fact, the last time the two colleges played each other on the hardwood had been in 1945.
After wiping the sweat from his brow and calming down a minute, I reflected about how Coach Rupp vowed he would never have a black player on his Kentucky squad, and he never did. Taking his all-white team to the last NCAA championship game of his long and storied career, and winning it all won my respect for two reasons.
First, he didn’t hide his feelings behind a sheet. He was racial and proud of it. Second, he showed that white men could indeed jump, keeping the rush to make basketball an all black sport in check once integration became the trend. I didn’t like him for being a racist but I respected him for his convictions and belief in his own skin color. I really believe in a similar position that Coach Rupp would have fired a Sandusky on the first report of sexual impropriety, unlike Penn State, Paterno, and the rest of the cast who turned a blind eye to the sexual plundering.
In Louisville you could feel and see the hype as game time drew near. Red was everywhere; on buildings, houses, cars, and people. I got a U of L t-shirt and proudly wore it. The whole town, black and white, was all united like back in the Cassius Clay days. Outside of Louisville, it was all blue.
On the day of the game and when the game was on, you could have literally walked into a bank and helped yourself, except that all the crooks were b-ball fans too. Any 911 call would have been directed to dial 912. In all my years of living in Louisville, there was less traffic than during a tornado warning. Only the return of Jesus would cause the same effect and then it would be a tie in the Neilson ratings in Kentucky. Indiana may be a hoops state in general, but when Louisville plays Kentucky everything else is second. No robberies, no sex going on, zilch, just the game and basketball parties. You can almost walk down the middle of Broadway and if there are any cars out, they will pick you and take you to a b-ball party. The power of sports is amazing, see Invictus.
In 1983 the pick was Kentucky, much as it is today. Kentucky was the odds-on favorite to everyone outside of Louisville. They were bigger, more depth, more everything. Then the game started and the whole state entered the Twilight Zone, frozen in time. Kentucky roared off to a good start and looked like they would fulfill the predictions. However, Louisville played tough and stayed close, catching up and tying to go into overtime on a buzzer-beater. The whole state held its breath. I took my first piss break and my bladder thanked me.
When the teams returned, something had happened. Perhaps because Louisville hadn’t been the rollover team they thought, or perhaps the Kentucky squad just ran out of gas, Louisville got the upper hand and won the day. When the game was over you would have thought it was VE day. Horns tooted, sirens blared, people danced in the streets, and the town celebrated for almost a week before turning back to normal. All that commotion and all I got out of it was a t-shirt. But what a shirt!
It was a t-shirt announcing ‘The Dream Game’, with the final score listed and showing a clawing blue Kentucky Wildcat, cringing, as a big, red, mean-looking, but grinning Louisville Cardinal shoving a basketball up the wildcat’s ass (half the basketball was sticking out). Whatever the outcome of today’s game is, I’ll never forget that t-shirt and the Dream Game back in ‘83. Mercy!
(* - Richard Luger’s plan to keep political power in white hands by diluting the black political power arising because of the 'white flight' in the cities)