Kentucky Basketball: Pardon My Interruption


On Monday evening, on the ESPN show Pardon the Interruption, co-host Michael Wilbon, once again, took another shot at the Big Blue Nation. As Wilbon and his co-host Tony Kornheiser discussed whether or not UK head men’s basketball coach, John Calipari, is regretting not taking the Cleveland Cavaliers job in the wake of LeBron James’ return, Wilbon opined that yes, Cal is regretting it. And Wilbon’s main point of why Calipari should be regretting it isn’t that he missed an opportunity to coach the best player in the world, it’s that the Big Blue Nation is never, ever satisfied.

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With most things in the media, there’s a narrative about Kentucky fans. It usually is understood that Kentucky fans are uneducated, semi literate, quasi racist, base their well being solely on the success of the team and that, for whatever reason, we’re never really satisfied with anything short of a championship. Despite evidence to the contrary, this narrative continues to persist. When the fact that arguably the most beloved team in UK history, the Unforgettables, failed to even make the Final Four, it’s hard to say that winning is everything, even for fans of the Big Blue.

Do Kentucky fans want the Cats to win? Of course. What fan base is ok with their team losing? Are Kentucky fans passionate about their team? Yes they are. The reason the Big Blue Nation is special is because it’s large and it’s vocal. And that is a double edged sword. At times, Kentucky fans can be overly sensitive about remarks from the media, but that doesn’t mean that some members of the media don’t take cheap shots at Calipari, the Big Blue Nation or the Kentucky program. The idea that Kentucky fans can be sensitive and the media can take cheap shots aren’t mutually exclusive.

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I am a long time viewer of PTI. I love the way Wilbon and Kornheiser and their guest hosts tackle the biggest sports issues of the day.  The appeal of the show was that it felt like you were watching two friends sitting at a bar arguing about sports. Unlike ESPN’s First Take, Pardon the Interruption never felt contrived and their views felt genuine. And, when it was necessary, the hosts would apologize or even say “I’m sorry.” But, as Calipari and Kentucky have been in the news this offseason, Mike Wilbon, in my opinion, has gone overboard. I’m more than thick-skinned enough for a glancing cheapshot. It’s fine to bring up Cal’s vacated Final Fours. It’s even fine to bring up Emery packages and UK’s past sins. It’s fine to talk about how insanely passionate the Big Blue Nation can be. That’s all fair game. But to continually insist that the vast majority of Kentucky fans want Calipari gone because he doesn’t win a title every year? That’s ridiculous.

Since Connecticut defeated the Wildcats in the NCAA Championship game in April, I haven’t heard one person say they wanted Calipari out of Lexington. Not on Twitter (where logic is optional). Not on Facebook. Not at any cookouts. Not at church. Not at the grocery store. Not one person is clamoring for Calipari to leave. Five years, three Final Fours, a runner-up finish and a national title. Even by Kentucky’s lofty standards, Cal has done remarkably well. And with another top recruiting class (and his returning guys), the Wildcats are poised for another deep tournament run. The overwhelming majority of the Big Blue Nation understand how special what Cal is doing really is. They are appreciative. They are thankful. The last thing anyone wants to do is to end this run prematurely. Will John Calipari leave Lexington one day? Of course he will. But it won’t be because the fan base pushed him out the door.