Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns (12) shoots against Notre Dame's Zach Auguste (30) and Pat Connaughton (24) during the first half of a college basketball game in the NCAA men's tournament regional finals, Saturday, March 28, 2015, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)
Two weeks ago I wrote about the history of the Kentucky Wildcats basketball team going from an all white American college squad under Coach Adolf Rupp from the 1930s to the 1970s, to a nearly all Black team under Coach John Calipari in 2015. Calipari’s team is presently chasing an undefeated 40-0 record and an eighth national championship. However, on late Saturday night, I rooted hard for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to take Kentucky down.
Why? For inspiration sake. Kentucky has been viewed as the big Black Goliath of the 2014-2015 season, with four players at 7 foot tall and several more who are less than six inches away. The oversized basketball team reminds me of Alabama football, where the Crimson Tide recruits the biggest, strongest and meanest young guys from across the country to “roll tide” over the competition.
Well, what fun is that for a real sports fan? I want to see athletic competition that inspires me to scream, “Yesss!” for the overachievers to win. That’s the “American way,” where we all feel like we have a legitimate opportunity to be victorious. Who wants the deck stacked against them with no chance before you even play the game?
Not even Vegas likes those odds. The bookies challenge us to hit the lottery by choosing the “Davids” of the world and not the giant favorites. I’ve always rooted against Goliaths in sports, including a historical distaste for the Dallas Cowboys, the Boston Celtics, the New York Yankees, the Tennessee Lady Volunteers and the Miami Hurricanes, to name a few. I even hated the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls teams.
Yes I did. I didn’t want Mr. Jordan to go 6-0 in his NBA Championships with 6 MVP’s. I wanted Clyde Drexler’s Portland Trailblazers to win one. I wanted Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp’s Seattle Supersonics to win. I even rooted for Patrick Ewing’s New York Knicks to find a way to take Jordan’s Bulls down after rooting against Ewing and his dominant Georgetown Hoyas teams in college.
Memorable victories in sports have always been about the little engine that could. I loved it when Sugar Ray Leonard retired Marvin “Marvelous” Hagler in boxing or when the USA hockey team took down the mighty Russians in the Winter Olympic Games. I even love the tiny island of Jamaica getting the best of us Americans in track and field. The classic upset is what makes the games interesting.
“That’s why they play the game,” says Chris Berman, host of “Sunday NFL Countdown”. Anything can happen. Great sports events are supposed to be real “reality TV,” and as unscripted as they come. So when a juggernaut like the Kentucky Wildcats pop up with everyone’s expectations of a cake walk to an eighth NCAA basketball championship, I begin to root for the opposition, including Hampton, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Duke, anyone.
Remember how refreshing it felt last year when the undersized “Hungry Huskies” of UCONN took on the touted, All-American freshman of Kentucky and won? Even though UCONN is not exactly your average underdog -- with 4 national titles of their own and doubled that for the woman’s team -- I rooted like crazy for UCONN’s young men last year, and I couldn’t sleep when they won. I listened to every interview and sports commentary about the victory that I could find on TV. It was inspirational and a great story.
The Seattle Seahawks annihilation of Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos in the 2014 Super Bowl was just as exhilarating. That’s not to say I hate Peyton Manning, because I genuinely like that guy, especially as an Indianapolis Colt. However, when he became a Bronco, the expectations were raised way too high for him to win everything, which made the joy of rooting for Russell Wilson that much stronger.
Now it’s the Kentucky Wildcats turn to go down… again. Only, the Fighting Irish made some crucial mistakes down the stretch and forgot how to win as a team by sharing the ball, just as the 2014 Seahawks made some crucial mistakes down the stretch in this year’s Super Bowl against the dreaded New England Patriots, another overpowering empire I love to hate.
So I’ll be rooting now for Wisconsin, Duke or Michigan State to take Kentucky down and keep my interest going. Then I’ll move on to root for another Cinderella winner in the NBA, like Seth Curry and the Golden State Warriors. Wouldn’t that be awesome? However, Kentucky going 40-0 with an eighth title won’t be an amazing achievement to me, because it’s already expected. And that becomes boring… and un-American.
Omar Tyree is a New York Times bestselling author, an NAACP Image Award winner for Outstanding Fiction, and a professional journalist, who has published 27 books, including co-authoring Mayor For Life; The Incredible Story of Marion Barry Jr. View more of his career and work @ www.OmarTyree.com