When my parents answered the phone I cried. I’m pretty sure they had been crying, too.
I was not yet two years-old when our team, the city’s team, won their last title. That makes me around the same age as Mike and many of you. Before the tournament, Mike wrote a wonderfully poignant piece about what a title would mean for the city. And now, just hours after, I’m still not entirely sure.
But I know what a title means for me.
Siva, Smith, Hancock, Behanan, Ware, Dieng, Blackshear, Van Treese, Henderson, Harrell, Price, Marra, Baffour, Mathiang, Baumann, Bond, Pitino. These are the names I have memorized. I will teach them to my children the same way that Griffith, Thompson, Hall, Ellison, Wagner, and others were taught to me. My kids will borrow my championship t-shirts to wear to school someday. I will tell them about how I never sat down for the second half, about how I didn’t wash my Cardinal gear for a solid month, and about how a good friend of mine—not even a Louisville fan—called me up after the game to go out and celebrate because he knew, more than anything, I wanted to celebrate at home in Louisville.
There are those who will claim we are drunk or delusional with the joy of our win when we say this, but this game was a culmination of what college basketball is supposed to be. Major conferences, major styles, and major players all met on that floor. These two teams gave us their all—so much so that after the game, I wouldn’t have been surprised if both teams stood on the floor for a moment and screamed in unison, "Are you not entertained? ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?" For they, in that moment, held the attention of an entire nation of college basketball fans—blue, yellow, red, orange, green, and white.
I wasn’t alive to see Ali fight, but I’d like to think that what we saw was similar to it. We saw a flurry of the Wolverines’ worst. At about the ten-minute mark in the first half, I was convinced that Albrecht’s name would be seared into my worst nightmares. Everything tasted bitter. I stared twenty-seven years of suffering in the face and prepared to face twenty-eight.
Like Ali, this team faced criticism—"They’re too slow. There’s not enough talent. They’ll miss Kevin Ware." And, like Ali, this coach faced criticism—"The game has passed him by. He can’t get the recruits. He won’t win at Louisville." These players, though, they just played—and, like Ali, they elevated the game to an art.
Often, when art is made, most don’t understand it. People understand power. They understand stats. They understand ratings.
Yet, when you’re a coach, recruits are a beginning, not an end. When you’re a championship team, talent is just part of it—you must become a family.
This family became part of the city’s legends. Siva stands beside Griffith. Kevin Ware became our heart. Gorgui Dieng, our mind. Rick Pitino, our leader. What they showed us was an embodiment of our city’s myth: we’re not New York, we’re not San Francisco, we’re not Los Angeles—we’re Louisville. We’re small, but we’re a family—from Baxter Avenue to Bardstown Road, from St. Matthews to Valley Station—we’ll stand toe-to-toe with any of those other cities, any other teams, any other states, any other nations, and we won’t flinch.
This title and this team are, for me, my part of Louisville. My place in the story I’ve been told since I was born. The next time I’m home, walking the city’s streets, the air will be a bit different. The red will be a bit more crisp. For years, as a kid, I learned the city’s story by suffering with her. I mourned the city’s teams. I suffered in grade school as kids who pulled for other teams—teams outside of the city—had their joy. I struggled to explain to others how this team—a team at a university I did not attend—was my heart and soul. And when those teams lost, I cried. I cried with Preston (!),Reece, DeJuan, and Samaki.
I cried for this team and this title because they accomplished so much and fought so hard. They fought for us, cried with us, and, in the end, their story was Ali’s story, it was the university’s story—and it was the city’s story. Finally, the world could see my home—what we stand for, what we love for, and what we cry for.
Though our tears and our joy we thank Luke and Kevin, Peyton and Russ, and this entire team for letting us join them throughout this sojourn. We thank Larry, Taquan, Francisco, Tick, Earl, Dwayne, Jerry, and so many others. We thank them for adding to the story of our city. We hope for our women's team the same joy. I thank them all for reminding me of why, every time I fly home, my heart jumps when the gate clerk announces, "Louisville."
What does this title mean for me?
I cried with my parents because finally, finally I felt like we, all of us, had come home.