Disinclined to attend such affairs — they often become tedious — I went anyway.
So glad I did.
Out of respect for my favorite coach ever.
Out of thanks to the human being who was the catalyst for more joy in my life than any other than my bride.
The evening was sweet.
The evening was touching.
Beyond reiteration that he stands among the best college basketball coaches ever, it cannot be shared enough what a decent, giving, important man he was. To the players he coached. To the fans he touched. To the community of Louisville. To the world of college basketball.
Billy Thompson shared it.
Jr. Bridgeman shared it.
Kenny Payne shared it.
Such as Mike Krzyzewski, Bobby Cremins, John Calipari, Roy Williams, Hugh Durham, Kareem Abdul Jabbar touched on it by video. Bill Walton by a letter read by MC Paul Rodgers, who also set a perfect tone for the whole lovely affair.
And Grif was there, of course, apologizing to media for not granting interviews, because he wanted to express all his thoughts last evening.
* * * * *
It was Dr. Dunkenstein who provided my favorite anecdote of the night.
He’d missed a dunk on a breakaway.
Denny pulled him aside, “Just lay the ball in the basket.”
Grif responded, “On a breakaway, you want me to just lay it in?”
“Just lay the ball in the basket.”
Grif, incredulous, “Dunkenstein don’t lay it in on breakaways.”
To which Denny gently chided, “Then would you please ask Darrell to just lay it in?”
* * * * *
There was one other significant, and somewhat surprising thematic element to the celebration.
The current state of U of L Men’s Hoops.
More so, the diminution of fan support in the stands.
Both Billy and Junior expressed their support for Kenny Payne. And how the time has come for fans to show their support to continue the legacy that was underscored last night by the largest gathering ever of former Cardinal players. Including some who didn’t even play for Denny.
Then Grif essentially threw down the gauntlet.
He underscored how revered U of L was nationally, how the Cards were Georgetown before Georgetown, the Fab 5 before the Fab 5.
He recalled one of his many conversations with Denny, talking about the “program.”
Grif asked DC, “What is the program?”
Denny Crum’s response: “The program is the fans.”
It is at this juncture that my inclination is to underscore Grif’s admonishment to the fanbase. To wag my finger and tell all how important it is, even after last year’s horrible campaign, and the questions that still remain about KP’s coaching, for people to get their butts in the seats.
But, everybody has their own agenda.
So, it is just my hope and prayer that Red & Black fans will recognize the incredible, almost unfathomable work KP and staff have done recruiting, set aside their disenchantment, believe in the spirit force of Cardinal hoops, and help foster the next great run of U of L hoops.
* * * * *
During Junior’s time at the mic, he talked about how the attendance increased through the years during the Crum era.
He recalled that his first game on the varsity as a sophomore was not in Freedom Hall, but because of a scheduling conflict in Louisville Gardens.
“Does anybody remember who we played?”
Despite sitting in the Media Suite, I shouted out, correctly, “Vanderbilt.”
As Otis Redding sang in my favorite of his tunes, “That’s how strong my love is.”
As has been said of another great love, rock & roll, it’s too late to stop now.
As disheartening as the last campaign was, as many questions as remain, I’m in.
I hope all reading who care about U of L hoops will join me.
* * * * *
There’s a reason why I used the usual photo at the top of this instead of Denny Crum’s, as pivotal and important as he is to the legacy.
There was Cardinal hoops success before he came.
There has been Cardinal hoops success since he retired.
A fan, I believe there shall be success in the future.
The legacy of U of L Cardinal hoops abides.
— c d kaplan