In February 1988 I was a senior at the University of Kansas. I sat in a common room on campus, and overheard another student bitch and moan about the sorry state of Kansas basketball. The Jayhawks were on a serious skid. They had just lost to top ranked Oklahoma yet again. The young student felt cheated. He poured his complaints onto a bored looking coed, claiming the only reason he went to Kansas was because of their basketball team. Now he regretted ever coming to Lawrence. What a dope, I thought. It’s not like the kid was on the team. He looked about five foot six, and couldn’t have weighed more than 140. Why would he choose a school based on their basketball team?
Despite that kid’s fears, the Jayhawks made the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid. Few experts had high expectations for them. Kansas was unranked on Selection Sunday, and were seeded as a 6. Danny Manning, their star player, was having a good year, but two years earlier, Kansas made the Final Four, and in a losing effort he finished the semi-final game with more fouls than points. It seemed unlikely the team would make much noise this year.
That particular semester I had a Monday night literature class. The day after Selection Sunday the professor started class by proposing a contingency plan if the Jayhawks made the final game of the tournament. The university would most certainly cancel classes in that situation, and this was a night class. One missed day was really a whole week. We might have to reschedule for a Sunday night. After saying all this, pretty much the entire class erupted in laughter. The idea of the team making it that far was just too ridiculous.
They did, of course. And they ended up beating Oklahoma in the title game. Up to that game I didn’t really care about basketball. I was much more about baseball and football. I had grown up in Western New York, and basketball just wasn’t the sport. The pro team in Buffalo lasted just two years. And college hoops? The only major program was at the much despised University of Syracuse. So unlike the dope, I did not choose KU for its basketball team. I knew who Danny Manning was; every one did. I even had a class with him. (Physical Geography. He only came on test days. All the other classes two very beautiful women sat in and took notes for him.) Like everyone else in Lawrence, I watched the title game. The university did cancel class. And yes, it was a very exciting game. This basketball isn’t such a silly sport, I thought, despite the gay-looking shorts. Even though I didn’t really care before, I was happy the Jayhawks won. For weeks after I hoped to run in to that dope from the common room. Oh I so much wanted to laugh in his face.
And now it’s 23 years later. Kansas is on the verge of another Final Four. If they win the whole thing, I will have the same impulse I did in 2008 when they beat Memphis for the title. I will want to search out the dope, point in his face, and laugh uncontrollably. I think there are worse reasons to be a fan.