What does 31.65 million dollars spread over 8 years buy? It may buy the potential number one recruiting class in NCAA history. It may eventually pay out dividends in the form of a national championship. Some other things it will get you? Pessimism? Paranoia? Abused players? Curse words by the barrell? Soiled reputation? So, when the University of Kentucky purchased John Calipari and his services, they took the good and the bad. One thing Kentucky couldn’t buy from Memphis when they convinced Calipari to make a deal with the devil is the Tiger pride that has been a part of this city long before Calipari became the Elvis of the 21st century.
Speaking as a fan, I am glad that John Calipari has moved on to another place. If you are an opposing fan reading this, you are more than likely going to claim “sour grapes”. Whatever, but it’s the truth. I was tired of the negativity. I was tired of the paranoia with the media, the “everybody is really out to get us” attitude and of course the dramatic screaming and yelling. I became increasingly embarrassed by the jumping up and down during games, the curse words that could be read on his lips every time he spoke to a referee (e.g. games like Missouri, when he got one technical and should have gotten another when it was instead given to the “bench”). Winning had made many fans turn a blind eye to the antics of John Calipari, but not me.
So we enter a new era under Josh Pastner; one of positivity, hopes and apparently “rock and roll.” I am so happy that I can begin taking my son to practice again (an activity that I had stopped doing) without having to worry about us both learning new curse words. “Dad, what does f**k mean?” I am elated that we have entered a new period where we can still hope for greatness, now without having to tarnish our pride to do so. This team, this university…it’s still the city’s. It is still what unites race, color, creed, socio-economic status and gender.
We have what few can claim; for two hours, we can escape the world and support a team that gives its all to strive toward greatness. An escape that leaves neighborhood, financial situations, racial tension, mayorial issues, and city government corruption at grand entrance of the FedEx Forum. This city comes together with the feeling that maybe, just maybe, something great can happen that night. Memphians uniting, as one, to support something.
KENTUCKY CANNOT BUY THIS FROM US. THIS IS OUR TIGER PRIDE.
It’s the blue flags hanging from cars driving down Union Avenue, the “U of M” writing on store windows and the billboards lined with encouragement for the team. It’s what makes us yell, “Go Tigers!” when you see a complete stranger in the store wearing a blue shirt. It’s the First Tennessee building lit up in Tiger blue during the tournament. It’s the way 5,000 fans show up to the airport when the team returns and how we get chills up our backs when watching the intro video on the jumbo-tron at the FedEx Forum.
These are the things that we have, that no one can take away; not John Calipari, not Kentucky nor $31.65 million. This Tiger Pride is what Kentucky was so desperate to get, even to the point of paying John Calipari the largest salary ever paid to a college basketball coach. They crave these things that they once had. Greatness. Pride in their program. A unity in the city of Lexington.
The difference, though, between the city of Memphis and the city of Lexington is that one has what they want no matter the coach. Lexington’s desire to get their beloved program back to the days of old centers around greed for championships (just ask Billy Gillespie) . Kentucky is so hungry for winning and getting that feeling of greatness again that they will take our coach, sign our recruits and never blink an eye. OUR city is not desperate. We were Memphis long before Savior John Calipari. We will continue to be Memphis no matter the coach. We were Memphis through Gene Bartow. We were Memphis through Dana Kirk. We were Memphis through Larry Finch, and Tic Price and Johnny Jones. We were Memphis through John Calipari and we are not going to stop because he’s gone.
So Calipari talks out of one side of his mouth saying one thing and turns to the other and does differently. The dominoes have now begun to fall and Memphis’ recruiting class has now begun to matriculate to UK. You know what I say? They can have them…all of them! We will find more players, sign more recruits and we will win! We have been to 3 Final Fours, 2 championship games and countless victories (enter the blue-bloods’ elitist smirk and condescending laughter). We will return.
This is what makes Memphis basketball so great. We are Penny Hardaway, a local kid who made it HUGE and never forgot where he was from! We are Larry Finch, a great man who took on mighty UCLA in 1973, but never forgot that Orange Mound was his home! We are down 7 at UAB, never thinking we will lose the game! We are 2 free throws in the heart of Texas with 3.6 seconds left! We ARE greatness and we are MEMPHIS!!! It’s time to pick that Tiger Pride up off the floor and start acting like Memphis fans.