Kentucky fans got their program back
It's one thing to be good; it's even better to be fun
I truly believe this: Deep down, fans don’t just want their team to be good.
Oh, sure, they’ll take it. Obviously they’ll take it. Being good is better than being bad. If you’re winning, people don’t mind winning ugly, or at least they won’t complain about it too loudly. There is a certain charm to a team that exceeds the sum of its parts or relies on brutal defense or powers out close wins in late possessions. Fans can get behind that, too. It can become your identity. You can rally around it. (And, of course, everybody has a different idea of “ugly.”)
Still. Somewhere in there, in places people don’t talk about at parties, there is a desire among fans — maybe particularly basketball fans, maybe especially fans of traditional bluebloods — to not just win but have their team be enjoyable while doing so. Ideally, you employ talented players in ways that maximize their ability. You’re stylish, entertaining, fast, maybe even innovative. Most fans don’t want to have to grind things out. They want their team to be both good and fun.
For most of the past half-decade, Kentucky has occasionally been good but almost never been fun. The late-tenure John Calipari teams have been physical, deliberate, methodical to the point of plodding. They have struggled with turnovers. They haven’t shot the ball well, and their midrange-heavy shot diet has long since become outdated. Once built on brilliant young NBA talents, Kentucky’s recent teams have been older and less dynamic. Even their greatest player of this period — national player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe, a truly generational rebounding force — wasn’t exactly all that much fun to watch. He bent the game to his will, but super strength is always one of the least compelling superpowers.
On Tuesday night, at the Champions Classic, after years of identity drift and broadening fan discontent — yes, even in defeat, 89-84, for a program that doesn’t countenance moral victories — Kentucky finally felt like Kentucky is supposed to feel. Kentucky felt back.
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