Die-hard Hoosier basketball fans are raised to not only bleed cream and crimson day-in and day-out, but also to live every day with a burning passion of hatred against the university’s main rivals, Purdue and Kentucky.
So what happens when you’re all but forced to root for one of your rival’s main contributors?
While I was not raised a Hoosier fan, I did grow up rooting obsessively for the Chicago White Sox. Similar to the Hoosiers, the Sox have a rival that all big-time fans root against no matter what. I’m talking about their cross-town rival the Chicago Cubs, of course.
I imagine that for us, fans of the die-hard variety, the patterns of our fandom takes a similar path: when you’re young, you root cheer relentlessly against the rival, even when the game has absolutely no effect on your team. And say your team lost a disappointing game one day, it wasn’t nearly as bad if that team you hated lost, right?
Well I’ve grown up and matured greatly as a consumer of sports, so my stance on that is different now. No longer do I worry about the outcome of a game between the lowly Cubs and Astros, or how the Boilermakers or Wildcats fare in most of their games, given it doesn’t affect the Hoosiers. And throughout that maturation process, I’ve always wondered why we hate those rivals. I mean, is it deeper than the fact that we just love to hate certain teams?
This really got me wondering, and as it turns out, a recent event may have helped me find an answer.
The NBA draft last week presented an interesting situation for me and many other Chicago-native Hoosiers. The Bulls selected former Kentucky point guard, Marquis Teague, putting us at a crossroads with our fandom.
Last year we despised Teague for choosing to play at UK despite coming out of Indianapolis, but this year, all of the sudden, we’re supposed to embrace him as one of our own? It’s a peculiar dilemma.
The Chicago Bulls are in an interesting position this offseason, coming off of two consecutive 1st place regular season finishes in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. But with MVP Derrick Rose out until what will likely be at least half of the season, All Star Luol Deng’s status in question with a wrist injury, and head coach Tom Thibodeau’s contract situation up in flux, many surrounding the team have already dubbed next year to be one in which fans should not expect much.
Obviously, not much was expected to come from Chicago’s 29th overall selection in last Thursday’s draft. But that didn’t mean they weren’t going to have an interesting pick, which turned out to be the case exactly.
So with the Bulls having an open spot at point guard for what will likely be at least half of the season as Derrick Rose rehabs, Teague will get a good deal of playing time, whether he starts or not. And to be honest, I think it will be pretty difficult to fully support him.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ll always pull for Teague to be successful and help them win games. I’m never going to root against any of his shots from going in. However, when in discussion with any other Bulls fans, discussing what we like about the team and what is driving us insane with frustration, I can’t see myself ever raving about Teague or being a full-on fan of him in any way. I’ll appreciate everything he gives to the team, pull for him to help the team win, but I just won’t ever be a true Teague fan; he’ll be on a very short leash for me.
However, I understand some of you may find this to be strange, and I do too somewhat. So, I tried to look deeper and really figure out why I feel this way: is it just the UK factor? Do die hard IU fans like me really just have that deep-seeded a level of hatred ingrained in their heads for Kentucky players even when the collegiate parts of their careers are in the past?
Where does the rivalry come from?
To figure this out, I asked a couple of my buddies, both lifelong Hoosier basketball fans from the Chicago area. I asked them if they could give me something brief about the rivalry and their hatred for Kentucky. Here’s what I got:
“Kentucky is the Miami Heat of college sports. I don’t feel like they’ve done it the right way. Considering the shadiness surrounding Coach John Calipari and his players, it is disappointing that they won the NCAA Championship last year. It’s disappointing that the weak Kentucky fans get to see a banner raised for that team.”
“Growing up, I always hated UK. But to be honest, I didn’t quite hate them as much as the likes of the Green Bay Packers, Ohio State Buckeyes, or Chicago White Sox due to my other sports allegiances. But recently, because of the the arrogance of the program, the fans, and most of all Coach Cal, it’s almost impossible not to despise everything about the entire program, and heck, state, for that matter.
What I got from those quotes is that, well, yes, it is indeed Teague’s affiliation with the University of Kentucky that will hold me back from being a big fan of his, despite him joining my beloved Chicago Bulls.
If I were to take the anyone’s opinion to heart about anything Hoosiers-related, it’d be from these guys. They’ve followed the team obsessively since they were young.
So it got me thinking, do we really hate the University of Kentucky that much? Or do we just hate a particular coach’s program that just so happens to be at a rival school?
Well, remember a few years back when a certain Derrick Rose played for Coach Cal? A a few All-Star Game appearances and an NBA MVP Award later, we (Hoosier/Bulls fans) all love Rose. None of us think any less of him because he played for a Calipari team that was indeed “shady,” as lots of scandals surfaced after Rose went to the Bulls. Sure, D. Rose is from Chicago and Teague is an Indy kid that left the area for UK, but it’s not like we’re much bigger fans of any UK players from different states.
So let’s recap what we’ve got:
1.) I will find it hard to root for former Kentucky PG Marquis Teague on the Chicago Bulls due to my loyalty to the Indiana University basketball program and hatred of UK.
2.) Based on responses from lifelong fans of both the Indiana Hoosiers, the main reason, currently, that we don’t like Kentucky is because of the scandalous program led by Coach Cal. However, we root relentlessly for Derrick Rose who was involved with one of his teams, as well.
Through writing this, I learned a lot, and I’m sure you now know where I’m going with this. The reason that we despise Kentucky so much is not just Coach Cal. The coach and his reputation are not the reason why we don’t like them; they’re just our justification for feeling that way in the current day.
I mean, rivalries exist solely because people like to argue: they enjoy the debate and bragging rights that come with it, right? So, when looking for support for your side of the debate, you look for evidence that makes you feel that you have the upper hand.
For IU fans, it’s “your wins will be vacated soon,” and for UK fans it’s “well you guys haven’t really done anything in ten years.” Are either of those statements really relevant? No, they’re not. As far as we know, UK’s recent championship will not be vacated, and the last ten years don’t really matter for IU anymore, considering a new chapter has begun.
After all that digging and deeper thought, we get to the answer: we don’t like Kentucky because…well, we just don’t.
They’re in the SEC, a different state, and there aren’t any scheduled games between the two schools for the foreseeable future. If and when Coach Cal moves on, we’ll still hate them just as much, even if he may be the single biggest reason we don’t like UK right now.
So Wildcats, we just don’t like you, we enjoy disliking you, and to us, the only Indiana vs. Kentucky game that mattered last year was on December 10th.
This post was originally one of Zach’s pieces on IUSportCom.com, where he contributes his thoughts and analysis for the Chicago Bulls, among other topics.