UK Basketball Notebook: Mayor sees Rupp Arena makover as a way to preserve history

Herald-Leader Staff WriterAugust 31, 2013 

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray spoke during an afternoon news conference concerning the plans for Rupp Arena held in the Lexington Center in Lexington, Ky., Wednesday, July 10, 2013.

CHARLES BERTRAM | STAFF — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

Sharing is caring.

That might be the message Lexington mayor Jim Gray meant to deliver last week when he asked the public to share their favorite memories of Rupp Arena. By definition, Rupp's re-invention (to borrow Gray's preferred term) means that Kentucky's home court will be changed.

Talk of luxury suites, loge boxes and other paeans to our economic royalty roils a segment of UK fans who fear they will be the have-nots and left-outs in the new Rupp.

By sharing their memories of Rupp, the public can remind themselves that they have an emotional stake in Rupp Arena's wellbeing past, present and — most pertinent to the mayor's project — the future.

"Everybody wants ownership," said Gray, who then spoke for Joe and Jill Fan by saying, "Through my memories, I own a part of the history."

Together, we cherish Rupp Arena. Together, we can make it vibrant and enduring for decades to come.

Truth be told, Rupp Arena is already stratified. It's had upper and lower arenas from the beginning. The idea to replace upper arena bleachers with chair-back seats would unite the Big Blue Nation bottom to top in cushioned comfort.

Or maybe the message is this: posting is toasting.

Gray asked fans to post their memories on Facebook (facebook.com/RuppDistrict), via twitter (@RuppDistrict) or through email (info@ruppdistrict.com). These memories serve to toast Rupp Arena, which moves the mayor to religious imagery. In a conversation last week, he called Rupp "the holy grail" of college basketball. A vessel for the sacred and righteous? Earlier this year, Gray saluted Lexington's "secular temple."

Returning our feet to the ground, maybe the call for memories is a means to evoke a charming touch Gray saw on a tour of what was then called Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis (it's now Bankers Life Fieldhouse for those keeping score on naming rights). Iconic photos and headlines adorned the walls of the concourses and gave a shiny new building a bit of nostaglia.

"We need to celebrate the wonderful stories and memories people have of the place," Gray said. "The attachment they have. That's your memory, and that has a lot of (significance)."

After a 20-minute conversation, it still wasn't clear why Gray asked fans to share their memories. A cynic might see it as a public relations gesture that candy-coats the pill of progress we must swallow. The mayor cleverly saying we'll include you before we exclude you.

Or maybe it's another tentative step in the difficult balancing act Gray volunteered for. In re-inventing Rupp Arena as the centerpiece of a downtown entertainment district, Gray wants to preserve while radically changing.

Preserve what? The structural integrity of the Rupp Arena bowl? The spirit of UK fandom that makes for what former Georgia Coach Hugh Durham called the "blue mist?"

"I think it's both," Gray said. "Spiritual preservation and the physical. But enhancing the physical space."

Like Gray's idea of an entertainment district, his call for memories of Rupp Arena involves more than UK basketball. Rupp has also been home to numerous Sweet 16 tournaments, concerts, circuses and graduation ceremonies.

Gray wants to hear all the memories. A bespectacled middle-aged (?) sportswriter and his future wife had their first date at a Bruce Springsteen concert in Rupp Arena.

So far, the memories posted predictably include game-winning shots by Rajon Rondo and John Wall against South Carolina and Miami (Ohio), respectively. Anthony Davis' block against John Henson to preserve a victory over North Carolina was an early entry.

There's also been an irreverent memory of the ill-fated Billy Gillispie error.

"My favorite Rupp memory was Nov 7, 2007," Bill Lacy posted. "That was the night Gardner Webb upset Kentucky 84-68. Go Billy!!!"

But, primarily, the postings sound sincere and heartfelt.

"The first time stepping into Rupp at 7 years old and smiling from ear to ear," Wayne Wood wrote. "Rupp was real, not just (a) place on TV."

Robert Ostrander noted a Pink Floyd concert. "Think it was 1989," he wrote.

Bill Marshall echoed the sentiment. "Easily bought 100 different concert shirts in the 80s," he wrote.

To get the ball rolling, Gray posted his own memory. "As a builder, watching Rupp being built was something else," he posted. "I was in my 20s then, and the energy in Lexington inspired us to move our family business here."

Maybe the mayor's call to go down memory lane is a pause to reflect before moving forward.

"As we plan for the future, it's important to value and understand what's special about our history," he wrote in an email message. "There's a lot to be captured in the stories people tell about their memories of Rupp. And if we really listen carefully, it's clear how much they care. They're telling us to value it. And to value it, to extend its life, we must make it competitive with other facilities."

Food for thought

The University of Kentucky's student newspaper has decided to prohibit its sportswriters from partaking of the free food and drinks that UK provides at some of its athletics games and news conferences. The ban was part of the Kernel's annual review of its policies.

On Thursday, editor-in-chief Rachel Aretakis wrote a column explaining that journalistic ethics (not an oxymoron) make it unacceptable for a reporter to accept gifts from a source. "We do this in order to remain free of influence or obligation when reporting a story," she wrote. The policy applied to news reporters, so why not sportswriters, too?

Managing editor David Schuh wrote an accompanying column defending the long-established custom of sportswriters eating food and drinking drinks provided at games by most college football/basketball programs and pro teams. The culture of sports coverage is different from news. And the courtesy extends beyond sportswriters. The Boys on the Bus, a seminal book on political coverage, notes how reporters ate danishes and sipped coffee provided at morning briefings in the 1972 presidential campaign season. Caffeinated reporters then fired slings and arrows at Richard Nixon and George McGovern.

Full disclosure: I spoke with Schuh, and we exchanged email messages about the topic. I told him about how a source once questioned how I could have written a story he found unfavorable when earlier he had insisted on picking up the check for a few lunches at his snack bar. I promptly reimbursed the source and walked away wiser.

Group settings at press box buffets reduce the appearance of a quid pro quo. But the Kernel's decision puts the student newspaper in an unassailable position.

Coaching insight

A leftover from the Ex files:

As he pondered his career options, ex-Cat Julius Mays heard how well suited he was to be a coach. He clearly knows basketball. He's engaging. He exudes can-do leadership leavened with sobering candor (he can sell an idea without sounding like a B.S, artist).

"Everybody sees me as a coach, but I don't know if I have that passion to be a coach," he said. "A lot goes into coaching that people don't realize."

Mays mentioned:

■ "Being away from your family all the time."

■ "Traveling non-stop."

■ "Putting up with young people."

After considering coaching, Mays chose to continue playing this coming season and accepted a contract offer from a pro team in Italy.

"Trust me, I didn't know if this was what I really wanted to do," he said of coaching. "I knew (the UK coaches) would help me. If I wanted to go in that direction, they would have guided me."

Money matters

Amid all the talk about the influence of money in college athletics, The New York Times recently published an eye-catching obituary for Margaret Pellegrini. She had been one of the few surviving actors who played munchkins in the movie The Wizard of Oz.

"Munchkins were paid $50 a week, a generous wage in the 1930s," The Times reported. "The cairn terrier who played Toto made $125 a week."

To which Pellegrini, who died on Aug. 7 at age 89, told The San Francisco Chronicle in 2004: "He had a better agent."

Encouraging word

Earlier this summer, Shaquille O'Neal saluted his former coach at LSU, Dale Brown.

"(Ages) zero to 12, I was a horrible basketball player," O'Neal said. "I was told many times, 'You won't amount to anything.'"

Enter Brown.

As the often-told story goes, O'Neal approached Brown during the coach's visit to a U.S. Army base in West Germany. At 13, O'Neal was so big, Brown assumed he was a soilder. When he discovered that O'Neal was barely a teenager, and the son of a man in the Army, Brown pondered the potential basketball possibilities.

Every week thereafter, Brown sent a letter to O'Neal in West Germany. As he developed as a player, O'Neal remembered the interest and encouragement. By the time, he was a high school senior living in Texas, O'Neal knew every college basketball program wanted him.

"I felt the realness of Louisiana people. and I felt I owed it to Coach Brown," O'Neal said of his commitment to LSU. "He believed in me when I didn't even believe in myself."

Happy birthday

To Bob Guyette. The center on UK's 1975 Final Four team turned 60 on Thursday. ... To Jim Andrews, the leading scorer on Adolph Rupp's last UK team and Joe B. Hall's first. He turns 62 today. ... To former UK guards Steve Masiello (he turns 36 on Monday) and Julius Mays (he turns 24 on Wednesday) and Bo Lanter (he turns 54 on Wednesday). ... To former UK big men Morakinyo Williams (he turned 25 on Thursday) and Lukasz Obrzut (he turned 31 on Saturday). ... To former high school and college referee Earl Shaw. He turned 86 on Saturday.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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