Mark Story: Remember your first UK game? New website aims to be digital scrapbook for hoops fans

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 16, 2013 

Peter Robert Casey, 32, founded the site Basketball Passport. If it's a hit, he envisions branching out to baseball and football.

The first Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball game I saw in person was Dec. 16, 1977. I was in eighth grade. My family landed tickets to the University of Kentucky Invitational Tournament. We saw Joe B. Hall's soon-to-be national champion Wildcats paste Portland State 114-88.

My first Louisville Cardinals game was the day before Christmas Eve, 1981, I was a high school senior. My dad and I bought tickets from a guy outside Freedom Hall. We saw the Cards whip Morehead State 103-70.

I've been thinking "first games" because there is a new website, Basketball Passport (http://bbpassport.com), designed to allow hoops fans to build a digital archive of every men's major-college or NBA basketball game of the last three decades they've seen in person.

Once you register on the site (it's free), you can search games by team, arena and/or date. Besides building a list of games you've seen, you can also create a "bucket list" of arenas in which you'd like to see games.

The site allows you to complete "challenges" in which you try to see games in, say, every major-college arena in the state of Kentucky (I've got five of the seven).

You earn "passport stamps" for things such as seeing NCAA Tournament games, NBA playoff games or reaching a certain number of contests attended (in increments of 100s).

It's pretty cool.

The site is the brainchild of Peter Robert Casey, who works in digital marketing in New York City, and Kyle Whelliston, best known for the blog The Mid-Majority, which features coverage of men's college basketball's mid-major teams.

A self-described "basketball junkie," Casey, 32, was featured in The New York Times in August 2009, after St. John's credentialed him to cover its men's basketball games solely via his Twitter feed.

Casey envisions Basketball Passport serving as a digital version of the scrapbooks hoops fans might have once filled with ticket stubs from the games they attended. "With the Internet and eTickets, sometimes you don't even have a ticket stub anymore," he said. "Our site is a way to preserve your memories of each game."

For each game you mark off on Basketball Passport as having seen in person, you are given the opportunity to "provide commentary."

"Whether you write 'Saw the game with Dad and Uncle Joe,' or you write 'Saw Rex Chapman go off for 30 points,' those memories are what make the game unique to you," said Casey.

If the Basketball Passport is a hit, Casey envisions "building out sequel sites" for football and baseball.

Casey says he sees Basketball Passport always being free, though as with other social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, the data accumulated from users could eventually have commercial uses.

"From a business perspective, I would think companies would want access to loyal, avid-game-going fans," he said.

The Basketball Passport database includes 380 teams, 750 venues and 200,000 games that span 34 seasons, Casey said. For all games since 1995, there is also a box score available.

In an ideal world, Casey said every NBA or major-college basketball game ever played would be on the site. "But a lot of the older games we tried to research, some of them we couldn't even tell for sure where the game had been played," he said.

So Casey and Whelliston chose to start the site's data base at March 26, 1979 — the night Magic Johnson and Michigan State defeated Larry Bird and previously unbeaten Indiana State in the NCAA Tournament championship game.

"Rather than just a random starting point, we wanted to start (the database) with a game that really impacted the history of basketball," Casey said.

What makes Basketball Passport fun is that it allows users to relive games that for reasons unique to them hold special meaning.

I saw my first Kentucky vs. Louisville game in person Dec. 12, 1987. A family friend gave his seats for Cats-Cards to my brother and me. In Rupp Arena, we saw Cedric Jenkins' tip-in milliseconds ahead of the buzzer give the No. 1 Cats a 76-75 win.

The first NCAA Tournament game I saw was Wake Forest, with an impressive freshman big man named Tim Duncan, beating College of Charleston in the Round of 64 in Rupp Arena on March 17, 1994.

First UK game in an NCAA Tournament I ever covered was Kentucky's 101-70 pasting of Utah in the 1996 Midwest Region round of 16 (March 21).

Now if you so desire, you too can share your list of games attended with the world.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230.Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.

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