Football is the nation's biggest sport by a variety of measures, and baseball is America's pastime, but basketball has to be No. 1 in celebrity spotting.
Part of it is simply logistics. Football and baseball have plenty of celebrity fans, but they are played in big stadiums where the crowd is usually blurred out of the action shots. But in the throes of an NBA basketball game in an arena, it is often easy to spot Jack Nicholson urging on the Los Angeles Lakers or Spike Lee going apoplectic over more New York Knicks futility.
Those, of course, are pro teams.
But University of Kentucky men's basketball enjoys its fair share of celebrity support, too. That fact leaps to mind as the Wildcats prepare to face off against Providence at New York's Barclays Center, home of the NBA's latest celeb-associated team, the Brooklyn Nets.
The key figure in the Nets' move from New Jersey to Brooklyn was music mogul Jay-Z, who has since sold his stake in the team and Barclays to pursue work as a sports agent. His Roc Nation Sports' clients include New York Yankees' second baseman Robinson Cano; you have to think at some point he'll add a former Wildcat to the agency's roster.
Jay-Z has had high-profile contacts with the Wildcats, whose coach John Calipari is identified as one of his friends. In 2011, when he was still a minority owner of the Nets, the NBA fined him $50,000 for visiting the Cats' locker room during the NCAA Tournament. The incident was immortalized in the first few lines of Jay-Z and Kanye West's song In Paris.
Calipari was at Jay-Z's concert that opened the Barclays Center and had backstage passes. He tweeted pictures of himself at the event, including a joke about being fined $50,000 for being in the rapper's locker room. But the Wildcats' celebrity connections hardly end, or begin, there.
The contingent is led by Ashley Judd, whom Rupp Arena officials are always prepared to see show up at a game (she was there Wednesday). You don't even need to read her Twitter feed to tell where her loyalties lie. Three of the six photos on the page are: Judd with Calipari, Judd in the Cats' locker room, and Judd laying a big smooch on former UK coach Joe B. Hall.
If she is not at a game, Judd is often watching and tweeting about the Cats, often using the #BBN hashtag, so y'all know she's with us. Here are some other national celebrities who are very public in their devotion to the Cats.
Drake: Jay-Z is the highest profile, but not the rapper most associated with the Cats. The man who helped popularize the phrase "YOLO" (aka "you only live once") with his song The Motto has enjoyed a strong relationship with Calipari and the Wildcats. He performed at the first Big Blue Madness after Calipari was hired and has his own 2012 NCAA Championship ring.
Josh Hutcherson: His fellow Kentuckian and co-star in The Hunger Games franchise, Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, has a devotion to the University of Louisville (nobody's perfect). But Union native Hutcherson told the Herald-Leader last year, "I'm the real Kentucky fan!" He has made his fandom well-known by regularly attending games, showing photos of his UK face paint on Conan O'Brien's show and talking about the Cats to national outlets like Cosmopolitan magazine.
Josh Hopkins: The Cougar Town star can occasionally be spotted wearing Kentucky gear on the show or even doing John Wall's dance. He admitted to the Herald-Leader early this year that he was having a hard time figuring out how to incorporate former Cat Nerlens Noel's flattop haircut into the show.
Laura Bell Bundy: The Tony Award nominee, country music artist and co-star on Anger Management always makes a point of ensuring she can see the Cats wherever she is. On the Anger Management set, she says they have DirecTV for shooting days when they can't leave during UK games. The video for her latest song, Kentucky Dirty, incorporated lots of UK references, including the UK dance team as her backup dancers.
Backstreet Boys: Two-fifths of the turn-of-the-21st-century boy band, Lexingtonian Brian Littrell and Estill County native Kevin Richardson, are well-known Cats fans, even sporting UK gear onstage when they played Rupp Arena as musicians.
Steve Zahn: The Treme and Diary of a Wimpy Kid actor, who can currently be seen in Dallas Buyer's Club, is a Minnesota transplant who now lives in Georgetown. But as evidenced by his appearance in Jason Epperson's Kentucky fan film The Sixth Man, he has definitely contracted Cats fever.
More celebs: Other high-profile Cats fans include sibling country music stars John Michael Montgomery and Eddie Montgomery of Montgomery Gentry, pro golfers and Kentuckians Kenny Perry, J.B. Holmes and Josh Teater, soap opera actress Farrah Fath and Tony Award winner Steve Kazee of Ashland, whose UK basketball tweets can get quite passionate. The stands at Kentucky games in the past few years have included Speaker of the House John Boehner and basketball royalty LeBron James.
Rich Copley: (859) 231-3217. Twitter: @copiousnotes.