NEW ORLEANS — On several occasions this season, Kentucky Coach John Calipari counseled fans not to root against any other team. "Even Duke?" one caller to his weekly radio show asked.
Yes, even Duke,
And even archrival Louisville, which plays Kentucky on Saturday in the national semifinals, would be best viewed dispassionately.
To root against a team is to risk a cosmic balancing of the scales, the UK coach said. Fate could be cruel in a boomerang kind of way.
"I just don't think it's good that you root against other teams," Calipari said in Thursday's Final Four interview session. "I just think if you start rooting against another team and you're a fan of ours, turn the TV off. Walk to the other room. Make yourself a coffee. And go for a walk with the dog. Do something.
"I just think that karma comes back at you."
The latest example of how the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry inflames came Monday when two men — one who roots for UK and one for U of L — reportedly got into a fist fight at a dialysis clinic in Georgetown.
When asked about the incident, Louisville freshman standout Chane Behanan covered his face with his hands. "This is a crazy world, man," he said.
Buddhists believe craziness can have future consequences in this world and also in some other realm.
Oliver Leaman, a professor of religion at UK, explained karma as a psychic weight on the soul.
"The way to behave is as virtuous as possible so you make yourself as light as possible," he said.
The more virtuous, the more easily your soul can float up upon death and "advance to a superior (realm)," he said.
Conversely, negative thought and action weigh down the soul with karma, Buddhists believe. Thus, the soul returns to earth again and again. "You never escape," Leaman said.
Calipari's suggestion that karma can affect a team "stretches it a bit far," the UK professor said. "Karma involves only individuals.
"But it might be argued that your team will be affected by negative thoughts you've supported (by) dragging them down in some way."
Fans freight any Kentucky-Louisville game with importance. That, in and of itself, invites avenging karma, Leaman said.
"They see the world as a place we ought to really try to escape," he said. "The only way to do it is to try not to regard what goes on in this world seriously."
Players past and present found it difficult to believe UK fans could remain neutral, especially in any game involving Louisville.
"That's been a rivalry for years," forward Terrence Jones said. "It means a lot to the fans that rivals don't do good."
Anthony Epps, the point guard on Kentucky's 1996 national championship team, dismissed the chances of neutrality as "slim and none."
Louisville Coach Rick Pitino, who once coached for Kentucky, traced the roots of the rivalry to racism. The ugly stain on the country's soul divided UK and U of L.
"We are the minority university," Pitino said. "They're the university of privilege, so to speak. It started in the racial lines. That's where the rivalry really started.
"It was thrown out of the window when Tubby Smith became the first African-American coach. The hatred wasn't based on race any longer. I did everything humanly possible to recruit Louisville to end those lines because I didn't like it."
As UK coach, Pitino declined to pose next to a bust of UK basketball founding father Adolph Rupp, who fairly or unfairly, came to symbolize a segregated program.
"Now the lines are no longer," Pitino said before adding with a knowing smile, "It's just pure hatred."
Former UK star Tony Delk, who later worked on Calipari's staff, downplayed karma as a factor.
"There's never been a fan score a bucket, to my recollection," he said. "Keep that in mind. As much as they're hollering and screaming, you can't let fans get in your head."
Delk saluted the abilities of Calipari and Pitino to steel their players against outside influence.
"Both coaches teach mental toughness," he said before likening karma to superstition. "If I had a great game, I'm going to try to eat the same meal, listen to the same music."
Jones said that Calipari had not spoken to the players much, if at all, about karma. In this, the current Cats would mirror the national champions of 1996.
"We worried about ourselves," Epps said. "We didn't dislike anybody."
Unwittingly or not, Calipari, a practicing Catholic who also attends a Methodist church on Sundays, follows a Buddhist path by stressing performance rather than purely victory.
"The only thing you can control is how you do something," Leaman said of the Buddhist philosophy. "That's different from the West, which is result oriented."
Safe to say, UK fans are result oriented, especially so Saturday.
How would a Buddhist view UK fans?
"How should I put it?," Leaman said. "I think they'd be perplexed by the passion."