You could say the Big Blue Nation bookends the basketball career of Mike Bibby this weekend.
As a college freshman 20 years ago, he played point guard for the Arizona team that beat Kentucky in the 1997 national championship game. And on Sunday afternoon, he plays in Rupp Arena as part of the new Big3 summer league for NBA retirees.
“It goes fast,” Bibby said of the then and now.
“We didn’t really have anything to lose as far as no one expected us to come that far,” he said of Arizona’s take down of Rick Pitino’s last Kentucky team. “We went into the game to have fun. And, you know, no one expected us to win. We were the underdog. We just went into the game to have fun. We got hot at the right time.”
Kansas, which had lost only one game all season, had the championship expectations. But Arizona, which had finished fifth in the Pac-10 that season, beat the Jayhawks in the Sweet 16.
Kentucky became the third No. 1 seed Arizona beat in that NCAA Tournament. Arizona won 84-79 in overtime. Backcourt mate Miles Simon scored 30 points, while Bibby had 19 points (and eight turnovers). Arizona won despite making eight fewer baskets and having a negative assist-to-turnover ratio.
“Our team was well balanced,” Bibby said. “We complemented each other real well. I just thought the way Coach (Lute) Olson let us play, and to play to our strengths, we had a good chance of winning.”
The telling difference came at the free-throw line. Arizona made 34 of 41. UK made nine of 17.
When asked to explain this disparity, Bibby said, “I don’t want to say being more aggressive. But I think we might have attacked the basket a little bit more. We were playing our hearts out because you never know if you’ll ever get back.”
Bibby has had an eventful basketball career. After being named Pac-10 Player of the Year as a sophomore, he turned pro. Compared to now, it was an adventuresome move. The 1997 NBA Draft had 13 seniors and two freshmen picked in the first round. Bibby was one of two sophomores taken in the first round.
This year’s NBA Draft had 16 freshmen and only two seniors taken in the first round.
“If you wait another year, something might happen,” Bibby said of the increasingly prevalent one-and-done college career. “Something might go wrong. And now, their chance is gone. I think once that chance is there, whoever you are, you’ve got to take it.”
In the NBA, Bibby got an up-close look at the blazing meteor known as “Linsanity.” He was on the New York Knicks’ team in the 2011-12 season that saw Jeremy Lin become a brief, but intense basketball pop star.
“It was crazy,” Bibby said. “It was another world. Baron Davis and I were injured at the time. So they brought him in on a 10-day (contract), I think. Mike D’Antoni’s offense kind of catered to him to where he was able to do his stuff. People kind of under-estimated him.”
Bibby, now 39, retired after that season. . He welcomed the invitation from Ice Cube to play in the Big3 league the rapper and partner Jeff Kwatinetz launched this summer.
“I grew up on Ice Cube’s music,” Bibby said. “Watching his movies and stuff. In my eyes, he’s like a living legend. It was something I couldn’t say no to.”
Bibby would like to say yes again if invited to play in future Big3 seasons. “I would love to play as long as they’ll have me,” he said.
Go, Rex, go!
Last week’s note about Rex Chapman’s pointed tweets about politics drew a mixed reaction.
Todd Childers, a general contractor from Irvine, left a voice mail message in which he said that Chapman’s criticisms of Donald Trump were “wonderful.”
Childers, 52, said he understood that some fans want sports to be an escape from politics.
“But at the same time,” he said in a follow-up phone conversation, “that’s not really fair. . . . The players are individuals. So are the broadcasters. It’s part of society.”
Childers recalled the social activism of such athletes as Jim Brown and Bill Russell in the 1960s.
“They had things to say and it changed the world,” Childers said. “The less people say, the worse it is. The more cover-up. The more living in denial.”
Of course, Chapman has the right to voice his political opinions. And Childers said he understood how network officials might not want broadcasters alienating portions of the audience by making partisan attacks.
Childers acknowledged the need for objectivity, but then said, “I just remember when (Barack) Obama was in there. People were not always (objective). A lot of things are going on with (Trump). It’s real. They are real problems. We’re not talking birth certificate.”
Stop, Rex, stop!
Meanwhile, Jim Kenney, a retiree living in Lexington, sent an email that said Rex Chapman should keep his political opinions to himself.
“Give it a rest, Rex, and stick to the hoops,” Kenney wrote. “The only reason you got the job in the first place is that you are a super famous Kentucky basketball hero!”
After noting Chapman pleaded guilty to four counts of felony theft two years ago, Kenney wrote that he would not look to the former UK basketball star for political perspective.
Kenney grew up in Spokane, Wash., and played college basketball for Eastern Washington.
“I love the hoops, especially UK, and have admired Rex for his skill and talent,” Kenney wrote in an email. “Glad to see him get his life on track.
“Just stick to the hoops, Rex!”
‘More like the NBA’
George began making announcements at Arkansas home games at age 24 in the 1980-81 season. In addition to that duty, he’s been the P.A. announcer at the SEC Tournament since 2007. Over time, the job has changed.
“Fifteen years ago, the job was more or less informational,” he said. “You didn’t participate, really, in the show. . . . You were just basically there to let people know who shot and who was coming into the game. And that was it.”
As UK’s tryouts showed, the job has become, uh, theatrical.
“It almost happened all at once,” George said. “We have to get more like the NBA if we’re going to keep our fans.
“And there was a lot more showmanship that started to come out. Some of it was organic in the sense that people doing it could feel the crowd. Some of it was scripted by marketing people and even administrators. And that’s a disaster.”
Scripted enthusiasm works better in a television commercial or newspaper advertisement, George said. It can sound phony at a sporting event.
“I describe it as feeling almost like a prostitute sometimes when egged on by an administration or marketing department,” George said. “‘Do this.’ Or ‘Do that.’ It just doesn’t feel right.”
George said he must shift emotional gears during a game. He plays it straight before the game starts when giving informational advice to fans. He turns up the home-team enthusiasm during games (at the SEC Tournament he tries to use the same level of enthusiasm for all teams). At halftime, he becomes a cheerleader for the pep band. When the game ends, he provides a caring drive-safely goodbye.
“I’m worn out,” he said of the multiple personas he adopts in a typical game day. “I feel I need personality disorder medication.”
Patrick Whitmer, who lives and works in Owensboro, has been the public address announcer for UK home games since the 2007-08 season. His debut coincided with Billy Gillispie’s (make up your own joke).
Whitmer’s first taste of announcing came as a freshman at Transylvania. “They needed someone to do their basketball games,” he said. “I’d never done that before. I thought it’d be cool to do that.”
With UK holding tryouts, Whitmer offered advice for would-be public address announcers:
▪ Concentrate. “Make sure you’re giving (the game) 100 percent of your focus. It’s not easy to do when there’s a lot of things going on around you.”
▪ Prepare. He said he goes to Rupp Arena about two hours before the start of the game to review the script and be sure of pronunciations.
▪ Accuracy trumps enthusiasm. “Fans want to see your exuberance. But remember you don’t want that to become more important than being accurate.”
Here’s how Mike Bibby compared basketball courtesy extended by players in the NBA and the Big3:
“In the NBA, you don’t help somebody up on the other team. Here, you’re helping guys up. Everybody’s having fun. But being competitive at the same time.”
To Mike Pratt. He turned 69 on Friday. . . . To Daniel Orton. He turns 27 on Sunday (today). . . . To James Blackmon. He turns 53 on Monday. . . . To Mark Coury. He turns 31 on Tuesday. . . . To former Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson. He turns 80 on Tuesday. . . . To Randy Embry. He turns 74 on Wednesday. . . . To Hall of Famer Bob Cousy. He turns 89 on Wednesday.
What: Big3 basketball league three-on-three competition.
When: 2 p.m.
Where: Rupp Arena
Tickets: $22 and $32, all in lower arena. Available through Ticketmaster and Big3.com.