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Adventures at Rupp Arena

March 1, 2009

Yesterday I took a trip down to Rupp Arena and took some mental notes of my journey there.  The details and times might be a bit spotty.

3:30 PM – It’s a cold Saturday afternoon in Lexington, and everyone’s attention turns to Rupp Arena, where the revered University of Kentucky Wildcats will take on LSU.  It’s the most important game of the season, since UK needs to win at least two of its final three games (and preferably one against a respected opponent) to warrant a trip to the NCAA tournament.  The game starts at 4 PM, and I don’t have a ticket.  I quickly grab a hat, gloves, phone, keys, and an IPod, get on my bike and head downtown.

3:38 PM – I need some cash if I’m going to buy a ticket, so I stop at an ATM on Vine St. and take out $10.  That’s the most I’m willing to pay to see a game at Rupp, even the biggest game of the year.

3:42 PM – After getting cash, I bike up the hill to High St. and weave through the packs of fans heading toward the arena.  I park my bike in front of the arena and begin looking for scalpers.  Usually there’s a surplus of tickets floating around, but today most fans seem interested in hanging on to their seats and heading inside.  There’s a small cluster of brokers near the will call window, and I approach them with a confession:  I only have ten dollars on me.  It’s the truth, and it makes scalping much easier when  I’m truly ambivalent about whether or not I actually get to watch the game from inside the arena or not.

3:53 PM – At this point, I’ve talked to about 4-5 scalpers and asked them to sell me a ticket for ten dollars.  They’ve told me, “not a chance,” “good luck,” “fuck you,” and “I was hoping to get $30 for this seat,” respectively.  I just decide to stand around and watch them try to sell tickets for a few minutes.  A few of them have some success, but as the tip-off approaches, the crowd begins to dwindle, and the scalper community commences collective discussion of that day’s business.

4:01 PM – One of the scalpers who initially refused to sell me a ticket gets tired of standing in the cold and realizes that I actually do only have ten dollars, which I am holding up in hopes that one of the brokers with a fist full of tickets will come to his senses and sell me one.  The guy does, and at the moment the game begins, I walk through the gates and find my way to my seat.

4:10 – I arrive at my seat, about 8 rows up in the upper level, and realize that there’s no way I’m getting into my seat.  Either there’s 15 large people sitting in a row of 16 seats, or someone else is sitting in my seat.  Either way, I decide to look for any open seat, and I find one a few rows closer to the court.  As I slide in, the man sitting next to me, the stock 60-year old UK fan, lights up.  “Hey!” he says.  “What’s the deal?  Did Amanda not make it to the game?”  I explained that I don’t know who Amanda is, and that I bought my ticket on the street.  As I was talking, he glared at me, turned his head and looked the other way.  It’s the ultimate snub, a clear sign that I don’t belong.

4:12 PM – The Cats had been off to a good start.  A couple dunks by Patterson and Stevenson ignite the crowd.  Then LSU answers with a flurry of undefended three-pointers, and Rupp falls silent.

4:14 PM – After four years in Lexington, I’ve learned to take my IPod to UK athletics events, and I congratulate myself on having remembered it this time.  There’s a woman sitting behind me, and she’s the type of fan my friend Josh warned me about when I first arrived at UK.  She complains incessantly, and every time a UK player has the ball on the perimeter, she yells, “Shoot it!”  This is a very specific type of fan.  She’s likely a lifetime Lexington resident, UK graduate, and longtime season ticket holder who has yet to understand the fundamentals of basketball.

4:15 PM – I put in my earbuds to drown out the inane banter.  I hit “shuffle songs,” and the first song to come up is, appropriately, Green Day’s “Jesus of Suburbia.”  For the rest of the time, I’m mostly immune to moaning in the stands and the UK band.

4:32 PM – Things aren’t going well for the Cats.  They can’t seem to defend the perimeter jump shot, and Meeks can’t get anything going.  The fans in the stands are outraged by bad officiating, and for once I might agree with them.  This is one of the worst officiated games I’ve seen in quite some time.

4:47 PM – Every once in a while, I peel myself away from the game to take a look at the people sitting around me.  They’re entrenched in the sea of blue around them, and it’s clear from the look in their eyes that this is a religious experience.  I’m reminded of UK alum Ashley Judd, who wrote about the experience of being a UK fan in a Herald-Leader piece a few years ago:

“I have been to cathedrals and temples around the world and driven through the streets of Dublin with Bono playing me studio cuts of unreleased music (another type of church, make no mistake about it). So, confuse my intense emotion around UK basketball with lack of depth in other areas at your peril. But all these things, and many others, such as reading a profound book that makes my soul stretch, are no more special than watching a team in our iconic jersey pass the basketball well.”

Judd seems to have unearthed the thesis statement from her ENG 102 course, yet it’s an appropriate description of the fervor felt in Rupp Arena.

5:32 PM – UK comes alive and posts a ten point lead in the second half, thanks to Patrick Patterson’s machine-like play.  Everything seems to be going well, and then LSU calls a full timeout, which is immediately followed by another full media time out.  During the twelve minute break, UK loses its momentum.

6:04 PM – UK loses on a last second missed three-pointer by Meeks. I run out of the arena, ahead of the disgruntled fans, and hop on my bike.  It’s iced over at this point.

6:12 PM – I arrive back at my house.  It’s a highly efficient trip to the arena.

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