Dr. Naismith, Or: How I learned to stop worrying and hate Mizzou

21 Jun

My experiences in Missouri could best be described as mildly uncomfortable, to wildly absurd, to downright shitty.

Besides my first Royals game where I watched Mark Mulder (then with the A’s) pitch a 2 hitter (I had bought seats behind the plate for like 25 bucks), my trips to Kansas City have gotten progressively weirder. Whether it was being hosted by some weirdo ballet girlfriend of a traveling companion or being (almost)seduced by a tranny in a nightclub in Kansas City.

“Oh you’re transexual? Post op or Pre-op?
Pre-Op, huh? well it was nice dancing with you. You should let a guy know these things before you come inches away from being kissed by him”  (which taught me that just because there’s no Adam’s Apple, doesn’t mean that she (?) isn’t a he. I thought I felt warmth coming from her (?) crotch area, but wasn’t sure if it was just my paranoia from being drunk in a gay club. The lesson as always is to trust your instincts.)

I’ve been on Greyhound buses where we picked up some weirdo with extra chromosomes in small towns there, and Kansas City Pedo’s with underage girlfriends (who could easily be mistaken for brother and sister or kissing cousins–thought that type of behavior may be accepted out there).

I got stranded once in post-apocalyptic Joplin for nine hours because we missed our connecting bus. The operator of my bus from Kansas City was a power-tripping, crazy lady whose two unscheduled stops caused me a night of discomfort on the linoleum station floor.

I got stuck in Springfield once because I was left during during a 20 minute stop (totally my fault for trying to fit in an argument with my then girlfriend).

I had a shitty visit to ST. Louis, a place where nothing seemed to be on the level. My buddy and I paid 50 bucks to stay in a flophouse that presented itself on the internet as a hostel (we should have known with a name like the Huck Finn). It was there that I learned that no one even lives in St. Louis.

They commute from the surrounding burbs and go into town. The actual city itself is comprised of restaurants and businesses and has a pretty big racial problem.

I happened to walk up on a domestic dispute between an Italian and his lady (she was sobbing with her head against the steering wheel) and he stopped yelling at her to say ” Hey nigger what the fuck?.I laughed hysterically. My buddy from California was not impressed either.

This visit coupled with the Rangers’ loss to the Cardinals in last year’s World Series has flamed a passionate disregard for the shit hole city ( Miles Davis crazy ass might be the best thing to ever come out of there–oh yeah he was from the Illinois side–fuck em!)

Another time on a road trip to Toronto, my buddy and I had the misfortune of trying to stop at a Best Buy in Wentzville (to pick up some tunes for the road) where we encountered a fifteen minute detour because we missed the exit. We were shown a real life example of the meaning of the word, anti-climatic. Not only was the music section small, but the best selections it had to offer were in the forms of Yanni, Michael Jackson, and Yo Yo MA.

The phrase “going to Wentzville” was coined as a way to define any ridiculous endeavor that results in a bigger headache than what it was originally thought to be worth. (For example: taking a girl on a really expensive date to realize halfway through that she was annoying, boring and talked too much, but then powering through the night only to find that at the end of night she couldn’t sleep with you because she was on her period–that my friends is “taking a trip out to Wentzville).

The ”show me state” had yet to show me half the hospitality bestowed unto me in neighboring Kansas. I’ve been treated like a rock star up in Wichita. They rolled out the red carpet for me on many a visit there. The women have treated me well there, I never had to worry about a place to sleep, good coffee to drink, or good pot to smoke.

Then of course there is Lawrence. I have never been shy about my developing love for KU basketball. I can list so many epic games I’ve seen on television throughout my adult life alone. My adoration for the program really blossomed during the 2002-2003 era, when Drew gooden, Nick Collison, and Kirk Hinrich were the stars there. Keith Langford was one of my all time favorites (the lefty who could always seem to get his shot).

When I moved to Austin in ’01, I had the pleasure of seeing Drew Gooden (Don’t laugh. He was ill back in college) put up some crazy numbers against the TJ Ford led Horns.

What I took away from the game though wasn’t what happened on the court. It was what took place in the stands. There were thousands of people dressed in Jayhawk blue who had commuted from Lawrence, KS to see their team play.

Basketball was still a novelty in longhorn country and the only reason people came close to selling the arena out was Sugarland phenom TJ Ford. But even as good as he was, the place wouldn’t fill up unless it was a marquee matchup.

So to see people who genuinely cared about basketball was intriguing. And they were so nice. The fans had a lot of class and they cheered so loudly that they eventually took over the game and the arena. There was never any doubt either. They knew they were good, but they weren’t cocky, they were just good and they knew it.

I couldn’t help but sit down and root for them when the NCAA’s came around. The eventual National Champion Terrapins of Maryland beat them in the Final Four.

But they made things interesting and made me pay attention the next year when I saw Nick Collison put up a 20-20 game against the Horns down in Allen Fieldhouse. That team had Hinrich, Keith langford, Jeff graves, Michael Lee, Aaron Miles, and that team came SO close to taking it all against Carmelo Anthony and the Orange(men).

That was an awesome tourney to watch and it really made me wonder if I was really a Jayhawk fan at heart.

Maybe the Thunder should consider signing Hinrich??

In 2004 I’d take my first visit to Lawrence while on a road trip to Kansas City.

I was immediately impressed with the town, the rolling hills were unlike what I thought could be possible in Kansas. The campus was enormous, and beautiful and there was a serene calm about the town.

I liked Lawrence immediately but I was already living in a small town, and there didn’t seem to be anything to do but shop and eat.

It was sheer coincidence that I happened to be in San Antonio during the ’08 Final four.

I was in downtown San Antonio, right outside the venue when Mario Chalmers hit the game tying 3 pointer and go into overtime to beat the Memphis Tigers. I got a chance to party with the Jayhawk faithful on that championship night. Even shared a wink and nod with the great Larry Brown (pound for pound as Sheed called him) at a restaurant. I even ran into former Jayhawk 3 point specialist Michael Lee down by the Riverwalk.  There was something different about these fans and they left a lasting impression on me.

When the NCAA’s came to Tulsa, I took the opportunity to treat myself and get a taste of the excitement For 75 dollars I got great seats behind the basket (THE BOK is a smaller venue with no real bad seat in the house.) and got to watch two very different games.TNT was covering  the games and Craig Sager could be seen on the sidelines. When  I recognized the hairdo’s of Stever Kerr and Marv Albert I knew it was for real.

Texas played Arizona in the first game and KU played Illinois.  There were so many things to take away from the game. Arizona’s basketball band was really fun to see. They had a great selection of tunes to go through and you could tell they were enjoying themselves. They all wore matching Hawaiian shirts and played uptempo and contemporary songs (I’m pretty sure they played a range of JethroTull, Pearl Jam, and even some White Stripes).

While UT’s band played the same stale tunes they were playing when I was working security for them in 2003. It was actually pretty sad.

Only a handful of people had made the trip from Austin and it was clear that the U of A fans far outnumbered the Longhorn fans. It seemed like the only people there were family of the players and coaches, and people from the athletic department.

UT got hosed on a bad inbounds violation call and ended up losing in the final seconds. The dry ass Longhorn band started playing the “Eyes of Texas” for the few fans who’d commuted to lend their support and before the song was even over, the Jayhawks players ran onto the court–amidst a sea of cheers that drowned out the pitiful UT faithful.

There was a Jayhawk invasion much like in San Antonio. They took over and it felt like a home game for the KU boys (may as well been Tulsa is only four hours from Lawrence).

KU trounced them but the Illini at least won the battle of the cheer squad. They were good. The cheerleaders had great routines and they were in synch with the Fighting Illini musicians, pulling off some pretty impressive stunts and acrobatics. They managed to pull of some gymnastic formations I’d never seen before and I realized that this was why I sometimes enjoyed being at NCAA events more than NBA.

Only the tip of the iceberg. they pulled out all the stops for the tournament

It wasn’t nearly as bombastic or artificially loud. There was no crazy music going on during the game, and no silly PR promotions. It was just about the school traditions and spirits. The pageantry was on full display that night. Fans didn’t have to be urged on to cheer. They were already ravenous without prompting. The KU game against Illinois convinced me that I had to see a game in Lawrence.

Later that winter I road tripped up there, scalped myself a ticket and completed my trip to the basketball mecca of Allen Fieldhouse.

A basketball shrine. This was where it all began–where basketball was invented. Photos of KU greats like Wilt the stilt, Danny Manning, Mr. Iowa Nick Collison, Jacque Vaughn, and Paul Pierce was a bit unnerving. I felt like I was at a museum.

And of course everyone was just as nice as I remembered. Fans were such an intricate part of the process. It was a like being at a big high school game, everyone sat in the bleachers. Fans lined up along a roped off area that led to the tunnel of the players’ dressing room.There were no luxury boxed seats, no ridiculously loud music to whip the crowd into a frenzy. I couldn’t believe I was here. The only time I could recall having such a religious experience was the first time I went to a Cubs game in Wrigley. Though no tears time around, just a really big smile that lasted throughout the game and most of the night.

If you are a fan of basketball you have to go to at least one game at the Phogg. It’s truly a unique experience.

The best part of course was when the clock was running out in the second half and the chants of ROCK CHALK JAYHAWK began.

And this was just a non-conference game against Howard University. This wasn’t the famous Border Wars finale with Mizzou.

This was a blowout win against an inferior opponent. No one left early. Everyone was loud. They cheered everyone on the team from the star forward Thomas Robinson to the equipment manager. There was something to these fans that evoked admiration and respect. They were loyal, and knowledgeable and they respected the game. I was on board.

It wasn’t until the final conference game with Missouri that I was able to get some perspective on the rivalry between Kansas and Missouri. It was much bigger than basketball. This was legitimate bad blood that went as far back as the Civil War. The more research I did the more it started to make sense. 

I felt stupid for not realizing it earlier. Of course I was having fucked up experiences in Missouri,it was a slave state (as if I’d never read any Mark Twain duuuuuuhhhhhhh). It was upon my last visit that some locals gave me the lowdown on Lawrence and how it was established and why the radical roots ran so deep. It certainly made anyone rooting for Missouri suspect in my mind.

I certainly know on which side of the fence I fall. Any enemy to Missouri is a friend of mine. Jayhawkers huh? Well maybe this was the town for me then.

To be continued.

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