“It’s just basketball,” they say.
I’ll admit, I used to be in that camp. Growing up just north of Pittsburgh, I was in the (very slim) minority whose loyalties didn’t lie with either Pitt basketball or Penn State football. When the scandal broke at PSU, I felt for the student-athletes who were unfairly being punished, but anything more than sympathy was difficult with such a complete lack of emotional ties unlike those around me. Little did I know that less than four short years later, I would be on the complete opposite side of the issue.
I joined the team here at CSZ when Justin contacted me after reading my letter to Sports Illustrated , regarding an article released about the scandal that is weighing so heavily on the hearts of many here in Louisville tonight. When I sat down to write that letter, I had no idea what would come of it – I just needed to blow off steam. I’ve been humbled and blessed to make connections with so many members of the greatest fanbase in America, and I want each and every one of you to know that tonight my heart is breaking right alongside yours. You’ve done nothing if you haven’t proven to me that choosing to call Louisville my home three and a half years ago was the right choice, just as it was the right choice for Damion Lee and Trey Lewis. There’s something special about this place, this city, this university… And that’s what makes all of this so damn difficult.
In my first few months of the 2012-13 season, I was still in that “It’s just basketball,” mindset. But I loved the atmosphere and buzz of the Yum! Center during home games, and slowly but surely I began to see just why Louisville basketball is so engrained in the culture of the Derby City. My heart skipped a beat when I would see the lights of the Yum against the night sky, I couldn’t help but smile a little bigger when I saw a car proudly sporting fan flags, and nothing felt better than sharing an L and a “Go Cards!” with a fellow fan. I quickly learned that Louisville is a city where if you’re a Cards fan you’ll never meet a stranger, only a friend. By the end of that season, I was all in. I finally got it. As I stood in the front row of the student section in Atlanta, with tear-stained cheeks, watching Kevin Ware cut down the net…
I finally understood. Louisville isn’t just a university, it’s a family. All for one, and one for all.
When I penned that letter to Sports Illustrated, I took a strong stand behind this team, this university, this city that I have grown to know and love. I pounded the keyboard on my poor MacBook as quickly as my fingers would move, as I fought the angry tears streaking down my cheeks. As I sit here right now, once again tears stain my cheeks – but this time, they aren’t angry. They’re the tears of heartbreak, of disappointment, of love. They’re the tears of defeat, of empathy, of disbelief. I’ve spent the day working to gather my thoughts, trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together, wondering how we got here. If I’ve cursed out the NCAA, Andre McGee, Katina Powell, James Ramsey once, I’ve cursed them a hundred times.
At first, the tears and pain were selfish. “How could you do this to the fans?” I cried in anguish, still struggling with my new title of ‘alumna.’ I know I wasn’t alone in those sentiments, but I also know I am not alone in where the tide of my heartache almost instantly turned. “How you could you do this to Damion and Trey? How can you rip the rug out from underneath them, and at this point in the season at that?” These men chose to come to UofL, they chose Louisville, they chose this program. Not only did they choose us, they fought for us. They gave this university blood, sweat, tears, dedication. And now, all they will have to show is broken promises. On behalf of Card Nation, and from the bottom of my heart, I am so, so sorry. You both deserve a million times more than the cards this screwed up system has dealt you.
I was a big fan of the 2012-13 team (how could you not be?), but this team… It is different. They’ve got something special. I had my reservations going into this season, and I was quickly blown away by the amount of drive, fire, and FUN this team has. Despite everything that has happened today, I’m not sure there has been a time I was more proud to call myself a Louisville Cardinal. The eloquence and grace shown by both Lee and Lewis during what is likely the most heart wrenching press conference of their lives, the way the team has rallied around them, the outpouring of support for two of the newest members of the Cardinal family is unreal to me. It is something that I never would have believed possible four short years ago, before I witnessed this anomaly for myself. It is no joke when people say that Louisville truly is a place that gets in your blood and stays forever.
“It’s just basketball,” they say.
But in this neck of the woods? It is so much more. It’s a tradition, a family, a bond between some of the greatest fans in America and young men who play solely for the name on the front of their jerseys. It’s a community that is heartbroken over the fate of two players who, just mere months ago, chose to call this city home. It is a team that has rallied behind their own, and that is taking the full brunt of a situation that was never theirs to bear. It is a city that has rallied behind that team, because here, it is not just basketball.
To Damion and Trey… Thank you. From the bottom of not only my heart, but every member of the Louisville family. Thank you for choosing us, thank you for working your butts off for us, thank you for giving us everything you have. It has been an honor and a blessing to share my alma mater with you, and I wish you the absolute best in all of your future endeavors when your time at UofL comes to a close. You will always have the support and love of Cards fans here in Louisville, and all around the world. We’ve still got your back.
Card Nation, we are at a crossroad. We can wallow in self-pity and be angry at things we cannot change, or we can rally around this team – which needs us more than ever.
We can hang our heads in shame, or we can give these two the farewell they deserve.
I know which one I choose.
Now more than ever – Louisville first, Cardinals forever.