Basketball gave them common purpose
This weekend proves that the basketball gods have a sense of humor. They also appreciate irony.
At the same time that Kentucky and Louisville renewed their blue-red, Big Brother-Little Brother, taste great-less filling clash of alternative realities, an example appeared of how basketball can unite “us” and “them.”
It seems fitting that Republican congressman Andy Barr, who won reelection in November by a 51-48 margin, would play a key role. He and Democratic congressman Richard Neal of Massachusetts worked together on a fund-raising effort to benefit the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Barr and Neal co-sponsored a Commemorative Coin Act, which the U.S. House of Representatives passed in September
2017. The Senate passed the bill this month. It now must be signed by arguably the most divisive figure in the country, President Donald Trump.
“This is admittedly a polarized time in American political history,” Barr said Wednesday. “This was truly a bi-partisan effort between a liberal Democrat from Massachusetts in Richard Neal and a conservative Republican from Kentucky.”
The same kind of cooperation played out in the Senate where Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky helped steer the bill to passage.
“It’s a good story to tell about how basketball can bring together the country,” Barr said. “I think it’s great that this process to commemorate basketball was done in such a collaborative and bipartisan way.”
The two-year effort also saw contributions from the winningest college basketball program (Kentucky) and the program with the most NCAA Tournament championships (UCLA).
Former UCLA AllAmericans Bill Walton and Kareem AbdulJabbar were among those who lobbied House majority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to bring the Commemorative Coin Act to a vote.
UK Coach John Calipari made calls, lobbied McConnell and even coached in a game pitting members of Congress against lobbyists. McCarthy was one of his players.
“It was funny,” Barr said. “I got to witness Cal coach our team. And it was in the first huddle, the guys said, ‘Hey, Coach, what do we need to do?’ And he said,
‘Well, the first thing you guys need to do, you guys need to get back. You’re not getting back on defense.’
“And the second thing he said was, ‘You guys have got to breathe. You’re not breathing out there.’”
In a game for charity, the lobbyists beat a team of House representatives that Barr described as “middle-aged men pretty out of shape.”
Lexington businessman Jim Host, who is one of 13 lifetime Trustees of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, first approached Barr two years ago about sponsoring the Commemorative Coin Act. Host thought it was appropriate for a representative from basketball-obsessed Kentucky to co-sponsor with a colleague whose district includes the Hall of
It also helped that Barr is chairman of the House Financial Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade, which oversees the U.S. Mint.
Assuming Trump signs the bill, the coins will be available in 2020. The timing is something of a compromise. The sponsors were hoping for 2019, which will be the 60th anniversary of the Basketball Hall of Fame. But the Mint makes no more than two commemorative coins each year, and 2019 will have coins marking the 100th year of the American Legion and the 50th anniversary for Apollo 11.
The coins, which are legal tender, will come in the form of $5 gold coins, $1 silver coins and 50 cent clad coins. There is a surcharge of $35 for the gold coins, $10 for the silver and $5 for the clad.
In the past, commemorative coins have been minted to honor such people and entities as Mark Twain (2016), the Baseball Hall of Fame (2014), the Civil Rights Act of 1965 (2014), the Girl Scouts (2013), the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial (2004), Jackie Robinson (1997), the Statue of Liberty (1986) and several Olympic Games (1984, 1988, 1992 and 2002).
Purchases can be made by Democrats and Republicans, plus fans of UK and U of L, North Carolina and Duke, etc.
“Richard Neal and I are now friends,” Barr said of his co-sponsor. “We can work together on tax legislation, on trade, on other things because we had this experience. That’s kind of a great side benefit to this whole process.”
Of course, Kentucky played Duke on the night of this year’s mid-term elections. Yes, Andy
Barr said, UK’s 118-84 loss to Duke put a metaphorical wet blanket on the celebration of his election victory.
“Anytime Kentucky loses, especially to Duke, it puts a damper on things for sure,” Barr said.
Barr said that Kentucky’s game against Duke played a part in his election strategy. Knowing a number of UK fans would be going to Indianapolis for the game, his campaign alerted supporters of the likelihood of long lines of voters. The campaign advised getting to the polls early and reminded voters that an absentee ballot could be used.
Another problem arose when Barr was declared the winner. The start of the Kentucky-Duke game was nearing.
“My cell phone was blowing up, and I was receiving a lot of text messages,” Barr said. “And not just congratulatory text messages, but fans and supporters of mine who are very anxious, encouraging me to get downstairs and give my victory speech because tip-off was only 30 minutes away.”
When asked if this was humbling, Barr said, “I love it because it reinforced that my constituents have their priorities straight.”
Barr was among those Kentucky fans wanting to wrap up the politics and watch the game. He got back to his room near the end of the first half. “And it was already a very disappointing game,” he said.
Barr, 45, was philosophical about UK’s 34point loss.
“I’m one of those Kentucky fans who live and die with every game,” he said. “But I guess in my older age, I’ve come to accept early-season losses a little bit better. As Kentucky improves over the course of the season, if we can make it to the Final Four, maybe we can get a rematch with them.”
Oh, Barr added one other thing about the UK-Duke game. “I wish we’d gotten Williamson,” he said in reference to the recruitment of Duke freshman Zion Williamson.
The UK-U of L game in the 1983 NCAA Tournament, which was dubbed “the Dream Game,” stands out in the memory of Lexington businessman and sports marketing pioneer Jim Host.
Host assigned announcers to call NCAA Tournament games. In this case, a momentous game had an iconic play-byplay announcer.
Marty Glickman, who called New York Knicks games for 21 seasons and New York Giants games for 23 seasons, worked the Kentucky-Louisville
Sportswriter Scott Cacciola of The New York Times recently examined the Los Angeles Clippers’ good start to the NBA season despite not adding highprofile free agents. Two players who have helped the Clippers remain competitive are first-round pick Shai GilgeousAlexander from UK and former U of L forward Montrezl Harrell.
In a recent victory over defending champion Golden State, Harrell scored 23 points, “then appeared for his postgame interviews in a designer life vest,” Cacciola wrote. In that same game, Gilgeous-Alexander played 38 minutes and scored 18 points.
“Harrell and GilgeousAlexander have been revelations . . . ,” Cacciola wrote.
To former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson. He turned 77 on Thursday . ... To Kansas Coach Bill Self .He turned 56 on Thursday . ... To former UK assistant coach Jim Hatfield .He turned 75 on Friday . ... To Travis Ford. He turned 49 on Saturday . ... To Eloy Vargas. He turns 30 on Sunday (today) . ... To Aminu Timberlake. He turns 46 on New Year’s Day . ... To Irving Thomas. He turns 53 on Wednesday . ... To Randolph Morris. He turns 33 on Wednesday . ... To former UK president Charles Wethington. He turns 83 on Wednesday.
Congressmen Andy Barr, a Kentucky Republican, and Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, teamed up on a fund-raising effort to benefit the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.