In the days following our beloved Cats winning the national championship, I couldn’t help but feel like I missed out. I received pictures and videos of the mayhem in Lexington, the raising of the banner in Rupp Arena and the sheer joy that consumed the Bluegrass state. Watching it all unfold from my computer was bittersweet. You see, I live in Washington, D.C.
Of course, I returned to Danville for national championship weekend, but prior to that, I spent my time watching games in “UK” bars and in front of my television with Louisville and Tennessee fans (I know, at times it was as painful as it sounds). I spent the season wishing I was in Lexington for every game and being jealous of those who were at Rupp Arena. But maybe D.C. was where I was supposed to be. I remember the morning of the national championship game, thinking to myself, “Wow if we win, the Cats are coming to MY city.” When the final buzzer sounded at the national championship game, and the players embraced each other on the court, it marked a historic moment, but not the final chapter in this team’s story. That chapter was written last Friday, when the Cats visited the White House.
On the way inside I saw a friend whose dad flew in from Louisville for the special day. We took a picture and sent it to our mutual Tennessee fan friend (why not rub it in a little bit?). At this point everyone is waiting to get inside the two massive doors — the only thing between us and our Cats. I know all of Cats nation loves each other, but I’d be lying if I said things didn’t get a bit aggressive heading inside. I mean we all wanted to be the closest. As I walked in, the room was surrounded by cameras lined up all around the walls. When the dust settled, I found myself from about the top of the arch to the hoop away from the President of the United States and the National Champs.
The Cats were about 15 minutes past the time they were supposed to walk in, causing obvious anxiety in the crowd. There was a voice that came over the microphone that told us our team was about to makes its entrance. All at once everyone was on the edge of their seat. The Wildcats came through a door in the front of the room and they were looking sharper than I ever could have imagined. As they all filed the stage, their faces were filled with uncertainty. You could tell they respected the fact that they were at the White House and they looked pretty serious. However, once they took their places and looked out at all of us, at Cats Nation, it was like something hit them, and when Coach Cal was finally announced to come in a moment after, the fun-loving team all of us fell in love with appeared.
All of the Cats were finally right in front of me. I had dreamed of seeing them in person all year and here they were. For most, to see your team this up close and personal would be enough, but for me, what happened next took my breath away. I found myself getting quite emotional, but this time it wasn’t a hug between MKG and Anthony Davis, or a huge 3-pointer by Darius Miller. No, what sealed the deal for me was the site of the President of the United States strolling across the stage, past our Wildcats.
The President walked to the podium, standing behind the sea and began to explain that the Cats were in HIS house, and they got to tell him that he was wrong for not picking them to win it all. He then went on to joke about MKG being too young to vote just last year and Anthony Davis growing an inch since arriving at the White House. He hoped that one of0 our boys would be a Washington Wizard next year, and he congratulated Eloy Vargas and Darius Miller on their senior season, and most importantly getting their diplomas later that week.
Mr. President spent most of his time talking about how this team was special, and complimenting Coach Calipari on putting together a team of superstars that worked together and succeeded in achieving their goals, a National Championship.
He then introduced Coach Calipari to a very loud applause from the crowd and the two shook hands. Coach Cal mentioned how excited the team was to be there and then the Cats gifted the President with three things. First, the jersey that Darius Miller wore for four years while at Kentucky with Obama on the back.
Then, Vargas casually dropped an assist to the President before Anthony Davis presented him with a chest bump and a Championship ring that was almost as big as the two diamond studs AD had in his ears. The President shook all the players hands before leaving the room and it was obvious that these young guys were overwhelmed by what was happening.
We all were.
Michael Kidd Gilchrist had a huge smile on his face while Marquis Teague looked up at the President before looking down, as if he was too nervous to look him in the eye.
As the players were exiting the room all smiles and waves, Kentucky fans couldn’t hold it in anymore! C-A-T-S ... CATS, CATS, CATS rang through the room for the next minute. I proceeded to get cold chills and sit in silence, my arms cramping from holding up my cell phone and camera for the last 20 minutes, catching every second of the afternoon!
It truly was one of those things that you can’t do justice. As I was thinking about what I had just experienced, I began to realize that Friday was one of the most special things any sports fan could ever be a part of. I was standing a few feet away from the national champs and the President of the United States, who was honored to have them as guests in his house.
It just doesn’t get any better than that.