“It’s two different entities, really,” he said this week.
Pitino explained that the schools are “culturally different,” pointing out Louisville‘s minority population and urban environment. He’s also well aware of Kentucky’s large alumni population in Louisville’s back yard, which can make neighbors out of enemies.
“It ends up with a lot of bad marriages, a lot of mixed marriages that end up bad,” he said. “You have a Louisville woman with a Kentucky man and it always ends bad.”
He was joking. Kind of.
Hugh Barrow is a prominent Louisville attorney who practices family law. While he’s never seen basketball formally cited in divorce paperwork, it‘s been an underlying factor. “There’s definitely some truth to it,“ he said.
Barrow has a case right now, in fact, in which one man’s two grown children — Kentucky fans — have made life difficult for their father’s Louisville-loving wife. “She’s a rabid Louisville fan and they just treat her like crap,” he said. “They’ve treated her so poorly and it really has centered on this rivalry and this season. It’s sort of the straw that broke the camel’s back and she’s packing up.”
‘It cuts both ways’
John Y. Brown served as Kentucky governor from 1979 to 1983, and he knows better than anyone Kentucky’s struggle for red-state or blue-state status. “Probably got more attention than anything I did as governor,” he said of his creative attire 29 years ago.
Brown was referring to the “Dream Game“ on March 26, 1983, the first matchup between Kentucky and Louisville in nearly 25 years. The two teams refused to play in the regular season but their paths collided in the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight. The entire state was on fire that week, but Brown played it down the middle, famously stitching together a red jacket and a blue one.
Louisville won the game in overtime, sending Big Blue into an identity crisis, and politicians such as Brown finally had some momentum. The governor and state legislature put pressure on the schools to play each other regularly.
The schools finally began squaring off the next season, and for the past two decades it’s been a date the entire state annually circles on its calendar.
“But it’s also created great disdain among kindred spirits. It cuts both ways,” Brown said. “There’s no one sitting on the sidelines when it comes to Louisville and Kentucky.”
Basketball is a subject that requires careful tiptoeing for politicians. Much of the state detests big-city Louisville, but it’s nothing compared with their feelings for Cardinals hoops. Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson spent 21 years as Louisville mayor before trying his hand at a statewide campaign in 2009.
“If I had a stitch of red, they’d see I was a U of L fan,” he said. “I had more questions about my allegiance to the UK Cats than I had about being a big-city mayor who couldn’t relate to rural communities.”