Photo Credit Chet White/UK Athletics
Happy New Year, everyone. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been a bit Bah-humbug this holiday season. As many of you know, I lost my dad in September, so getting through the first Christmas without him has been a bit of a struggle. It’s hard watching others in the festive spirit when that sense of loneliness eventually takes hold.
But with life, you learn to deal with the good and the bad. A month after my dad dies, I’m blessed with two new book releases. As my wife continues to battle her demons, my daughter’s career continues to thrive. You get the message. Just survive and advance—because you never know what blessings will be lurking around the corner in the new year.
Speaking of blessings, Huangswhinings.com turns six this year. Thanks to all who continue to follow along. Your readership means more to me than all the tea in China (and that’s a good thing). With that said, let’s start the year off with something uplifting.
(LEXINGTON, Ky.) –Twenty minutes before tipoff of the Kentucky versus High Point basketball game, nearly twenty-thousand Wildcat faithful showered visiting Panthers’ coach Tubby Smith with a well-deserved—albeit long-overdue—standing ovation. The deafening roar spread quickly from floor level to ceiling as the former Kentucky head coach’s retired jersey joined those of forty-three other UK greats in the hallowed rafters of Rupp Arena.
With the unique honor, Orlando “Tubby” Smith became the latest member of a select UK fraternity to occupy such rarified arena air. Understand that retired jersey recipients are elected by the Retired Jersey Subcommittee of the UK Athletics Hall of Fame Committee. To qualify for inclusion, the elected recipient must be a previous inductee of the UK Hall of Fame. There is a five-year waiting period after leaving UK to be eligible for inclusion in the Hall of Fame and another five-year waiting period after that to be eligible for jersey retirement. In other words, it takes time to get up there…and it’s HARD!
Despite a boatload of other basketball awards and achievements—including three-time National Coach of the Year, three-time SEC Coach of the Year, five regular-season SEC championships, five SEC Tournament championships, ten NCAA Tournament appearances, and one National Championship—owning real estate in the rafters may arguably be Tubby Smith’s greatest achievement to date. At least it should be in the minds and hearts of die-hard Kentucky fans.
Why do the rafters hold such a sacred and special place in Tubby’s heart?
“Respecting the tradition that Kentucky has for their basketball program,” Tubby responded, after the Wildcats drilled his High Point team 92 – 48. “It’s the No. 1 basketball program in the history of college basketball, so that’s why it’s such a thrill, an honor to be a part of the legacy of Kentucky by having your banner raised in Rupp Arena.”
Other retired jersey honorees, when telling their stories in From The Rafters of Rupp—The Book*, heartily agree.
“I’ve dreamed of winning state tournament games, and state championships, having great games, and scoring a lot of points,” said Richie Farmer, Clay County legend and member of the UK 1992 Unforgettables. “But you just don’t dare dream that your jersey will ever be retired and be hanging in the rafters of Rupp Arena, especially with the amount of talent that’s played here…it’s a very special thing.”
“It’s a great thing to see my jersey hanging from the rafters of Rupp Arena,” former UK head coach Joe B. Hall added. “I would have never made it as a player. But to be honored that way—with all of those great players, and Coach Rupp, and Cawood Ledford, and Bill Keightley—that was just a super honor, one that I cherish.”
“There are certain accolades that you get that really mean a lot,” explained Jack “Goose” Givens, hero of the 1978 National Championship game. “After a while, most of them kind of go away—they don’t carry the same weight as they once did. But to see your name up in the rafters, No. 21, it’s really special.”
And then there’s Kyle Macy, my Rafters coauthor and arguably still the most popular player to have ever worn the Kentucky uniform.
“It’s a great honor to have your name in the rafters of Rupp,” Kyle writes. “Because you don’t just look at your jersey when you see it up there, but you look down the row—both ways and on the other side—and you see some of the names that are up there. And knowing the history of Kentucky Basketball, it’s just such an honor to know that you’re up there hanging with those guys.”
Coaches and players all agree that the rafters are indeed a special place—almost reverential in nature—reserved for those pioneers in the past who paved the way for the superstars of today. It’s a holy temple of sorts to Kentucky basketball fans, a shrine to all those worshipping at the altar of hoops heaven.
Perhaps Goose said it best.
“It speaks to our generation,” Givens continued. “But it also speaks to those young guys who are out there playing basketball now who look up there every now and then and see the banners. They see the names, and they don’t know who we are. They don’t know Kyle Macy, Jack Givens, or Dan Issel. But they do know that they have their jerseys up there, so they must be very special. That’s one of the things that I still carry with high regard in having my jersey retired up there and being in the rafters. That’s still very special.”
You can’t buy your way into the rafters. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or who you know. No one cares whether you played in the NBA, or how many halls of fame you belong to, or what kind of car you drive. It’s simply what you did at Kentucky, with Kentucky, and for the Kentucky basketball program that counts.
For that reason—in the eyes of real Kentucky basketball fans—it may just be the highest honor you could ever receive. Look up, people. That’s holy ground up there. That’s what’s so dang special about the rafters of Rupp.
Congratulations Tubby, and congrats to all those basking in your company. May your legacy be long lasting and all-encompassing throughout the entirety of a grateful Big Blue Nation.
* “From The Rafters of Rupp—The Book” is now available in local and regional bookstores or online at https://www.acclaimpress.com/books/from-the-rafters-of-rupp-the-book/
In 1978, everybody wanted to be Kyle Macy. If you told me then, that four decades later, I would be writing a keepsake legacy book with Kyle honoring the program with the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball, I would have told you that you were certifiably nuts. It just goes to show you that you CAN live out your dreams. Keep striving. Aim high—for the rafters.
2 thoughts on “What’s so Dang Special about the Rafters of Rupp?”
I was in Holmes Hall in 1977-1978, the year before Wildcat Lodge, and what Dr Huang speaks to is accurate and eternal: we were in awe of the players who walked among us and especially my year. And to ice the cake, Mr Macy, The Goose, Mike Phillips ,etc were pleasant and approachable. To a die hard fan and freshman, that meant everything. Also, UK fans understand the significance of the Rupp banners. I am from Corbin so my eyes always gravitate to the Jerry Bird jersey: it’s history and legend all rolled up into our collective experience.
Thanks John. That’s our special connection with the great history and tradition of the program. It’s hard to convey that sense of pride and passion with the young whippersnappers of today.