But the greatest of these is FOOD

But the greatest of these is FOOD

And now these three remain: sex, sleep, and food. But the greatest of these is FOOD!

I’ve always loved food. Not only does eating food satisfy one of man’s basic biological needs, it can also give rise to one of his greatest earthly pleasures. That’s certainly true for me. Whether traveling the world sampling international cuisine or vegetating on my couch watching NetFlix, gluttony sadly sits atop my seven deadly sins list.

When it comes to food, I don’t discriminate. I’m as comfortable chowing down at any hole-in-the-wall burger joint as I am at a three-star Michelin fine dining restaurant. Fast food, comfort food, ethnic food, or junk food, it doesn’t matter a lick to me. I can handle vegan, vegetarian, sweet, or savory. If the food is good, bring it on. I’m like a Chinese Andrew Zimmern swooping in on his next delicious destination.

That’s why I’m heading down to the Asian Food Fest in downtown Cincinnati this weekend. This vibrant community festival celebrates culture and cuisine from the entire Pacific Rim and beyond. For me, it’s like a nostalgic trip down memory lane. I grew up eating all sorts of Chinese delicacies, so I’m looking forward to reconnecting with some of my fondest gastronomical delights.

In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t drive up here solely to attend the food festival. I’m here on assignment covering the Cincinnati Reds. It’s the doubleheader from hell as the Reds are taking on the Pittsburgh Pirates in a drawn-out twin bill. Twelve consecutive hours in purgatory is a bit too much for anyone to sit through, so I’m taking a break between games to gorge myself silly.

As I approach the plaza on foot, I get my first whiff of paradise—the scintillating smells of simmering spices serenades my nostrils. This is what heaven must be like. But instead of streets paved with gold, the streets are lined with food vendors serving the tasting menu of my dreams. There’s no fake chop suey like you find at your local Kroger deli. Nope—you’re talking Malaysian Chicken Rendang, Kalua Pork Nachos, Vietnamese Empanadas, and the most delectable tofu Pad Thai this side of Bangkok. Where do I even begin?

There’s a definite strategy involved in approaching these food festivals. You can’t waste calories by making bonehead choices. The days of eating as much as I want without expanding my waistline are long gone. There’s no more tapeworm or hollow leg to fall back on. In other words, I’ve got to pace myself, be selective, and loosen my belt accordingly.

My strategy, then, is to start slow and to look for the longest lines. I queue up behind several Asian couples at this one place claiming to serve authentic Chinese fare. One bite into the barbecue pork steam bun stuffed with quail egg and Chinese sausage tells me I made the right choice. The sweet fluffy dough evokes a flood of memories from my youth. I can’t help but think of my dear Mama, rising up early to painstakingly hand knead the flour, roll out the dough, and lovingly craft those magically delicious baos.

A revelation suddenly occurs to me. Not only does everything taste good, but each item I choose has an indelible memory attached to it. The spicy coconut-based broth of the Curry Laksa reminds me of the first of many meals my beloved bride cooked for me. The authentic Nepalese Momo Dumplings spur recollections of food binges with my brother. When I marvel at the delicate scallion pancake holding together my Chinese Pork Taco, I’m reminded of the importance of solid life-long relationships. Never mind the Caucasian dude beside me choking on the spices, I’m in my happy place.

The food we eat is more than just sustenance. It’s our life as well as our lifeblood. It’s all the sights and smells and textures and tastes joining together to form a symphony of life experiences. You vividly remember exactly where you were when you bit into that first soup dumpling or tasted the crispiness of Peking Duck for the very first time.

Food speaks to you—just like a soothing musical ballad—in ways that words cannot. It takes you back to all those special times, to all those memorable places, and reconnects you with every person you’ve ever broken bread with over the course of your precious lifetimes.

Try saying that about sex, or sleep, or shelter, or any of our other basic human needs for that matter. You can’t. That’s why the greatest of these is food.

I’ll have the Mung Bean Noodles to go, please.

Books and Pizza

Books and Pizza

Two of my favorite life activities are writing books and eating pizza. Whenever I combine the two passions, it makes for one glorious day. Occasionally, my joy overflows and I feel compelled to share. Sunday was one of those times.

It’s Palm Sunday, and I’m headed out riding—not on my ass—but in my trusty white convertible. The temperature’s not quite warm enough to cruise with the top down, but the sun is shining, and the central Kentucky countryside is resplendent in all its verdant glory.

Beside me is Kyle Macy. Yeah, THE KYLE MACY, arguably the most popular Kentucky basketball player to have ever worn the uniform. Kyle and I did a book together titled From the Rafters of Rupp, and we’re headed up the backroads of horse country to Cynthiana, Kentucky, to do a book signing.

You never know how these appearances will pan out, so I’m wound tighter than a banjo string. Kyle, however, is just Kyle—cool, calm, and as collected as ever. We arrive about twenty minutes early at our pre-arranged venue. Kyle is confident we’ll sign a million books. I’m just hoping we won’t be the only ones there.

As usual, my worries are unfounded as a nice crowd materializes. Kyle dazzles them with his wonderful gift of gab. It amazes me how surprisingly candid he is when talking about UK Basketball. It’s obvious he loves the program—but as you’ll see in the book—he’s not afraid to speak his mind either. I, on the other hand, have been guzzling the blue Kool-Aid. I know the people aren’t here to listen to me anyway, so I stick to the party line whenever I’m asked a pointed question. Kyle rolls his eyes and tells me I’ve still got a lot to learn.

The Next Chapter Bookstore (thenextchapter41031.com) is a real gem. It’s relatively new, having opened in November of 2020…and having expanded to their fabulous new location in October of last year. The three owners—Jennifer Renaker, Ashley Peak, and Sherry Judy—greet us like long-lost cousins. You can feel the love they’ve poured into this business enterprise, as they bounce around energetically making everyone feel welcome. I see my other UK basketball book, Kentucky Passion, prominently displayed on the front shelf. Yep, this place is awesome. THIS PLACE IS AWESOME, INDEED! I’ll be back for sure.

After the books are signed and everyone’s happy, Kyle and I prepare for part two of our Sunday afternoon doubleheader. We’ve been invited for some homemade pizza at the house of the King. Doug Hampton is a former basketball referee and world-famous auctioneer. He’s also a New York Pizza School graduate and is well-known for his mouth-watering pies.

Before we indulge, however, we stop off on a parcel of holy ground. This is Joe B. Hall country, and no visit to Cynthiana would be complete without a visit to his mural. It’s much bigger and grander than I had imagined. Prior to his recent passing, many considered Joe the most beloved coach in America https://huangswhinings.com/2020/02/20/the-most-beloved-coach-in-america/. Kyle played for Coach Hall on that 1978 national championship team, and he assures me that Joe B. was as classy as they come.

The Dugan’s Pizza experience was downright heavenly. To be perfectly honest, it may just be the best pizza I’ve ever had. The dough was exquisite—tantalizingly chewy on the outside with a delectably airy and fluffy middle. The sauce was orgasmic, a puree of ripened tomatoes enhanced with the perfect blend of basil and garlic. And man…that cheese…the thought of that caramelized specialty brick cheese oozing together with the stringy mozzarella and sprinkled liberally atop with parmesan has me quivering as I write. Top everything off with a thick juicy slab of bacon or some flavorful pepperoni, and let’s fight to the death for that last corner square.

Predictably, Kyle and I gorge ourselves. He has four slices. I’m five-and-done. We both then cruise back towards Lexington disgustingly fat and happy. But WAIT…Kyle has a sweet tooth. He’s not done yet. We go for broke, pull up to the nearest Dairy Queen, and order our Blizzards. Just our luck—their ice cream mixer is broken.

I’m a bit ticked off, but Kyle shrugs it off. The guy is literally one cool cat. I figured with all the accolades and adoration he’s received over the years, these types of outings would get old in a hurry. I ask him if he enjoyed the day.

“Absolutely,” he answers me. “It’s always fun meeting people and talking about UK Basketball.”

I’m no Kyle Macy, but I’ll second the motion. Life is all about relationships—nurturing existing ones and formulating brand new ones. That’s easy to do with the folks in Cynthiana. They’re some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Plus, they bought all our books and fed us the best pizza south of Brooklyn. You can see why I’m feeling truly blessed. I’m living the dream.

Kyle and I will be at it again next week. Bullitt County, here we come. Crank up those Oreo Blizzards.

Books and ice cream, anyone?

Head on over to The Next Chapter Bookstore and pick up your signed copy of #FromTheRaftersOfRupp or #KentuckyPassion. Can’t make it out? Order here https://www.acclaimpress.com/books/from-the-rafters-of-rupp-the-book/

or https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669

and we’ll find a way to sign it for you next time you’re in town. In the meantime, be sure to follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Collision Course with Destiny

Collision Course with Destiny

Remember when your mama told you, “if you can’t say anything good about anyone, then just don’t say anything at all”? Well, I can’t say anything good about Mike Krzyzewski.

But rather than just ending this blog post right here, let me try and explain.

You see, I’m a Kentucky basketball fan. And no True Blue, dyed-in-the-wool Kentucky Wildcat basketball fan feels any affinity whatsoever for the head coach of the Duke University Blue Devils.

It’s not that we don’t think Krzyzewski is a good coach. In fact, many of us think he’s one of the best to have ever coached the college game. Nearly 1,200 wins, five national titles, and 47 years at the helm unequivocally qualifies as Hall of Fame worthy. It’s just that the guy was coaching Duke when Christian Laettner hit the infamous last-second shot in the 1992 East regional finals to end Kentucky’s “unforgettable” run. That memory alone is enough to rankle everybody with a Big Blue pulse—as it should. To further twist the knife, Krzyzewski then went on to also steal a couple more banners (2010, 2015) that should rightfully be hanging in the rafters of Rupp Arena.

Coach K announced at the very beginning of this basketball season his plans to retire at the end of the year, setting off a firestorm of victory parades and sugary farewells. Week after week, we’ve heard a plethora of platitudes from national pundits about the 75-year-old coaching icon. Listening to all their unctuous drivel, you’d think Krzyzewski could give Jesus a run for his money.

I don’t care that Mike Krzyzewski is a wonderful family man. So what if he’s charitable to his community. Big deal that almost all his coaching colleagues speak highly of him when asked. None of that matters one iota to me. His 30-game curtain call has rendered me nauseous.  

Frankly, my dear, I can’t take it anymore. I’m sick of Coach K, and I’m sick of Duke University. The entire campus reeks of elitism and arrogance—the gothic architecture surrounded by well-manicured lawns and populated by a rich, entitled student body. In my mind, they’re all just a bunch of Ivy League wannabees with an oversized alumni endowment to match. I’ve noticed that Duke graduates are quick to snicker at my UK pedigree, as if I purchased my degrees at the local diploma mill.

In a wonderful twist of irony last night, Duke’s most hated rival—the North Carolina Tar Heels—crushed the Blue Devils in Coach K’s last regular-season game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. “Rat Face,” as he’s not so affectionately referred to by the Carolina faithful, was beside himself afterwards. Oh, there was none of the grandstanding we usually see from the potty-mouth, ref-berating, holier-than-thou Krzyzewski. Instead, His Imperial Highness assured everyone fawning shamelessly over him—including a litany of former players—that Duke’s season was not yet over.

That brings me to my point. I’m afraid that UK and Coach K are on a collision course with destiny. It’s a repeat of sorts, just like in 1975 when Kentucky played UCLA for all the marbles. If you remember, Coach John Wooden announced his retirement right before that one, and the Wildcats wound up on the wrong side of the storybook narrative.

The whole basketball world dubbed Kentucky as villains that night, and everybody—including the refs—conspired against them. As a result, Wooden rode off into the sunset with Kentucky’s championship banner tucked firmly in hand. Lord, don’t let it happen again.

I don’t usually subscribe to conspiracy theories, but this coronation for Krzyzewski is too obvious to ignore. With the NCAA selection committee and the television networks working in cahoots, a Kentucky versus Duke matchup is all but assured. The only remaining question is if Krzyzewski cuts down the nets. They’ve cued up One Shining Moment—the world is ready to celebrate.

It’s high time we spoiled the party.

If you enjoy my writings as a basketball fan, check out my latest book, KENTUCKY PASSION, available in bookstores and online at https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669 . Follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta

“Senor John, Your Covid-19 test is negative.”

Whew, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when my ears heard those soul-lifting words. My daughter Katie and I just happened to be hunkered down in a makeshift testing center off the lobby of our hotel in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. When we initially booked this sun-splashed sojourn south of the border, we had no clue that a guaranteed return to the good old USA would require such a nerve-wracking nasal swab and sweat. Horror stories about Yankees retained due to the ‘Rona had understandably piqued our pucker factor.

Remember now, I was also coming off attending Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles—a veritable international super spreader event. Combine that with travel to a country the CDC strongly advised against visiting, and you can see why I had second thoughts about going. Irresponsible? Perhaps it was. In the end, the lure of tropical eighty-five-degree weather, delectable Mexican seafood cuisine, and pristine sandy beaches proved too difficult to resist. Plus, Katie and I were both vaxxed and boosted, and—most importantly in our minds—the money we plunked down was totally non-refundable.

So, off we went—like Dumb and Dumber—for our father/daughter getaway.

Taking all that Covid angst and apprehension into account, this mid-winter respite still rated five stars in both our books. Puerto Vallarta, a beach resort city located about halfway down the west coast of Mexico, is an easy three-hour flight from Los Angeles. The city expanded to about 300,000 inhabitants in the 2020 census, but there’s an understated elegance and small-town charm you simply can’t find in other tourist meccas such as Cabo or Cancun.

There’s a boardwalk downtown—a seaside esplanade set apart from the narrow cobblestone streets, the bustling traffic, and the multitude of restaurants and shops radiating up the adjacent hillside. The cityscape has a bit of a European flair—like a poor man’s Portofino without any of the haughtiness, pretentiousness, or multi-colored buildings.

Occasionally, a whiff of cannabis penetrates the nostrils, but it’s quickly overcome with the aroma of grilled chorizo and peppers wafting from a nearby grill. Street vendors hawking sombreros and jewelry are everywhere. They politely keep their distance from me, as if somehow suspecting I’m tight with my pesos.

Closer to our hotel is the marina district—a more upscale cornucopia of shops, spas, and restaurants hungry for your tourist dollar. The walk around the waterfront harbor is spectacularly elegant, perfect for burning the extra calories from that double scoop of dessert gelato that you really should have skipped.

Remember, it’s also Valentine’s Day, so couples are everywhere, romantically strolling hand in hand along the numerous pedestrian pathways. Katie’s biggest fear is that we’ll be mistaken for one of them. She makes it known to everyone within shouting distance that I’M HER DAD—not some over-the-hill sugar daddy on a secret tryst with his floozy.

The Puerto Vallarta weather and beaches certainly didn’t disappoint either. What’s not to like about mid-eighties, perpetually sunny, with a light ocean breeze? The food was even better—seafood ceviche, squid ink paella, and the most tender steak fajitas this side of Guadalajara.

If you’re not already relaxed after my narrative thus far, I’d highly recommend a Mexican massage. This is nothing like the Thai version, where you’ve got Attila the Hun mercilessly twisting your torso. Nope, this is more the Swedish adaptation—soft, sensual, and soothing. Be sure to leave your modesty at the door. I guarantee you’ll leave with a smile on your face.

Beware of the dry-heat saunas, however. Five minutes in, I was sweating like Richard Burton in Night of the Iguana (filmed nearby). Ten minutes later, the coating on my prescription eyeglass lenses melted right before my eyes—literally. Sometimes you’ve got to live and learn. Thankfully, I brought a spare.

For the outdoor enthusiast, there are all sorts of sea excursions, four-wheeling, and ziplining adventures from which to choose. Katie and I elected to swim with the dolphins. Please don’t judge—the last thing I want to do is exploit animals. But I was a huge Flipper fan growing up, and I wanted nothing more than to pal around like Bud and Sandy.

Say what you may, the Aquaventuras Park—home of the Dolphin Discovery—has seen better days. It’s primarily a waterpark, with the usual assortment of slides, chutes, and flumes all bleached and faded by the relentless Mexican sun. Like many other tourist destinations, Covid has sucked the life out of the cash registers. There are no lines, so we hop on for a couple of quick, refreshing rides. One of the lifeguards looks like Enrique Iglesias, so Katie takes her time with an extra leisurely lap around the lazy river.

I’m here, however, to learn about dolphins. We’re paired up with Dorie—and she’s a beauty who’ll steal your heart in a second. Sleek and rubbery to the touch, Dorie’s nearly half a ton of cartilage, muscle, and pure love. There are six “Dories” here, and they all seem quite content. They dine on fish imported from Canada and they’re protected from other marine predators. In return, performing a few tricks and hobnobbing in the water with gringos like me seems like a pretty fair tradeoff.

But did you know some dolphins can live over fifty years? That’s a long time to be corralled in a small pen with no hope of escape. After forty-five minutes, I’ve had enough. I wash off all my guilt and shame with a quick shower before high tailing it out of there. How about some photos (at an outrageous $80 a pop) to document your experience? Thanks, but no thanks.

Four days in paradise passes quickly. On our final morning by the pool, I watch as a family frolics happily by the water. I can’t help but think of our prior travels together as family—Katie, Kanisa, and myself—the three of us together on some wild harebrained adventure without a care in the world. Now, sadly, it’s just Katie and me.

It’s bittersweet traveling alone with my daughter. On one hand, I treasure this time together and wouldn’t trade it for all the tea in China. On the other hand, there’s an unspoken sense of blame and remorse for always leaving Mom at home—well taken care of with food and protected from predators, but still trapped in her own corral of depression, psychosis, and mental illness with no hope of escape.

I’ve grudgingly learned over this past decade, however, that life must go on. You have to take the good with the bad. Soldier on, regardless of circumstances. You never know what the future will hold. Ironically, because of the bad, I find myself really savoring the good. I believe it was King Solomon who said, “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other.”

King Solomon was much smarter than me.

By the way, as I passed through passport control and customs on the return to the States, the border agent never asked for my Covid test results. All that dread and uneasiness amounted to nothing after all. How often does our fear of the future ruin our enjoyment of the precious present? If I’m honest with myself, it’s happened way too often in my lifetime. I promise to do better.

My final connecting flight into Lexington was late, arriving just before one o’clock am. At that bewitching hour, there are no Ubers or Lyfts available, and a taxi was going to take an hour and a half. I thought about calling my brother, but he needed the sleep, and I figured I could use the exercise. So, I walked the two miles back home. If you saw a dark figure wheeling a carry-on suitcase along Man O’ War boulevard early Friday morning humming La Bamba, that was me.

You gotta love life. You gotta love Lexington. It’s good to be home.

If you enjoy my writing, you can follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs. Also check out my latest book KENTUCKY PASSION at https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669

Super Bowl Dreams

Super Bowl Dreams

The Cincinnati Bengals are Super Bowl bound—and Lord willing, SO AM I!

As someone who has faithfully covered the team for the past five years, the National Football League has graciously granted me an official media credential for the press box at SoFi Stadium. For a football junkie like me, that means a journey to the pinnacle of the NFL, a once-in-a-lifetime visit to the mountaintop summit of the entire sporting world.

Ever since Jim O’Brien kicked the Baltimore Colts to a 16 – 13 win over the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V, I’ve dreamed of going to this iconic event. Year after year, for over half a century, I’ve longed to experience the world-renowned glamour and pageantry with my own eyes and ears.

The undefeated Dolphins, Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, the ’85 Bears, America’s Team with Aikman and Smith, the Greatest Show on Turf, Brady and Belichick—all viewed through the lens of that distant and detached boob tube screen.

Regardless of who was playing or where I was, I’d always make it a point to somehow tune in. Whether at a large social gathering or alone in my man cave, I simply couldn’t miss. Those 1:00 am kickoffs while stationed in Germany were especially difficult. One year while traveling, I remember frantically searching for a television at a seaside bar off the coast of Thailand (early on a Monday morning) just to get my Super Bowl fix.

Each year, after the final credits rolled, I promised myself that next year would be the one that I would finally make the in-person plunge. And yet, the plunge never came. Like so many other well-intentioned plans, this one careened into the backburner of misplaced priorities and dashed hopes. As the Super Bowl itself ballooned in stature and as ticket prices subsequently soared, my dream coincidentally vaporized.

And just as suddenly—as improbable as it sounds after all these years—I’m riding triumphantly to Super Bowl LVI on the backs of the Bengals. It’s a serendipitous ride of sorts, the Super Bowl venue at SoFi Stadium beckoning to me like a fairytale fantasy of my pre-adolescent youth.

You see, the Bengals are playing the Los Angeles Rams in LA. I’ve always loved the City of Angels. When I was young, my dream was to move to Los Angeles and become a movie star. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the talent, the looks, or the teeth to be a Leonardo DiCaprio—so I became a dentist instead. I guess things worked out okay, but I always wondered how different my life would have been as an Asian Brad Pitt.

Having missed out on Hollywood, I did the next best thing. I became a fan of everything LA—including the Los Angeles Rams. Yep, those Rams—the early Rams—the Rams who played in the glorious LA Coliseum. Posters of the Fearsome Foursome, Roman Gabriel, and Jack Youngblood adorned my bedroom walls. Vince Ferragamo, “Hacksaw” Reynolds, and Eric Dickerson populated my card collection. My daily moods and outlook on life sadly fluctuated with the fortunes of Pat Haden and Jim Everett.

When the team moved east, however, the Rams lost a bit of their luster for me. Budweiser Clydesdales and Gateway Arches couldn’t hold a candle to the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood Bowl, Rodeo Drive, and Venice Beach. I discovered that my love for the team was as fleeting as my hopes for movie stardom.

Therefore, there’ll be no divided loyalties this coming Sunday. I’ll be cheering wildly for the Cinderella Bengals. What a heartwarming story it will be when the midwestern team of my midlife sports-writing career takes on the west coast team of my youthful Hollywood dreams. It’s funny how things work out sometimes.

Here’s what else has worked out. My daughter, Katie, lives in LA. Unlike her dear old dad, she followed her heart and took the west coast plunge early on. Now I get an unexpected visit with her while working the game of my dreams–in the city of my dreams. It simply doesn’t get any better than that. I feel so blessed.

Super Bowl LVI, here I come. Please don’t wake me up.

Dr. John Huang covers professional sports for Sports View America. His latest book, KENTUCKY PASSION, is available in bookstores and online at https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669

Weekend at Tourneys

Weekend at Tourneys

Okay, the SEC/Big East Challenge isn’t technically a “tourney,” but I needed a clever title to lead off this blog post. I’m hoping you get the movie reference as I bask in the heartland of America this weekend between the sports doubleheader of my dreams.

You see, I’m officially credentialed for the AFC Championship game on Sunday in Arrowhead Stadium between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Kansas City Chiefs. However, I cruised into town a day earlier just so I could slide over to historic Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday to watch my Wildcats spank the Jayhawks in what was supposed to be college basketball’s game of the year.

The buildup for this one had been huge, with ESPN’s College GameDay crew salivating in anticipation of a titanic tussle between the top two blueblood programs. The Jayhawk fans were also jacked. Their team had won four of the last five against the Wildcats, and they fully expected to be feasting on Kentucky fried chicken before the final horn sounded.

Haha, by now you know the ending: Kentucky 80, Kansas 62, in a game totally dominated by the Wildcats from beginning to end—a brutal beatdown for the ages. Forgive me if I gloat.

Mind you, today’s win was extra special because it took place in Allen Fieldhouse. I’ve never been to “The Phog” before. It’s on my Mount Rushmore of iconic basketball venues (together with Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, and—of course—Kentucky’s Rupp Arena). By most everyone’s standard, it’s a bucket-list destination.

To begin the Allen Fieldhouse experience, you walk into the hallowed halls of what looks like an airplane hangar. Immediately, you’re thrust into the distant past through a collage of exhibits and display cases. Trophies, personal mementos, and championship paraphernalia dating back to what seems like the beginning of time bombard your senses. The original rules of basketball are etched on the northwest annex of the building. You feel as if you’re standing on holy ground.

For this is where college basketball started. It’s like the “big bang” of big-time hoops with the ghosts of James Naismith, Phog Allen, and Adolph Rupp still roaming the various nooks and crannies. “Pay heed, all who enter: Beware of ‘The Phog,’” says the sign over the tunnel leading into the arena. Placards listing every single player who ever wore the Kansas uniform line an entire concourse wall. There’s definitely a sense of reverence and tradition you don’t get walking into Rupp Arena—or anyplace else for that matter. Lambeau Field perhaps? Maybe Fenway or Wrigley? Wimbledon?

There’s also no pretense with this place. It’s old and decrepit—and it doesn’t care. Forget about keeping up with the Joneses. Built in 1955, the building remains perfect just as it is, comfortable in its own antiquated, creaking skin. It’s hard to believe it seats only a couple of thousand less than a massive Rupp Arena. The stands are compact, the bleachers vertical in scope, with nary an extra inch of extra space for proper ingress or egress.

It’s also hot today—nearly unbearably hot. With outside temperatures approaching sixty, inside it’s ninety degrees and humid. It’s a breeding ground for Covid I’m sure. But unlike Rupp Arena, at least ninety percent of the patrons don masks.

And it is loud in here. From what I’ve been told, it’s consistently loud—not just when the Wildcats come calling. It’s a piercing type of loud too, whereas Rupp is more of a roar. I’ve heard it louder in Rupp (Minniefield to Bowie half-court alley-oop and dunk, Unforgettables beating Shaq, Tayshaun’s five threes). But to be fair, it’s hard being vocal when your team’s getting slaughtered. However, I will concede that when the 17,000 or so on hand started swaying to the singing of the KU alma mater and then morphed into the “Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk” chant, goosebumps broke out on everyone, including myself.  

Today is also the first time in six years that I’m watching the Kentucky team play as a fan—with absolutely no media obligations. It’s liberating for sure to be able to cheer openly, loudly, and freely again with no repercussions whatsoever from the press box police. I’m even boldly brandishing the blue, shedding any specter of objectivity or impartiality that team media allegedly bears.

To be honest, I’ve missed this feeling more than I thought I ever would. I forgot what it’s like to feel your heart race or the angst rising in your gut right before tipoff. As the game begins, you’re straining as never before with every single misfire, contorting your body as if willing the shot to go in or grabbing that next rebound yourself. When things go well, you’re high-fiving others and yelling “Go Big Blue” at the top of your lungs.

My seat purchased from StubHub isn’t bad at all. It set me back a couple hundred, but it’s better than my usual media seat at Rupp. Of course, I’m surrounded by Kansas fans. A mom and daughter are seated next to me on one side. They’ve got their faces painted and are loaded for bear. On the other side of me are two old curmudgeons who apparently have been following the Jayhawks for decades.

By the time the final horn sounds, the mom and daughter are deathly quiet, their painted faces dripping with frowns. The two curmudgeons are lamenting about what Bill Self did wrong and how Calipari outcoached him. I’m all smiles.  

As a fan, there’s nothing more exhilarating than charging onto an enemy’s homecourt and taking their hearts. To do it in an environment considered by many to be the best in all of college basketball makes this a memory I’ll forever cherish.

If the Bengals win their game against the Chiefs today, perhaps I’ll retire permanently from this media gig. It’s much more fun being just a fan.

If you enjoy my writings as a basketball fan, check out my latest book, KENTUCKY PASSION, available in bookstores and online at https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669 . Follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Testimony Time

Testimony Time

My grandmother (third from left in back row) and her daily prayers played a vital role in my faith journey.

Rather than starting the New Year off whining about the weather, or the Wildcats, or the ‘Rona, I thought I’d begin 2022 by doing something many of you may have already done.

I had the distinct pleasure the other day of sharing my personal Christian testimony with a Saturday morning men’s group. Sure, I’ve shared bits and pieces of my personal faith journey with others many times before. But I finally realized I had never presented it as a complete story from beginning to end.

I’d certainly never written it out for all the world to see. So, here it is—the story of my spiritual walk, preserved in writing (and possibly in perpetuity) for anyone who might be curious or bored enough to take a peek.

For those of you looking for a “Saul on the road to Damascus” type transformation, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Because for me, there was no childhood abuse, teenage drug addiction, or young adult promiscuity to overcome. I didn’t rob banks or commit serial murders before coming to know Christ. In fact, for the first thirty-five years of my life, I was just your average Joe, living a mundane worldly existence, with nary a thought for spiritual matters.

Although devoid of much drama, my journey was certainly unique in terms of my family heritage. Faith, as you might agree, is often a function of geography. The reality is that if you were born in India, you’ll most likely be Hindu. If you were born in Thailand, chances are you’ll be Buddhist. Based on those odds, I should have been a godless heathen laboring away in an obscure Nike shoe factory in China. Instead, I’m freely and comfortably living out my Christian faith in glorious retirement in the greatest country on the face of the earth.

How does that happen? You’re about to find out.

My entire spiritual journey can be summed up in two words: PREVENIENT GRACE…that God loved me even before I came into existence. He was saying to me exactly what he said to the prophet Jeremiah. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart.”

My personal story of being “set apart” begins four generations earlier in southern China. Before my dad was even a speck in my grandparents’ eye, some missionaries snuck into my great-grandfather’s village and shared with him the love of Christ. He accepted Jesus into his heart, and subsequently became—of all things—a pastor in the Chinese Christian Church.

His daughter, my grandmother, was extremely devout. I’ve since heard stories of how she was the ultimate prayer warrior, rising early every single day to pray for God’s blessing and for the salvation of her family for generations to come. I’m firmly convinced that the power of her fervent daily prayers undoubtedly shaped how this unlikely story would play out.

One of her sons—my dad—fled the mainland in 1949 (right before the Communists took over) to the island nation of Taiwan. While there, he studied Civil Engineering and married my mom who, believe it or not, also came from a Chinese Christian background. My older sister, Mary, was born a year later. I came along three years after that.

In 1963, my parents took a leap of faith by pursuing the American dream. They left the comfort of their native homeland and immigrated to the United States in hopes of making a better life for their children. My dad completed his graduate studies at the University of Virginia before taking a job as an assistant professor of engineering at the University of Kentucky. Shortly after arriving in Lexington, my younger brother, Michael, was born.

Growing up, our family wasn’t exactly religious. We knew about Christ but didn’t really know Christ—if you know what I mean. My mom and dad were way too busy assimilating into American culture, raising a family, and paying the bills. We didn’t have the time nor the interest in going to church. Other than an occasional cursory prayer at night, I don’t really remember having any specific spiritual regimens at all.

Then, when I was 13 years old, my dad got severely ill and nearly died. My mom made a pact with God saying that if my dad recovered, we would all reconnect with our long, lost spiritual roots. Sure enough, my dad miraculously recovered, and our whole family got baptized together several Sundays later.

To say I committed my life to Jesus at that point would be a bit of an overstatement. To be honest, it felt a bit forced. I didn’t really know what I was committing too. If truth be told, I hated going to church—getting up early, wearing itchy pants, sitting through boring sermons, and being ridiculed in youth group for my lack of biblical acumen. I went simply because my mom made me go.

How liberating it was for me, then—several years later—to finally leave home and never have to step foot in church on Sunday mornings again. I could sleep in, wear sweats, and watch football all day long to my heart’s content. I wasn’t rebelling against God by any means. I just didn’t see the necessity of giving him any of my precious free time.

It wasn’t until our daughter Katie was born that those long forgotten spiritual pangs (or pains) began to resurface. Like many of you parents reading this, both my wife, Kanisa, and I wanted our children to grow up in a Christ-centered home. So, we joined Centenary United Methodist Church and proceeded to pour ourselves into every available church-related activity. Sunday School, Wednesday night dinners, volunteer activities, children’s choirs, social events—you name it, we were there.

Despite it all, my apparent newfound piety was crafted more out of a sense of responsibility, duty, and obligation—rather than a true love for the Lord. I found myself still just going through the motions. It wasn’t until I was “volunteered” for the church adult discipleship team that my journey toward spiritual maturity honestly took off.

In regard to church committees, let me just say that there are far better ways to waste your life (I’ll leave it at that). But this discipleship team was different. Led by Pastor Ellen, I gradually, grudgingly, and painstakingly discovered that a relationship with Jesus Christ was indeed not only important, but it should be the most important thing in one’s life.

Mind you, this was no eureka moment. I didn’t have the scales peeled instantaneously from my eyes. It was more like the germination of a ripe seed that was planted in nutrient-deficient soil. Suddenly—with just enough sunlight and water—my curiosity got the best of me, and I began to explore.

I read through the entire Bible and all the various commentaries. You’d often see me in the public library, choking down everything I could find from the likes of Chuck Swindoll, Max Lucado, C.S. Lewis, or Francis Chan. I listened intently through countless sermons, began memorizing Scripture, teaching classes myself, and leading spiritual retreats. I participated in service projects and joined accountability and prayer groups—anything and everything to draw closer to a God I longed to know more about. I thought I was well on the way to getting the prize.

If you’re still reading up to this point, here’s where the story gets complicated. My goal is to encourage you, but I also don’t want to mislead. This journey of mine has by no means been linear. There have been a ton of ups and downs, highs and lows, forward surges and spiritual backsliding. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been blessed by the comfort and assurance of knowing Christ’s presence. But I’m also ashamed and embarrassed to tell you that I continue to have doubts through it all—sometimes huge, ever-lurking, and crippling doubts.

It didn’t matter how many prayers I’d prayed, how many sermons I’d dissected, how many Scripture verses I’d memorized—it was still hard for me to reconcile my faith with all the death and mourning and crying and pain going on in the world around me. I’m familiar with all the various discourses regarding original sin and free will. I’ve heard all the stories about Moses, and Noah, and Jonah in the belly of a huge fish. I can recite many of the Apostle Paul’s letters by heart.

It’s just when all those trials and tribulations hit so close to home that those crippling doubts started to resurface and take root. A good friend passes away unexpectedly, a business venture fails, a long-lasting relationship disintegrates. A downward spiral began when my mom developed Alzheimer’s. I wobbled a bit more when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. And then, Kanisa’s horrible ongoing bout with mental illness had me precariously balanced on the edge of unbelief. I desperately wanted to shake my fist at God and cry out, “Why?”

I think it was Alfred Lord Tennyson who wrote, “Ours is not to reason why; ours is but to do or die.”

During one of Kanisa’s lowest moments, I was sitting with my pastor in our home listening to one of her numerous psychotic rants. I looked over at Pastor Tom with sorrowful, exasperated tears and asked him that burning question… “Why?”

He didn’t quote Tennyson, but his answer to me resonated just as loudly.

“I don’t know why,” he said. “But I do know this. God loves you. He also loves Kanisa. He’s with you right now, and he wants what’s best for both of you. No matter the obstacles, His grace is sufficient.”

There’s that word “grace” again. Prevenient grace—God loved me even before I knew him. Whether through my grandmother’s prayers, or my mom’s persistence, or just through landing on a random church committee, it’s easy to see in hindsight how God was preparing me for the challenges I’m facing today.

Here’s how else God has prepared me. Nope—it’s not through prayer, or Bible study, or worship, or meditation (although all those are certainly important). I’ve saved the best for last. Associating with other fellow brothers and sisters in Christ has done more to encourage and strengthen my faith journey than all the other spiritual disciplines combined.

I still can’t explain to you exactly why bad things happen to good people. But by watching how good people respond to bad things, you can’t help but be inspired by their sense of belief. It’s not their comprehension of God that’s compelling, but rather their connection with Him. Some of my dearest Christian friends have been through hell and back—but they continue to believe, persevere, and even thrive. I want what they’re having.

And you can have what they’re having too. Through God’s grace, a heavenly home for all of eternity is available for all of us. Won’t you accept His invitation? Just the fact that you’re reading these words is validation that He loves you and desires to have a relationship with you.

Here’s what I want to leave you with. Faith and Christian discipleship is a life-long journey. It doesn’t matter if you’re slow out of the blocks or if you’re fading down the stretch. You may feel as if you’re always running against the wind while dodging unexpected detours along the tortuous path. Just be assured that God is with you every step of the way on your way to grabbing the prize.

I don’t think I’m anywhere close to the finish line yet. But I do know that I’m closer now than I’ve ever been before. It’s the journey that matters.

Let’s press on together. It’s time to finish strong.

What’s so Dang Special about the Rafters of Rupp?

What’s so Dang Special about the Rafters of Rupp?

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.

The Prince Turns Six

The Prince Turns Six

For my sixth birthday, my parents gave me a new pair of tennis shoes. These were nothing like the latest Air Jordans you can buy online nowadays for over $300 a pop. But rather, these were your friendly K-Mart specials retailing for the fabulously low price of $4.95.

You see, Mama and Baba just weren’t much into frivolous gift-giving when it came to birthday presents for their children. Don’t get me wrong, they’d sacrifice the world to pay for practical things like our college educations or a down payment on our house. But if I asked for something like a fanciful trip to the beach, they’d probably just laugh in my face. I knew better than to even ask.

So, when my brother and his wife said they were taking their son, Gabriel, out to Disneyland in California to celebrate his sixth birthday, I couldn’t help but cringe. I asked Michael and Michelle if I could come along. I realized that I’d become more and more like my mom and dad—a royal Scrooge when it came to acknowledging milestones in life and significant rites of passage. That shackled me more than I cared to admit, and this trip with Gabriel was going to be my ticket to freedom.

For those who don’t know him, let me tell you a bit about my nephew. The kid’s predictably precocious and smart as a whip. He’s the sole male descendant on this side of our family tree. I was there when he was born and appropriately appointed him at the time as the “emissary of the Huang family jewels.”

I was part joking and part serious. Gabriel doesn’t quite grasp it yet, but our expectations for him are through the roof. As someone who’s getting ready to be put out to pasture, I’m already rolling all my unfulfilled hopes and discarded dreams into the opportunities still lying ahead of him. That’s a heavy burden for anybody to bear—and it’s certainly not fair to Gabriel. In his six short years on earth, he’s already brought our family enough smiles, hugs, and joy to last two or three lifetimes.

When you see the word “spoiled” in the dictionary, however, you’ll see Gabriel’s picture as part of the definition. His mom calls him “The Prince,” if that tells you anything. Whenever there’s a new toy that’s the latest and greatest craze, there’ll be two of them in Gabriel’s playroom by Tuesday. There were times that he had so many toy cars strewn across the family room floor that I was sure my ninety-year-old father would undoubtedly slip and fall to his death. Whether stuffed animals, air rifles, or model rockets to the moon, nothing was too expensive, too outlandish, or too good for The Prince.

Not even a Disneyland trip—a blow-out-the-budget foray that would have his grandparents rolling over in their graves. This journey of extravagance was my best chance of vicariously experiencing everything that I had missed out on in my youth of parental-denial. For once, I’d finally see how the other half lives—squandering my life savings with nary a thought for tomorrow.

As if Disney itself wasn’t enough, we’re scheduled for a Pre-Disney day at the neighboring Knott’s Berry Farm in Anaheim. Bubbling with anticipation, The Prince is up early with his royal entourage trailing in his wake—Mom and Dad, Uncle John, Cousin Katie, Aunt Mary and Uncle Robin—all ready to indulge and coddle.

Here’s my beef with Knotts Berry Farm. For a place that started out as a roadside berry stand, it has way too many thrill coasters for a six-year-old prodigy. Gabriel won’t ride many of them, and neither will I. The Prince pines instead for the rigged arcade games, and he predictably melts down when his daddy can’t bring home the hardware. Fifty bucks for park admission and the kid’s whining about missing out on a fifty-cent CLAW toy. Jesus, help us!

The next day, it’s more of the same at Disneyland—only it’s Gabriel’s daddy who’s doing most of the sulking. Missing out on the 7 a.m. virtual queue for the Rise of the Resistance ride sends Michael—a Star Wars fanatic—into the throws of depression. He walks around the park with an unrelenting frowny face as he misses out on the noontime virtual queue also. It seems our best laid plans have been unceremoniously hijacked.

The Prince, however, seems totally unfazed. He’s happy as a Jedi cruising Galaxy’s Edge. And why wouldn’t he be? His dad just dropped $150 watching him build a droid. He’s munching on $10 corn dogs and sporting a new $24 hat. An overpriced character meal with Goofy at the Disneyland Hotel is also lurking in the wings.

But you know what? As his late Grandpa would often say, “Gabriel is a good boy.” Despite the apparent over-indulgence, I find myself marveling at the kid, nonetheless. He waits patiently in interminable lines for rides, walks over ten miles crisscrossing the park without a single complaint, and keeps us all entertained with his never-ending commentary and wit. Most importantly, he makes everyone around him happy. And it is his birthday after all.

Even the Disney gods relent. Miraculously, we get a last-minute call-up for the Rise of the Resistance, and we hightail it over to board with our group. As I look over at Gabriel wondrously eyeing the Death Star, I can’t help but see my child-like self in him. Fifty years ago, I walked these exact same streets of Disney. I remember those magical moments with my family like they happened yesterday. I treasure those memories more than life itself. I’m hoping that Gabriel will treasure his time with me in the very same way.

His mom was right. There’s nothing too good for The Prince. I love you, Gabriel. May the force be with you.

Dr. John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media and editor-in-chief of JustTheCats.com. His two newest books, KENTUCKY PASSION and FROM THE RAFTERS OF RUPP, are now available online and wherever fine books are sold. If you enjoy his writing, you can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.