Opinion

A spontaneous crowd in Lawrence celebrates Kansas basketball. The good vibes lift my soul.

March 29, 2022 3:33 am

Downtown Lawrence was filled with fans of the Jayhawks after the KU men’s basketball team won a spot in the Final Four. (Clay Wirestone/Kansas Reflector)

I was at the barbershop with my son when I heard that the KU men’s basketball team was headed to the Final Four.

You may have deduced from the previous sentence that I’m not a sports devotee. But I’m also a graduate of the University of Kansas and live in Lawrence, two facts that inescapably lead to at least a token knowledge of college hoops. I felt a stirring of that old Jayhawk pride, a sense of shared joy that was welcome amid the current tumult in our state and nation.

Within minutes of the 76-50 win over Miami on Sunday afternoon, downtown was flooded with ebullient residents and students. They wanted to celebrate. They needed to celebrate. The Lawrence Police Department, as noted in the tweet below, urged the most boisterous to restrain themselves.

I headed to Massachusetts Street a little later, after police allowed traffic back on the main drag. Even then crowds gathered near intersections, throngs of men and women, young and old, Black and white. Families mingled, bedecked in crimson and blue outfits, along with unsteady college students who may have had a drink or five.

At that hour — slightly after 5 p.m. at the intersection of Eighth and Massachusetts — the vibes were good and the problems of the world seemed a world away.

You couldn’t watch the spontaneous revelry without a smile on your face. These folks weren’t arguing about a bill in the Statehouse, or trying to score points for social media at a Supreme Court nominee’s hearing. No, these folks turned out to celebrate a team, a school, a place. They showed up to share good feelings. And why not?

I watched it happen back in 2002, when KU headed to the Final Four under coach Roy Williams. I watched it happen as a new Florida resident in 2003, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl under Jon Gruden.

And I watched it year after year after year as I lived in New Hampshire and the New England Patriots blazed through a string of playoff appearances. Sure, the rest of the country hated the team – coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady especially – with a passion. It made the six-month winter season pass more quickly.

These simple things, like a region’s shared athletic history and pride in the same, matter. The stories we tell one another about our families and friends, our institutions and traditions, have meaning.

– Clay Wirestone

These simple things, like a region’s shared athletic history and pride in the same, matter. The stories we tell one another about our families and friends, our institutions and traditions, have meaning.

Too often, we tell ourselves cautionary tales, or even outright horror stories. We’ve seen this happen repeatedly in this year’s legislative session, with conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and election fraud motivating fatally flawed bills. We watched it happen in last week’s hearing for Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s nominee for the U.S. high court. GOP senators tripped over one another to distort her honorable record and undermine the court’s crucial precedents on privacy and marriage.

But these stories, as alarming and partisan as they may be, don’t have to define us. We can recognize them for what they are — tools of manipulation — and choose to listen to other voices instead. We can choose to tell our own more wholesome stories instead.

I’m not arguing that sports or sports fandom comes without costs. The money and attention paid could go to other, more constructive activities. You could say the same about almost any form of entertainment, though. Who actually needs television game shows or action movies or concerts by Kelly Clarkson? Every one of us seeks diversion and community, a shared escape with other human beings.

The folks on Massachusetts Street on Sunday afternoon didn’t care what you looked like or what political party you belonged to. They cared if you supported one fine college basketball team, headed for a game on Saturday against Villanova. These folks were united for a common cause.

“We’ll enjoy this. We are on a high now,” coach Bill Self said of his team, according to the Kansas City Star. “We’ll crash tonight and probably tomorrow. This is the highlight of everyone’s career as a coach or player. I want our guys to enjoy it.”

Congratulations to those Jayhawks who made their city and state proud. And thanks to everyone who flooded Lawrence’s downtown to create an instant community. Rock Chalk, Jayhawk.

Who knows, I might even watch the game next weekend.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone has written columns and edited reporting for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, cnn.com and a host of other publications. Most recently, Clay spent nearly four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics, and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.

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