As a fan it is easy to be wrapped up. Consumed with every dribble, snap, foul, or penalty. Throw in a football season with no signature wins, and a basketball scandal that would be news wherever it happened, and you have what has likely been the Fall of Cardinal fans discontent. And then we heard about Kyle Kuric.
Kyle Kuric was, and is, everything that was right about college athletics. A four year player for Pitino’s over-achieving Louisville teams, Kyle was steady, productive, and likeable. He was never written about for off the court shenanigans, and his on court presence was more substance than style. (Although, that Notre Dame dunk was pretty stylish.)
So when I heard on Tuesday about the recent discovery of a brain tumor for Kuric, I was instantly saddened. My emotion for Kyle ran deeper than my angst over the current basketball investigation. It was deeper than my frustration with any of the football team’s woes. (And there are plenty.) My emotion was sadness and then reflection. Since the gravity of Kyle’s condition is speculative at this point, it is the reflection that I want to talk about today.
Sports are meant to be an escape. They are the theatre of life played out on our favorite court,or field, instead of a stage. There are heroes, and villains, and there are compelling backdrops for halftime stories. Often times, what is lost in this is the human element. People play these roles. They have lives, problems, imperfections, joys and sadness. Kyle Kuric’s life has played a role in the lives of Louisville fans, and it is one that continues to develop.
As I reflected about Kuric, and the impact on my Louisville fandom, I recalled the obvious. Everyone remembers Kyle’s breakout moment. Sealing the victory against the number one team in the nation, in Freedom Hall’s last game, would have been too corny for fiction. No one would have believed that the former walk-on from Indiana would explode to dismantle the Orange the way Kuric did. I am happy to say I was there. Seated in the nosebleed section of Freedom Hall with my son, it was one of my most fond memories as a Cardinals fan. I was able to pass along the magic of sports, the allure of my team, and the love of all things U of L, in large part thanks to Kyle Kuric. For months my nine year old son could be heard bellowing throughout the house, with his best Sean Moth voice, “THREEE KUUURRRIIICCC!!!!”
Later, I would go on to watch many more Louisville games with Kuric playing a key role. His dunk at Notre Dame, his steady stroke from any of the four corners of a basketball court, and his sheepish grin that let you know he was understanding everything going on around him, are but a few of the things I recall about watching Kyle mature. It was particularly interesting to follow other aspects of Kyle’s life as well. From his engagement and wedding, to his blossoming pro career overseas, his local toy drives at Christmas, and finally the birth of his twins, fans have felt a connection to Kyle and his family that is likely deeper than most.
As I thought about Kyle’s condition, I was taken on a trip down memory lane that I don’t dust off much. As a boy, I had a childhood friend named Gary. He was, and likely is still, a big U of L fan. Gary’s family had season tickets to U of L games and since they were a family of three, I became the beneficiary of many of their “fourth” seats to Louisville basketball games. I dare say that Gary’s family took me to my first U of L game, and they definitely took me to the most. He and I bonded over U of L sports, and our Catholic grade school basketball team like you would expect 6th grade boys to. He was quick, athletic, and a great shooter. He was my best friend.
One weekend, after a hard fought CSAA game in Holy Name’s gym, Gary had a splitting headache. Deep in the night the pain would not subside. He was taken to the hospital and his diagnosis came later that week. Gary had a brain tumor. At nearly 42, I am better able to handle that sort of news than I was at 12. For my friend, the prognosis wasn’t good. Gary’s tumor was malignant, and he underwent successful surgery and then chemotherapy and radiation. He missed the vast majority of our 7th grade school year, instead he had his work completed at home so he could keep up with his classmates. My most heart wrenching moment came in 8th grade when Gary tried to come back to our basketball team. His mind was willing, but his body no longer able, I cried along with him as he re-learned the skill of dribbling. Gary never played with us after that first practice. He went on to have a wonderful, albeit different, life.
I say all of that to say this; we don’t know what the future holds for Kyle Kuric and his family. As a Christian, I am prayerful that he has a full and complete recovery. I hope Kyle has an opportunity to take his children to see local team heroes play out their real life dramas like I did because of him. I am hopeful that Kyle can return to the court, but I am aware that life for him can be good even if he doesn’t. Just as my friend Gary learned so many years ago, what you are on the court does not define who you are as a person. Although, admittedly, it is a hard lesson to learn.
Lastly, I hope that the fan base uses Kyle’s struggle to gain perspective. Please let this situation be one of many other reminders of what is truly important. Faith, health, love and family are all things that are overlooked by many. Instead, we worry about how our school will be portrayed on “The View” or whether or not our football team will become bowl eligible. In the words of my sixty-nine year old mother; “It Don’t Matter.” Sports are great. They are a fantastic escape from reality in 2-4 hour increments, but the players are real, and their struggles are as well. Learn from them and better your lives.
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