By Danny Mayer
True readers of the Lexington Herald-Leader know Joel Pett for what he is: a regional treasure. Pett, the paper’s Pulitzer-prize winning political cartoonist, mostly focuses on local and state politics. Though he’s often derided in the paper as an offensively appalling liberal, Pett is an equal opportunity observer. He has an admirable knack for creating things that piss off all sorts of people.
Pett’s most recent cartoon to rouse the ire of Herald-Leader readers poked fun at the more shady underside of UK Basketball Coach John Calipari’s NCAA career. In the May 8 comic, a giant NCAA Champs trophy looms between two taped shards of paper (“This space vacated,” “This one, too…”) and a runty, deflating basketball perched atop a trophy base reading, “Lose at IU, Take My Ball And Go home Award (One and Done).” Below the trophies, a plaque reads, “Coach Cal’s Trophy Shelf.”
The cartoon collects together a number of oft-discussed grievances against this neo-modern era of UK basketball. Its beauty lies in how these grievances get distilled into a single drawing that shows how fans have lost out, how schools have had to contort themselves to accommodate it, and how markets dominate the game. There’s Calipari’s historical connections to programs having to vacate final four appearances for rules violations (UMass and Memphis). There is the most dominant object in the frame, the fealty to a hulking NCAA Championship trophy, the reference to one-and-done players, the frustration over losing a cherished series because of market revenue concerns.
Soon after the cartoon appeared, Pett was besieged by Cat fans. Here’s his account of the days after its appearance:
“I got off the plane Tuesday afternoon and have spent nearly every waking hour since dealing with angry hoop fans, displeased, to put it mildly, at the way I lampooned UK Coach John Calipari after he refused to play Indiana in Bloomington again. A dozen or so have canceled their papers. Many dozens have sent me e-mails, most of them unprintable, some containing veiled threats. A handful called my home, one at 2 a.m., claiming to be outside. A UK fan posted my home address on the Internet and suggested it as a target for vandalism.”
The response to Pett’s cartoon shows the down-side to our over-investments in kid-games. In the conclusion to his editorial recounting his experiences with irate UK fans, Pett offered the perfect illustration of what Andrew Battista in this issue suggests is basketball’s perversion of our civic selves. “For all the demands that I apologize,” Pett noted, “what I really regret is that of all the subjects we cover—in news, editorials and cartoons—UK basketball is the only one, with the possible exception of the you’re-with-us-or-the-terrorists Iraq War, that has inspired this level of genuine outrage and passion. Now that’s just sorry.”
That’s not just a critique of the crazies contacting him; it’s also applies to much of the Cat-crazed region.