By LARRY VAUGHT
For almost three years, Tim Bates and three friends worked to get over 200 hours of footage from interviews to fan celebrations to crowd reaction about the University of Kentucky basketball program. The narrowed that down to a 90-minute documentary, “The Sixth Man: A Krazy Love Story.”
“We knew we wanted to do something around UK basketball because we are all UK fans, but we did not want to do what we had seen done 1,000 times,” said Bates. “My younger sister suggested we do one on the UK fan base. She was right. The Big Blue Nation is so vast that you can tell the story a 1,000 ways by turning the camera on Big Blue fans, so that’s what we did.”
What they got certainly resonated with the audience at The Grand Theater in Lancaster last week during a special showing of the movie before it is available in retail outlets and online starting Nov. 19. The movie not only had fans cheering and laughing, but it also had moments where fans were moved to tears by the stories.
The movie featured stars like Laura Bell Bundy, Eddie Montgomery, Josh Hopkins, The Backstreet Boys and Josh Hutcherson, numerous former UK players and coaches, and media members. Duke’s Christian Laettner was even a big part of the movie.
“If I were to grade the movie, based on its genre as a sports flick focusing on fans, I’d give it an A,” said Danville’s Herb Brock, a former Advocate columnist who watched the movie in Lancaster. “Whether they are UK fans, fans of other schools or only the most casual observers of college sports, I believe anyone watching the movie gets a really comprehensive look at UK fans, from their zealotry to their zaniness to their loyalty to UK and their love of the program and most of the players who have worn the blue and white.
“These traits were well illustrated through such scenes as the ones showing the two elderly people who have UK houses, inside and out; the nutty people who paint their faces and do crazy dances; the mob of people camping out for Big Blue Madness; the thousands of UK fans who will travel all over the country to root for their team even though most of them aren’t wealthy and are hard pressed to find the money for these road trips; the “live and die” emotions of UK fans with every minute of every game, who not only identify with the team but feel like they are on the team, as they nervously watch games in Rupp Arena or in sports bars or in their dens at home.”
Brock admits the movies “touching” moments inspired him.
“Stories involving two UK fans suffering both serious illness and, in one case, grieving the loss of a brother, underscored the mutual love and loyalty of these very special fans toward UK and UK towards these fans,” Brock said.
Brock, a UK season ticket holder, enjoyed the “overall” humor and wit of the movie.
“Fans of most other schools, including hated rivals U of L, Duke, Indiana and North Carolina, and most of the mainstream media, have always bashed UK fans for taking the game too seriously while they, on the other hand, allegedly keep it in perspective. Hogwash. I would agree UK fans probably do take the game more seriously than most other fans but only by degrees,” Brock said. “The movie shows that UK fans, as well as the players they love and the coaches they respect, can poke fun at themselves and aren’t all a bunch mind-numbed, UK-loving robots.
“There are lots of examples of humor, but a few that come to mind are the story of the two dialysis patients who get into a fight, the confessional scenes, Dr. Granacher trying to get inside the brain — believe it or, most UK fans have one — and into the psychology of UK fans, and the many comments from Jay Bilas, Joe Hall and John Calipari and other speakers on the lunacy as well as love UK fans demonstrate.”
Brock liked that the movie made it clear it was not about “the strengths and weaknesses or Xs and Os of each coach” at Kentucky.
“It is about the fans who root for the Cats, through thick and thin, and it does an excellent job of portraying a people from a poor state who found something positive in their hardscrabble lives, something that was a winner from one decade to the next, and embraced it as a legacy that must be continued, a torch that must be passed on, from one generation to the next,” Brock said.
“Every UK fan believes he or she is the UK’s biggest fan. I think I am. I always tell people that I have been a UK fan from the time I was knee high to my Dad’s old radio. My fandom dates back to the early 1950s when my dad, a UK grad, started to turn on the radio in Atlanta when I was a little kid and tuned in WHAS so we could listen to his alma mater play. No matter where we lived, and we lived in cities in the South and the Midwest, we followed UK as closely as possible, and would drive around at night trying to get the WHAS signal no matter what the weather.
“But as special as I think my UK fandom is, it is not at all unique and pretty mundane compared to the compelling, funny, touching stories of other UK fans, many of which were told in the movie.”
Bates said that “overwhelming” type response to the work he did along with his brother, Steve Bates, Lee Cruse and Jason Epperson has been the norm.
“It’s so satisfying and gratifying for us,” Bates said. “We were looking to be lean and not drag the movie out. We watched the film so many times together that we lost our sense of objectivity. So the audience reaction has been overwhelming to us. But it’s so crazy how consistent this fan base is that the whole year is dictated by the UK basketball schedule. Not just one or two people are like that. All the fans are.”
Brock even found pleasure in having Duke’s Christian Laettner — he hit the game-winning shot in the historic win over UK in 1992 and also was the one who stomped on Aminu Timberlake — in the movie.
“This may seem counterintuitive fro a UK fan to say this, but it was a great move to have Christian Laettner in the movie,” Brock said. “As much as UK fans despise him, he actually has been pretty effective in his charm offensive aimed at BBN that included that visit a year or so ago and kind of was on display in the movie. The directors/producers handled it in a great way, kind of forcing UK fans to have to relive ‘The Shot’ but softening the blow with great humor.
“The movie had to show what was, at least to me, one of the most significant moments in UK basketball history, that 1992 regional championship in Philly. It was the very definition of bittersweet as UK fans were able to see their beloved program once again reach national prominence under (Rick) Pitino’s tremendous rebuilding program but had to suffer a last second defeat that hurt but only temporarily derailed the rebuilding effort which ended in 1996 win a title and was punctuated big time when UK beat Duke in the 1998 regional championship game.
“The bittersweet moment also was made even more bitter and sweeter because it was the last game broadcast by the legendary Cawood Ledford. It was a sad farewell but one softened by Coach K.’s stopping by Cawood’s table to pay honor to UK’s effort and tribute to the great voice in college basketball. As an out of state UK fan, he was UK to me, even more than Rupp or his players.”