The decision to renew the Border War basketball game between Mizzou and Kansas has revealed a key distinction between the two schools’ fan bases.
While many MU loyalists — and I count myself in this camp — have welcomed the resumption of what had been one of the country’s longest continuous rivalries, the most vocal among Kansas basketball fans seems intent on denigrating the Missouri program as inferior.
“I cannot stress enough how disappointed I am in this decision,” a KU fan wrote on Twitter to Kansas AD Jeff Long. “It, in absolutely no way, benefits KU. It can only hurt us and for some reason, KU decided to throw Mizzou a life line. Very very very very disappointed.”
There’s no doubt that the announcement of the six-game series set to begin next season in Kansas City has brought out the most passionate among each school’s fans. But relatively few of the Jayhawk faithful voiced any appreciation for reviving what had been one of college sports’ most intense and storied rivalries.
“This really sucks. I’m from Missouri, played football at KU,” wrote one fan.
Of course, KU head coach Bill Self had been adamant since MU’s exit from the Big 12 Conference: The Jayhawks were not interested in playing the Tigers on the hardwood.
But while Self apparently has had a change of heart, a number of KU fans still aren’t ready to turn the corner — even at the behest of their beloved coach.
“There’s a reason why MU has been begging to play this game — they have everything to gain from it (exposure, financial, recruiting, etc.),” another fan chimed in. “Why give your rival what they covet the most, especially when they spurned the conference? KU has absolutely nothing to gain here.”
Clearly, plenty of KU fans resent Mizzou. They said good riddance when MU bolted to the football-obsessed Southeastern Conference in 2012 and never wanted to see the likes of the Tigers again.
But I agree with Mizzou head coach Cuonzo Martin’s response to the return of the Border War: “I think both (are) highly regarded programs,” Martin told The Star. “I think it’s beneficial to both programs.”
For all of Kansas’ self-importance as a basketball blue blood — admittedly, it’s tough to argue that the Jayhawk program isn’t one of the best in the nation — I don’t despise KU.
I’m a lifelong Mizzou fan, born and raised in St. Louis. But in that part of the state, we don’t have the same venomous hatred for KU as some MU fans closer to the Kansas-Missouri border do.
KU recruited hometown heroes
I grew up on the south side of the city on Park Avenue. From ages 9 to 17, I lived with my mom and older brother in a townhome on a north St. Louis street named in honor of Negro League Baseball great and Major League Hall of Fame player James “Cool Papa” Bell.
The street was in the Jeff-Vander-Lou housing project, a government-subsidized neighborhood for low-income folks. The area was filled with guns, a ruthless street gang known as the JVL Posse, drugs and crime.
But during some grim days in the mid- to late-1980s, the hoops program at Vashon High School provided a glimmer of hope in the neighborhood.
The “V” was a perennial state power led by Missouri Sports Hall of Fame coach Floyd Irons. He led the school to four state championships in the ‘80s but later served time in the federal penitentiary for real estate fraud.
The Wolverines, with their talent, swagger and bravado, were neighborhood superstars. They dominated and looked good doing it with Harlem Globetrotter-style warm-ups and blue high-top KangaROOS shoes.
And guess which big-time university, led by a Hall of Fame coach, recruited Vashon kids who inspired generations of young people like me to attend college? That’s right, famed KU head coach Larry Brown.
Nash lives in the Kansas City area. Tunstall was killed in a shooting in St. Louis in 1997.
KU was a big deal in my neighborhood back then. The program was respected.
Now, as a lifelong Mizzou backer with a healthy respect for KU basketball, I find it mystifying how many pompous Kansas fans believe the teams should never play again.
The sport is a lifesaver for some, and for others, this is still more than just a game.
While some Jayhawks lament the resumption of the Border War, more MU fans will be celebrating the return of this old-school rivalry.
I hope to see 20,000 of you at the Sprint Center in 2020. To mark the occasion, I may sport Mizzou black and gold and some retro high-top KangaROOS.