For the first time in eons, thousands in Jayhawks and Tigers gear all at once swarmed the Power & Light District on Sunday afternoon.
Then they combined to create a rare energy in the Sprint Center for what Kansas coach Bill Self had called about “the most anticipated exhibition game in the history of exhibition games” — the awakening of a dormant rivalry.
Playful as Self’s comment was, though, this mesmerizing event eclipsed any expectation of the first meeting between the schools in a high-profile, revenue-producing sport since 2012, when Missouri left the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference.
That starts with the $1.8 million-plus the “Showdown for Relief” generated for hurricane disaster aid from the estimated $1.1 million in tickets sold, $725,000 more in $40 pay-per-view purchases from 18,000 people and tens of thousands more from fans asked to text donations during the game.
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But it didn’t end there.
The exhibition, which Kansas won 93-87, was played in an atmosphere befitting an NCAA Tournament game …
Only more so, considering the raucous crowd of 18,951 was virtually equally split.
“In warmups, you could just tell how much juice there was in the building,” said KU’s Devonte’ Graham, who led the Jayhawks with 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
A “great night for the city of Kansas City,” first-year MU coach Cuonzo Martin called the first meeting of the KU and Mizzou basketball teams here since 1997.
And even Self called it “pretty special” and added, “I admit, I had butterflies. I was excited to be out there.”
Nah, nothing to see here.
Who’d want these teams playing to be a regular thing like it was from, you know, 1907 to 2012 in basketball alone?
It’s silly, really, to deny the appeal.
Look, Self and a bunch of Kansas fans can stay mad at MU for the rest of eternity.
And fine if they want to hold on to blaming Mizzou for further destabilizing the Big 12 … even if KU curiously has scheduled other schools that left the conference before Missouri did.
They can stew in MU evidently deceiving it before the defection.
And that group can have the satisfaction of saying “we don’t need Missouri” and continue to shun one of the great rivalries in sports history — college or otherwise.
But the idea that there’s no broader prevailing interest no longer has credibility after what happened Sunday in a game that rapidly sold out, didn’t count, allowed players up to seven fouls and didn’t so much as feature bands or cheerleaders.
No frills, plenty of thrills.
No pomp, but plenty of circumstance:
As half the fans in the arena roared all game, KU got a worthy preseason test of its perennial top-10 talent, and Mizzou unveiled its presumed revival under Martin and a marquee recruiting class highlighted by Michael Porter Jr., the top recruit in the nation.
Porter led MU with 21 points but was just six of 20 from the field and blamed himself for the loss while continuing to vow that the sky’s the limit for a team that went 8-24 a year ago.
Let’s hope any journey is bookended by a meeting with Kansas in the NCAA Tournament.
Because this was all about the best part of a rivalry, intense with no notable toxicity among fans, hard but clean play, clear respect between Self and Martin and terrific talent on both sides.
Enough to make anyone not stuck in spite crave more of a local treasure.
“That’s what fans want to know, but we’re going to do what’s best for us,” he said. “We’re not interested in doing what’s best for Missouri, or best for Missouri fans. But if it’s best for us to play them, we will. It’s not a complicated deal.
“I’m not going to say never. But I don’t think there’s been any change in our position as far as the university goes.
“I’m the spokesman, I guess, on this. But trust me, I’m not the only one who feels that way. There was a very large contingent of KU people that wasn’t happy we were doing this initially until they realized it was for a good cause.”
Just the same, Self has enormous influence on all this.
If he wanted to, nobody could do more about it by doing less, like just saying … “let’s play every year.”
And while his primary responsibility absolutely is to the Kansas program, he’s also a guardian of the game as a recent inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and as current president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
If he wanted games with MU to become standard operating procedure, they ultimately would be … even if it met initial resistance.
What happened Sunday was great for hurricane relief, good for the game and tremendous for Kansas City.
Here’s hoping it helps the conversation move away from denial of what’s still here to the obvious: finding a way to regenerate something meaningful that’s been missing on the local landscape.