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Kentucky by Heart: As state is abuzz with basketball, some new hoops books to highlight ‘annointed time’

By Steve Flairty
KyForward columnist

Basketball is buzzing in Kentucky these days, with both high school and college basketball tournaments in full throttle. Some might call this annual sports season focus as a state birthright… our “anointed time.”

Being in the spirit of such mania, I’ve recently read a couple of good hoops books, one a biography on Adolph Rupp, the iconic University of Kentucky coach, and most recently, another bio on seven-footer Artis Gilmore, who has a connection to Kentucky in a couple of ways.

Artis Gilmore (Photo from nasljerseys.com)

First, longtime UK fans will recall with dismay the March 14, 1970, game when the Wildcats were shocked in the Mideast Region Finals, 106-100 by the upstart Jacksonville University. On that day, Artis Gilmore scored 24 points and 20 rebounds, more than counteracting the 28 points and 10 rebounds by UK star Dan Issel. Years later, however, Gilmore and Issel would be teammates and pull down the American Basketball Association (ABA) championship for the ’74-’75 season. Gilmore, nicknamed “The A-Train,” played a total of 16 years in the ABA and also the National Basketball Association (NBA) and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Gilmore’s book, Here Comes the A-Train!: The Story of Basketball Legend Artis Gilmore, has a particularly interesting chapter about some of the quirky characters that he was around in his professional playing career.

Marvin “Bad News” Barnes, as his nickname might indicate, had a well-deserved reputation for being one of the quirkiest. He pranked teammates by waving a nine-millimeter gun at them in the locker room. Gilmore noted the gun was empty, but “no one who dove under the closest bench was taking a chance.” Barnes once scored 48 points in a game, then called his teammates selfish for not passing him the ball more in order for him to score 50. His pregame meal typically wasn’t a healthy one: nachos and cheese, hot dogs, hamburgers, and Twinkies.

James “Fly” Williams once dribbled off the basketball court to get a drink at a water fountain. Another player competed with a toothpick in his mouth, and Bob Netolicky owned a pet lion that slept in his bathtub.

Gilmore told of the ongoing contest between him and Darnell Hillman over who had the largest Afro haircut, and the ABA also did publicity stunts like allowing a 5’ 3” woman to officially enter a game for a short while—the only female to ever play in a men’s professional basketball league. The ABA eventually merged with the NBA, bringing its share of the quirk quorum with it.

The book aptly gives tribute to Gilmore, who overcame a childhood of poverty in Chipley, Florida, to achieve amazing success. And, it’s a slam dunk that he made waves around the Bluegrass State, from whatever perspective one might look at it.

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Everyone, at least occasionally, likes to self-indulge a little in tasty, rich—even exotic—food. Sometimes, an opportunity to both indulge in good eats and support a good cause comes along.

One such event will take place on Saturday, April 27th, when The Kentucky United Methodist Children’s Homes, located at 1115 Ashgrove Road in Nicholasville, will host their own “Epicurean Experience” to raise funds for the organization, which has recently moved its Versailles branch to Nicholasville.

Casey Neely

“For 147 years now, KyUMC has served young people-originally as an orphanage and now offering care to children with histories of abuse, neglect and/or family trauma,” said Casey Neely, development coordinator for the organization. “We have taken a major step toward the future with our move to Nicholasville and the expansion of programs that provide hope and healing to kids and families throughout Kentucky.”

There are lots of ways to participate, including, of course, buying a ticket and enjoying the event. Another way is by individually or by using your business to sponsor the event, and that will get you a lot of advertising, including exposure in the more than 20,000 circulation organization newsletter.

“We are also looking to recruit a few more top chefs to cook and donate food for the event,” said Neely.

I hope lots of people will show interest in this event because KyUMH does good work. I wrote about its story and wide net of compassion and will include it in my upcoming new book, Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5.

For more information about the Epicurean Experience event or the organization, visit kyumh.org, call 859-523-3001, or email casey.neely@kyumh.org.

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Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of six books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and five in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #4,” was released in 2015. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

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