Basketball's Baron - Rupp Turns Philosopher and Coaches Love It
by Joseph Litsch, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 26, 1977.
College basketball has never experienced such a lineup: Hobson, Meyer, Iba, Hinkle, Holman, Longborg, Hickey, Rupp, Wooden.
Among the nine are more than 4,500 wins, 17 NCAA championships, 14 NIT championships and five Hall of Famers. The Hyatt Regency's Phoenix Ballroom was packed to standing room only to hear each in turn reminisce and evaluate various aspects of basketball.
But it was only when Adolph Rupp, affectionately and respectfully called the Baron of Bluegrass Basketball, spoke that the multitude responded with a standing ovation.
"Gentlemen, I don't know where basketball is going," Rupp began in the familiar quavering voice. "I don't think preachers are overpaid, I know they pray like hell over that collection plate, but I don't think it's filled. And when a preacher's son enrolls as a freshman driving a Thunderbird, I wonder about it. When I get back home to Lexington, I'm going down to check the Thunderbird prices. I didn't know they were in that range."
Rupp leaned heavily on the lectern. He had been assisted by Abe Lemons and Ray Meyer. "This is not one of my good days," Rupp explained later. He is 75 and seriously ill.
"I thought I'd throw in a little philosophy." Rupp went on. "I think we get a little thin-skinned if we stay in this business long. And believe me, I've had some sharpies thrown at me.
"Just the other day, I heard of one - and it was a sharp one - from Arizona," Rupp continued. "Things like that can hurt, especially if you've got children who are old enough to read.
"But let me tell you one thing about criticism. Forget it. If you worry about what people think and say about you, you'll never last in this game," Rupp said.
The room was quiet save the gravelly voice. Those present were seeing an Adolph Rupp they had never before seen. A sharp contrast to the quick wit and sharp tongue of previous coaching clinics.
"I think a lot about Rudyard Kipling. I remember when he was still living and an editor for the Manchester Guardian wrote that the junk Kipling was writing would never last.
"Well, it hurt Kipling," Rupp continued. "He was greatly depressed. And while he was in that depression, he sat down and wrote the poem 'L'Envoi'."
"When earth's last picture is painted, and the tubes are twisted and dried.
When the oldest colors have faded, and the youngest critic has died.
We shall rest, and faith, we shall need it - lie down for an aeon or two.
Till the Master of All Good Workmen shall set us to work anew!
And those that were good will be happy; they shall sit in a golden chair;
They shall splash at a ten-league canvas with brushes of comets' hair;
They shall find real saints to draw from - Magdalene, Peter and Paul;
They shall work for an age at a sitting and never be tired at all!
And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame;
And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame;
But each for the joy of the working, and each, in his own separate star,
Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They Are!"
There was an air of benediction, but the reverence was broken by thunderous applause. The crowd stood, applauding and wondering if this would be the last time they would listen to the man in the brown suit. This was a different man from the one who had won 880 games while Kentucky's head basketball coach.
"Well, this is the first time I've ever said this," Rupp said later. "This is my philosophy and I've always tried to live by that poem. I learned it back in 1919.
"When I got up, I didn't know what I was going to say. Everybody else had talked about the game, so I decided to give them some advice."
Rupp has never dodged criticism nor the public. His telephone number to this day is listed in the Lexington directory. Dial it and he answers.
"I saw no reason for an unlisted number," he said. "If somebody wanted to talk to me, I wanted to talk to them."
When he shows up at Rupp Arena, the 23,000-seat coliseum named for him and built for the Kentucky team he established, it's cause for a five-minute standing ovation.
"I don't go when they play Mississippi or a team like that. I want to see a contest," he said the old fight blazing through.
Hundreds of coaches filed past Rupp, shaking his hand and asking for his autograph.
"You know what you've meant to me, and I want to thank you," said North Carolina Coach Dean Smith.
"And good luck to you," answered Rupp.
"This is the most enjoyable session I've ever been to and I've been to plenty," said former Georgia Tech Coach John "Whack" Hyder.
Rupp waited until the crowd had thinned then asked someone to help him up. "This has been a long session. They tire me out," he said.
The crowd in the lobby parted to let him through. Hands thrust out to shake his, Rupp accepted the praise graciously.
"Now that's what you call a real legend," said one young coach. "He IS college basketball."