My Handshakes Bring All the Boys to the Yard

April 6, 2015
Posted by Jay Livingston

Handshakes are important. They can make a difference.

After Kentucky lost to Wisconsin in the semis Saturday night, several of the Wildcats started off the court, skipping the handshake line.The Kentucky coaches managed to round up some of them, but three of the Kentucky stars shook no hands.* 

That was now. But this Kentucky-handshake contretemps seems to be history repeating itself, albeit with some color reversal.

In 1950, for post-season basketball, the NCAA had a close rival in the NIT. The “I” stands for “invitational,” and Kentucky, always a basketball power, easily won an invite. City College was a bit iffier, but they too were invited, and in the second round they matched up against Kentucky, coached by the legendary Adolph Rupp.

Part of the Rupp legend was racism.  According to journalist Marvin Kalb, Rupp had been quoted saying he’d never coach a team with “kikes” and “blacks.”  This was still in the days when Southern universities were segregated. The Kentucky squad was all White, all Christian, something of a contrast to the City College starting five – three Jews and two Blacks.

As the game was about to start, the City College coach Nat Holman told his players to show their sportsmanship and shake hands with their Kentucky counterparts. The City College players went to their positions for the opening tip-off and, following coach’s orders, each extended a hand to the Wildcat standing next to him. Before a crowd of 18,000 at the Garden, the Kentucky players turned away. No handshakes from the Wildcats.

The scenario had the effect Holman had intended. The City College players were, to say the least, fired up. Final score: City College 89, Kentucky 50. That may still stand as the worst loss in Kentucky’s history.

Sure there are differences – the no-handshake before rather than after the game, the players doing the snubbing Black, the snubbees mostly White. But the similarities – Kentucky, no handshake, loss to a Northern team – were a thematic echo I found too intriguing to pass up.
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* Some observers lumped this unsportsmanlike conduct together with Andrew Harrison’s comment about Wisconsin’s center Frank Kaminsky. In a post-game team interview, when a reporter asked a question about Kaminsky, Harrison, thinking he was off-mike, muttered, “Fuck that nigga.” I see this less as poor sportsmanship than as grudging admiration. If I were Kaminsky, I wouldn’t be offended. I’d be flattered.


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