Bill Self, Paul Pierce, Mario Chalmers and Larry Brown addressed the media after the Legends of the Phog alumni scrimmage Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse.
For the past few weeks, on a very public stage, Kansas University had been reduced to the role of second-class citizen because of the turbulent conference realignment talk that, at times, left KU in the very unfamiliar position of feeling like an outsider.
Saturday, everything seemed right again.
In front of 16,300 rabid fans, 23 former Kansas basketball players returned to Allen Fieldhouse to deliver the kind of performance that reminded the KU faithful where their school ranked in college athletics.
“This was good for the soul,” KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger said.
In the short term, the Legends of the Phog game gave us all a break from talking about the future of the Big 12. In the long term, it’s an event that will be talked about for ages.
“This is truly remarkable. This is unreal,” said Darnell Valentine, an All-American in 1981 who ranks fourth on KU’s all-time assists list. “Are we just crazy in Kansas about our basketball or what? This is a blessing, and we are all feeling the love. Thank you so much.”
The game itself had a little bit of everything. Part Globetrotters, part Late Night, part NBA All-Star game. It also included the one common denominator that led all of these guys to KU during the past four decades — competitive fire.
While the first half was more of a feel-good fest, the players picked it up a notch in the second half. Bodies banged, former teammates battled for rebounds and a little defense showed up.
As the game clock ticked under five minutes to play, one look was all it took to see that no one on the floor wanted to lose. In the end, no one did. Thanks to the kind of clutch shots we’ve come to expect from Paul Pierce, who hit a three for the lead with five seconds left, and, later, Mario Chalmers, who appropriately drained a three to tie it inside the final second, the Jayhawks, old and new, played to a 111-all tie.
While the contest was enough to make the night memorable — so many different generations of some of the greatest KU basketball teams on the floor together — the between-the-action festivities brought it to another level.
During one time out, the members of the 1952, 1988 and 2008 national championship teams who made it back were introduced to the crowd. During others, Chalmers and Pierce manned the mic and several fresh and nostalgic videos played on the video board.
“I don’t think any player can go anywhere in America and be more loved than they are right here at the University of Kansas,” said current KU coach Bill Self.
In the modern era of college basketball, the “One more year” chant has become as popular as almost any other, especially late in the season when the home fans are clamoring for their talented underclassmen to stick around town a little longer.
With players leaving early for the NBA becoming more regular, even at Kansas, fans at Allen Fieldhouse never quite know when they’re watching the final game in the careers of some of their favorites.
Saturday, 10 former Jayhawks who never got the chance to say goodbye gave KU fans the next best thing — one more game.
As great as this reunion went, it may not be the last.