LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Pulling into the parking lot at the University of Louisville's Yum Center basketball practice facility Wednesday, a live truck from Fox News Channel turned the corner looking for a spot to set up. The paint job was fair. The tires were balanced.
In the entryway, CNN's Rachel Nichols was chatting with U of L sports information director Kenny Klein. Behind a closed door in what usually is the press conference room, ESPN had set up a makeshift set, and Rece Davis was awaiting a live hit.
All that was missing was Arianna Huffington banging out a HuffPost in the computer lounge.
I've been around U of L sports for 27 years, as student and journalist. I've seen national titles and BCS Bowls, scandals and successes. I've never seen anything like what has happened in the past three days.
In any normal situation, Rick Pitino and the men's basketball team reaching the Final Four with a live shot to win it would consume the news cycle in this city for a week.
Likewise, the women's team pulling an upset of top-ranked Baylor and crashing into the Final Four would jump to top-story status. Women's coach Jeff Walz wandered into Pitino's portion of the press conference about midway through and smiled, saying, "When's my opening act over?" Pitino, when he finished, slipped to the back of the room to embrace Walz.
Both of those are major stories in this city, and should be.
But over all of it hangs the story of Kevin Ware, which has grabbed the attention of the nation, which has sparked phone calls from Oprah to Michelle Obama and media inquiries from Matt Lauer to Diane Sawyer.
For their part, U of L basketball coach Rick Pitino and Ware himself seemed to understand why the attention of the nation has fallen on this unfortunate injury. But they also tried at times during a news conference on Wednesday to downplay it.
Asked what message he'd send to fans, Ware simply said, "I'm fine." He's a guy with a broken leg, that everyone saw fracture in front of their eyes in high definition, and he has simply and candidly told his story, but isn't making any claims for himself beyond who he is. Maybe that's part of the story's resonance.
"I think when you see all the pouring out of emotion of his teammates and the severity of the injury and then him just forgetting about the injury while six inches of his bone is out of his skin and he's saying just win, just win. . . . It was an incredible display of emotion from his teammates as well as himself," Pitino said, trying to explain why the story has taken on this bigger-than-life quality, particularly in the national media.
Ware wore a tribute T-shirt to himself, and the merchandise has sprung up seemingly overnight, much of it officially licensed. (U of L said it proactively waived any traditional licensing revenue, so it isn't profiting from the shirts, though adidas is contributing a portion of the sales to the school's general scholarship fund).
There comes a time in these stories when the original story is no longer the story, and the reaction to the story becomes the story. If that makes sense. Coverage becomes hyper-coverage. And this one has all the elements. High drama. Powerful emotion. A well-spoken victim, a positive, inspiring story. There's even a puppy, a pit-bull pup that Ware has named Scar.
For my money, the best little detail to come out of the news conference was Pitino being in Ware's hospital room one morning and asking him if he was hungry, if he wanted any breakfast. Ware said he didn't want breakfast, but that he wanted some chicken wings. So he dispatches his likely Hall-of-Fame basketball coach out to get them -- at Hooters.
Ware's mother sat off to his side. She's been through all the fear and relief that a mother could, and now his this media throng to deal with. The family is tired, but they patiently answered a few questions.
Ware said the most surreal moment of all has been talking on the other end of a conversation with Kobe Bryant.
You never know who America is going to wrap its arms around. Hearing him talk, you get the understanding that Kevin Ware understands how random the whole thing is. But he appears to appreciate it for what it is.
"I want people to know that I appreciate it more than I can say," Ware said.
He wants his team to win a national championship. He wants to sit on the sideline for it. He wants to heal and play again. And if America wants to obsess about him for a little while, at least it's obsessing over a guy who was strong in the face of adversity, and chose to think of others instead of himself. It could do worse.
Wednesday, April 23 2014 4:30 PM EDT2014-04-23 20:30:05 GMT
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