It was twenty years ago this month that UK fans were handed one of the greatest disappointments of our basketball-loving lives. It was the 1992 NCAA East Regional Finals. The Elite Eight. Duke vs. Kentucky. It was a battle to go to the Final Four. Coach Mike Krzyzewski vs. Coah Rick Pitino.
UK was 12 points down in the second half and came back to tie the game with 33.6 seconds left. The game goes into overtime. After what seemed like an hour of OT play, Kentucky is up 103-102. Until… The Shot.
You have to understand, Kentuckians don't talk about The Shot. And, anytime we do, it is followed with a spit and a curse. In Wildcat Country, it is like the death of JFK. Every single UK fan old enough to know about that game remembers exactly where they were when it happened. I was standing in a WalMart in central Kentucky. Dozens of us were gathered around televisions in the Electronics department. The store staff had handed out popcorn. After thunderous cheering, things got really quiet, like some natural disaster had just ended and we were surveying the broken landscape.
Wildcat fans are not sore losers about that game. What enrages us is that we feel Laettner should have been ejected for stomping on Aminu Timberlake earlier in that same game. It was a vicious, purposeful thing to do, and Laettner has admitted to waiting for his moment to do it.
Laettner was not ejected. He was assessed a technical foul and played on. This is the key to understanding the state of mind of a UK fan when The Shot is mentioned. It's about fairness.
As UK fan Ben Parks points out, we got our "revenge" in 1998 against Duke with a Cameron Mills 3-pointer.
But still, we don't talk about it. And, the fine folks at UPS damn well should have known better.
United Parcel Service employs lots of people in Kentucky. UPS Airlines is headquartered in Louisville. They are not ignorant of the culture in this state and the soreness that game represents. Yet, as part of their "Logistics" line of commercials, UPS saw fit to use the 20-year anniversary of the game as fodder for promoting their business.
Notice... "That changes the game..." -- Laettner hits shot, beating Kentucky -- "...and that is what we do."
UPS is using the commercial to talk about the "logistics" of the pass to Laettner. But, they are ignoring the sensitive issue of his unsportsmanlike conduct earlier in the game. We Big Blue Nation fans respect someone who can beat us fair and square . (Ask anyone who watched the Indiana game this year.) To Kentuckians, Laettner is not a hero. He's a cheater who ended up winning. Not a smart business plan to align yourself with that guy in Kentucky.
"That is what we do."
UK fans are ticked. And, in case you haven't heard, Kentucky is to basketball what Alabama is to football. It's a religion here. We fired our last coach because he didn't bleed enough blue.
Kentucky state senator Ernie Harris graduated from Kentucky, he flew UPS planes, and he is the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. He is among the many Kentuckians who think the ad is in poor taste in a state that has supported and staffed UPS for years.
The UPS Facebook page is currently playing host to a lively discussion about the commercial. A few comments from the post:
"UPS should be supporting this community that they care so much about... Not hating on its fans!"
"Apparently UPS is attempting to get some legislature passed in their favor - Contact your area representative and voice your outrage...Tell them NOT to pass the legislature UPS is wanting…"
"This is the greatest ad I've ever seen... for FedEx."
"I just want to know what ad exec would actually say, "Hey, I've got it. Let's do a commercial about the shot heard around the world in '92. Oh, and let's show it during March Madness." UK has the biggest fan base of any other college team... What kind of results were you expecting from this, really?!"
"Hey clueless execs, way to boost FedEX revenue. Idiots."
"Will never use UPS again. GO BIG BLUE!"
"Really, how long has UPS been in Louisville KENTUCKY, your ad team must be sniffing jet fuel. Looks like my new prefered carrier is anyone but UPS."
"They need to pull this ad immediately and apologize for it."
"This guy just joined Team FedEX"
"FedEx thanks you for this horrible commercial. GO BIG BLUE!!!"
"It's not the shot that pisses people off about that moment it's the fact that Laettner stomped on the chest of Timberlake and should not have been in that game at that moment. He gets glorified for the good he did and the AWFUL gets swept under the rug. So UPS the moral of this story is you are supporting a scumbag and slapping ALL UK fans in the face!!!"
"Perhaps UPS needs to be more aware of their Central Ky base. If they were, they would realize that we are fanatic about our Big Blue ball...and we will literally drive a few extra miles to get to a FedEx now."
"UPS will never get another dime from me"
UPS has responded to the comments on its page by linking to a blog written by an employee, a UK fan, basically telling UK fans that it is in the past and that they should get over it:
"I know our new ads will anger some UK fans, but if you truly look at that game with an objective eye, it’s hard to think of a better example of what determined people working together toward a common goal can accomplish – and that’s what UPS is all about.
No one should think that UPS has some kind of anti-UK bias. On the contrary, UPS loves Kentucky. We love it so much we established our primary air hub in the commonwealth, which has driven the creation of 33,000 jobs with $300 million in annual payroll."
"Hard to think of a better example..."? How stupid is this guy? Digging the hole even deeper.
"... driven the creation of 33,000 jobs..." In other words, we make jobs here. So, shut up.
That is what we do.
This approach is not working well either, judging by comments on that blog post:
"Do you really think using this ad will boost business? I will not use UPS again. I will use Fed Ex or the U.S. mail. I’m sure you don’t care, however it will make me feel better every time the U.S. mail truck or the Fed Ex truck makes my deliveries. Hows that for logistics?"
"I cannot imagine why UPS would think this commercial in anyway speaks to logistics! “Logic” would dictate that you have just alienated millions of Big Blue Nation fans! Your analysis, albeit from a so called UK fan point of view does not make this horrible commercial palatable! I shipped a package from Lexington today and specifically used FedEx because of this commercial ….logistics….I think not!! GO BIG BLUE!"
The blogger responeded:
"Thanks for your comments. Obviously everyone is entitled to their opinion, but we approached this campaign very carefully, including sharing the materials with the University of Kentucky, who approved their use.
Personally I can’t allow myself to dwell on the past. I was inspired by the effort and teamwork displayed by “the Unforgettables” and even though the loss was painful, I look back at that moment with nothing but a deep sense of pride.
The commercial isn’t a commentary about the players or the teams involved, or even specifically about college basketball. We’re just using this game as a metaphor about logistics and the value UPS brings to our customers."
Why would this company - why would ANY company - argue with its customers?! Maybe because they think of them as their workers rather than their customers? That is what we do. But, that only made things worse:
"I am a UK grad who thought people were overreacting to the commercial…until I saw the response from UPS and from you. If the commercial wasn’t about college basketball, why did it debut on Selection Sunday and why did you 'approach this campaign very carefully?' UPS should just own up to the fact the powers that be KNEW there would be a negative reaction from a large fan base in the state that is home to the company’s primary air hub. Own up to the decision. Condescension doesn’t sit well on anyone, especially a large corporation in a rough economy."
"Here’s an idea for your next UPS ad. How about you detail the “logistics” of a major company receiving huge tax breaks from a state as an incentive to move there. Then you could show the “teamwork” required to make an ad highlighting the most heartbreaking moment in that state’s sports history. Sounds like another winner. It’s bad you wrote this post trying to justify the ad, but to do so in such a condescending manner explaining to everyone how great the play the play makes it even worse."
"If what you are saying is true, then use footage from another upset against UK. It isn’t the shot we remember, it is the fact that Laettner should never have been allowed to play at that point in the game. He should have been ejected. Being beat wasn’t what made the game memorable for true UK fans, it was being beat by someone with no class who was rude towards our players. You don’t literally step on the chest of another player and have class. Use footage from our Indiana game this year. Use any other footage at all but using this one particular game proves you don’t have any idea of what you are doing as a marketing expert. Know the whole story, not just part of it. Use a game that ended with class and show that you are smart enough to not turn your back on an entire state of fans."
Most of the debate is about whether or not Kentucky fans should "get over it" and try to understand how this all relates to "logistics". But, the execs at UPS should really be asking themselves right now, "Is it smart, from a business perspective, to be seen as using something this emotionally sensitive to this many people to advertise in their own state? Is it wise to pair something people loathe with 'That is what we do'?"
Or, maybe UPS figures we will all just shut up since they are writing checks in this state?
Note FedEx's reply…
These people aren't forgetting. If UPS doesn't understand why, they didn't do their research. Maybe Fed Ex will.
Tip for UPS: Showing me a Duke v. Kentucky game in your commercial isn't likely to make me buy your product or service.
@ups your new commercial with the the shot from Duke/UK game is horrible. Way to lose customers from an entire state.