When Calipari conveniently overlooked Louisville in October by saying what makes basketball fans in the state of Kentucky unique is that "it's Kentucky throughout this whole state," the comment caught the attention of the owner of a Lexington street wear shop. Oneness owner Joe Staley came up with the slogan "Louisville doesn't exist" based on that quote, printed it on blue and black T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts and waited until the week of Saturday's Kentucky-Louisville game to begin selling them.
"For years in Lexington, it has always been 'Louisville sucks,' " Staley said. "It just has never been too edgy. I wanted to do something that was pretty provocative and it worked."
The sweatshirts have generated plenty of buzz in Kentucky, even prompting a lighthearted response from Louisville Courier-Journal columnist Eric Crawford. Staley declined to reveal exactly how many sweatshirts he has sold, but he said this will likely be the most successful month his store has enjoyed since it opened four years ago.
"Sales have been through the roof," he said. "It has been some of the busiest days we've had."
The original thinly veiled jab from Calipari came in response to a question from KSTV regarding whether fans from any other school would spend three nights sleeping in tents for choice tickets to Midnight Madness. Calipari shook his head no and then elaborated, adding "Other states have other programs. Michigan has Michigan State. California, UCLA has all those ... North Carolina has Duke. It's Kentucky throughout this whole state, and that's what makes this unique."
That comment drew the ire of many in Louisville, including Cardinals coach Rick Pitino. Asked by CBSSports.com to respond to the comment in October, Pitino fired back with a pull-no-punches shot of his own.
"Four things I've learned in my 59 years about people," Pitino said Wednesday. "I ignore the jealous, I ignore the malicious, I ignore the ignorant and I ignore the paranoid.
"If the shoe fits anyone, wear it," Pitino added.
Maybe the greatest irony of the T-shirt and sweatshirt campaign that war of words spawned is that the "Louisville doesn't exist" gear will be for sale in Louisville starting Saturday. A retail shop in Louisville called The Neutral Zone purchased some merchandise from Staley at a wholesale price earlier this week.
"We're going to be selling 'Louisville doesn't exist' T-shirts and sweatshirts in Louisville," Staley said chuckling. "That's pretty awesome."
- Joe Staley