Injured Louisville guard Kevin Ware receives huge support that comes in all shapes and sizes
There was a letter from Sean, an inmate in a supermax prison in Florence, Colo. Sean is serving a 39-year sentence for fire-bombing a synagogue in 2001, but wrote that he has renounced his racist skinhead past. He saw Kevin Ware's leg snap on television, and he wanted to offer words of encouragement.
There was an avalanche of letters from mothers and grandmothers, including a postcard of the beach from Linda in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., reminding Kevin to take care of his own mom, Lisa Junior. "Mothers always worry," the postcard read. "Stay strong for her."
There were packets of letters from school classes, manila envelopes stuffed with dozens of sincere notes written in the curious cursive, bumpy print and fractured syntax of elementary-school children. "I hope you can come visit us one day because everyone in our class room loves basketball and we could compet [sic] against you," wrote Eric, a member of Ms. Michel's third-/fourth-grade class in Hanover Park, Ill.
There were crutches. And pads for crutches. And a "Lug-O-Mug" cup that can be attached to a crutch. There was gum, Silly Putty – Silly Putty? – playing cards and sunflower seeds. Lots of sunflower seeds. Somehow word got out that Kevin likes them, so bag after bag of sunflower seeds arrived at the Louisville basketball office.
There were more motivational books than the Library of Congress can keep up with.
Someone billing himself as a "jump rope expert" sent a box full of jump ropes. Why send just one when you can send a dozen?
"It's been … interesting," said Stephanie Davis, the Louisville basketball secretary and the point person for handling the overwhelming – and ongoing – flood of correspondence for Ware.
When the sophomore guard suffered a gruesome right leg fracture in the Midwest Regional final March 31 against Duke, it struck a sympathetic chord with America. When he handled the trauma with poise and resolve, lying on the court and urging his teammates to not worry about him and win the game, it struck a respectful chord with America. And Americans desperately wanted to communicate those strong feelings to Ware.
"It makes you feel really good," Ware said. "People care about you. I wasn't thinking I'd have all this support. It's got me in good spirits."
Ware said his rehab is going well. He's spending time daily on an exercise bike and a zero-gravity treadmill that supports his weight while walking. He expects to move into the pool to begin that phase of his recovery soon.
In the meantime, he has an abundance of reading material.
"The outpouring has been amazing," Davis said. "It's just a matter of figuring out how to handle it all."
Some has been negative and nasty, accusing Louisville and Ware of milking the injury for attention and positive press. But not much.
Some has come from prominent people: a signed picture of the Louisville team after winning the Big East title from Bill Clinton; hand-written notes from Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Marquette coach Buzz Williams; a note from Big East commissioner Mike Aresco; an ACC blanket from commissioner John Swofford. But the vast majority has come from everyday people who simply were trying to find a way to make Kevin Ware feel better.
Even in mid-May, the area around Davis' desk at the Louisville basketball practice facility overflows with correspondence. There has been a ton of stuff roll in since the Cardinals won the national championship April 8 – congratulatory mail, requests for autographs, even a red-and-black train.
But that's nothing compared to the mail for Kevin.
There are three bins of Kevin mail, each containing hundreds of letters. In one bin alone there were letters from 35 of the 50 states, plus the Bahamas. Steve Cobb, athletic director at Alaska Anchorage, wins the prize for most distant correspondent in the one bin I looked through.
Two bins of mail previously had been delivered to Kevin. But finishing the school year had to take precedence over correspondence, and there simply has been no time to catch up to what's flowed in.
"He said he was going to respond to them all," Davis said. "But it's just not realistic."
For a long time, the postal workers brought deliveries to the Yum! Center on Floyd Street in two bundles: one for Ware and one for everyone else. Freshly minted Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino was nowhere near as popular as his injured guard. Even now, six weeks after the injury, something arrives for Ware on a daily basis.
"He hasn't been forgotten," Davis said. "That's for sure."
Most of it is sweet. Some of it is odd.
Roy in Boca Raton sent a small statue of a thumb, explaining, "Since I retired I make ceramic ‘thumbs up' for people of outstanding honor and conviction." Steve in Indianapolis wrote, "Your January birthday makes you a Capricorn, and few people are as ambitious as Capricorns. I know you will approach your recovery with great ambition." Another inmate with an artistic flair sketched a half-naked woman on the outside of the envelope.
A significant amount of the mail has been flagged for Return to Sender by Louisville's compliance office because it violates NCAA rules. That stuff is in a separate bin, in a different room.
Gift cards for iTunes, restaurants and bookstores must go back. The box of T-shirts that read "Be Ware The Cards" on the front and "United Cards 5" on the back will be shipped to the Daniel Pitino Shelter for homeless women and children in Owensboro, Ky. The guy who sent his business card, offering to cut endorsement deals for Ware, will not get through. Neither will the bags of herb coffee.
The cash must be returned, too. Plenty of people stuck small bills in greeting cards. Audrey from Louisville sent a dollar in a Get Well Soon card with a teddy bear on the front.
"The dollar is because I was raised well," Audrey wrote, "and I don't want the NCAA rules to come into play."
They do. Even for a dollar.
Like many things the NCAA does, it sounds draconian, picayune and nonsensical – but think of it from the perspective of precedent. If cash gifts are allowable for an injured player, what's to stop a booster from sending a $10,000 get-well present for the next superstar who sprains an ankle?
So Louisville senior associate athletic director for compliance John Carns and his staff have assisted Davis in the tedium of going through every envelope, looking for impermissible benefits that could turn a feel-good story of national support for an injured player into a violation.
As you'd expect, there has been a tidal wave of support from Louisville fans – including a diary of everything that happened from Ware's injury through the national title, written by a 9-year-old named Baylee. But there also has been a lot of support from Louisville fans' rivals. Check the postmarks on letters and you see plenty from "out in the state" of Kentucky – places like Pikeville and Versailles and Campbellsville, which are almost universally Kentucky Wildcats territory.
The respectful rival correspondence includes the following, from Bonnie:
"First, I am a HUGE UK fan. Always have been. Always will be.
"I was watching the game Sunday when you had your horrific injury. I immediately started crying. In my 61 years of watching college basketball never have I seen anything so terrible! My thoughts and prayers are with you for a speedy recovery.
"I live in Greenfield Indiana, but originally from Flemingsburg Kentucky. I felt so sorry for you being away from home and having to have surgery performed by someone you never knew or not knowing the hospital. I had an uncontrollable urge to do something for you. I had no idea what I could do to let you know how I was feeling. Then I thought of giving you my most prized possession."
Enclosed was a magazine commemorating Pitino's eight seasons at Kentucky.
"You might have already seen & read this but I wanted you to have this. Coach Pitino is the greatest coach going and he is YOUR coach now so take good care of this but most importantly take care of yourself.
"I know you will be back in the game and just as tough as ever. You have to, so UK can beat your asses next year. (Ha ha)"
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