Remembering @NotJerryTipton: Parody artist and Kentucky fan who made sports fun
Not Jerry Tipton has passed away. And Kentucky sports coverage just became a little less entertaining.
Lee Stewart, an Alabama attorney by trade and a hilarious Twitter parodist by love, passed away this weekend at age 52. Stewart, a Kentucky alumnus and fan, had long studied the writing style of journalist Jerry Tipton, adopting the popular @NotJerryTipton handle. The real Tipton, of course, has spear-headed the Lexington Herald-Leader’s coverage of Kentucky basketball for almost 4 decades, meaning he had been on the job for more than a decade when Stewart graduated from UK in 1992.
During that time, Tipton has earned accolades from some (he’s a long-time favorite of Dick Vitale, is headed for the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, and his work helped the Herald-Leader win a Pulitzer in the mid-1980s) and criticism from others (his critical eye has earned him plenty of scorn from some of Kentucky’s most ardent backers). His most recent turn has been as John Calipari’s foil, as numerous exchanges would confirm.
Jerry Tipton just checked John Calipari.
"This is a media day, not coach day." pic.twitter.com/R6Pf718dbn
— Clayton Abernathy (@ClayKY1) October 12, 2017
Meanwhile, it wasn’t until December 2010, early in the Calipari era, that @NotJerryTipton was born. Stewart told the Herald-Leader in 2018 that after watching UK guard Doron Lamb set a freshman scoring record, “I was thinking, ‘If I was Jerry Tipton, I’d say he also set a freshman record for fewest assists in a game with zero.’”
Thanks to the magic of Twitter, Stewart assumed his best imitation of Tipton’s style and delivered his punch line as @NotJerryTipton. Stewart’s Twitter alter-ego was brilliant at finding that wisp of dark cloud hidden inside a sunny day, and he did so to hilarious effect.
Stewart also branched out to other topics near and dear to the Kentucky fan base’s hearts: mostly, ripping the Louisville Cardinals. Stewart’s pinned Tweet at the time of his passing is a neat example of his style:
5 of the last 8 national champions in college basketball begin with the letter "V."
— Not Jerry Tipton (@NotJerryTipton) April 9, 2020
He even managed a take on the broken 2020 year– which turned into a fun dig at Duke and Coach K …
Pretty much the only good thing that’s happened in 2020 was when Coach K yelled at the Cameron Crazies and told them to shut up. pic.twitter.com/Bx6e26kizD
— Not Jerry Tipton (@NotJerryTipton) August 2, 2020
No perceived rival was safe. Stewart enjoying poking fun at North Carolina, too.
It wouldn’t be #NationalLeftHandersDay without a shoutout to the guy who taught a group of UNC basketball players more in 5 minutes on the court than they learned in their entire collegiate careers on campus. pic.twitter.com/8QZ8uxWQsw
— Not Jerry Tipton (@NotJerryTipton) August 14, 2020
Last week, he also unleashed his wit on Indiana. …
Been a lot of talk about whether college basketball can be played in a bubble this year.
I don’t see why not.
Indiana’s on the bubble every year.
— Not Jerry Tipton (@NotJerryTipton) August 13, 2020
A week earlier, he zinged IU and Louisville.
This album was released 32 years ago today: August 8, 1988.
Hard to believe that neither Louisville nor Indiana has won a national championship in basketball since then. pic.twitter.com/NupGu9YlGf
— Not Jerry Tipton (@NotJerryTipton) August 8, 2020
While parody of Tipton was the beginning of Stewart’s Twitter persona, his needling style, not unlike Tipton’s own, never really threatened the boundaries of taste. All of which made it something less than shocking when the real Jerry Tipton himself acknowledged his semi-protégé’s passing.
Very sorry to see reports that “Not Jerry Tipton” has died. He was Lee Stewart, a 1992 UK grad who was an attorney in Birmingham, Ala. condolences to his family.
— Jerry Tipton (@JerryTipton) August 16, 2020
Ironically, many have pointed out that Stewart’s account, at the time of his passing, had garnered more than four times more Twitter follows than, well, the actual Jerry Tipton. The biography of Stewart’s account stated, “Diligence by the media is paramount, and all aspects of the Kentucky basketball program must be constantly scrutinized. Pulitzers don’t grow on trees. (Parody)”
It’s tempting to see Stewart as a sort of Twitter SEC variation of Weird Al Yankovic. But there’s much more going on here. There’s a massive movement to thwart mainstream media, and many of the most effective outsiders are those with the freedom to deliver quick, funny takes and root, root, root for the home team. Stewart’s takes were delivered in 280 characters or fewer. While the actual Jerry Tipton engages in journalism, what Stewart did with a Twitter account and a little attitude certainly has its place and its devotees.
Ultimately, the late Lee Stewart was one of the funniest people scrutinizing NCAA sports, and his Twitter takes, while they weren’t the stuff of Pulitzers, will be sorely missed. The NCAA’s outsiders lost a fun-poking voice, and it’ll take much more than a @NotLeeStewart Twitter account to even out that score.