Two of Lawrence's most powerful residents have a friendship that's taken a visible, front-row seat this basketball season.
Since the beginning of the men's basketball season, John Lungstrum, chief judge of the U.S. District Court of Kansas, has sat courtside with Kansas University Athletic Director Lew Perkins. The two often can be seen in the background during televised games, Lungstrum wearing his lucky blue KU sweater.
"He's there as my guest," Perkins said. "We're friends, and we enjoy talking basketball with each other."
Said Lungstrum, "I guess I'm just a lucky guy, is basically what it amounts to."
The two met at a party a couple years ago, Lungstrum said. At the time, Perkins' daughter, Holly, was considering going to law school.
"He called me and said, 'You're the only person I know on the law school faculty. Would you mind talking to my daughter about law school?'" Lungstrum said. "I said I'll be happy to. ... That was the beginning of our having more than just a casual acquaintance."
Perkins' daughter ended up going to KU law and this year has a for-credit internship working in Lungstrum's chambers in Kansas City, Kan.
Lungstrum, a member of the Williams Fund, holds four season tickets.
During the summer, Perkins asked Lungstrum to come and sit courtside with him. Lungstrum said he was able to accept the offer in part because of his long-standing policy to not hear any cases related to KU.
"I never have taken KU cases because I'm on the faculty. I am conflicted out of any litigation that would involve the University of Kansas," he said. "If that were not the case, I probably would have declined Lew's offer to sit there because I recognize that I'm fairly visible sitting down there."
Lungstrum, who grew up in Lawrence and came back in the early 1970s, is a Yale graduate who was in the Yale Political Union with John Kerry and was a classmate of former New York Gov. George Pataki.
Being chief judge of the Kansas district means overseeing administrative functions of the court - such as electronic records management, scheduling of dockets and court rules - in addition to a regular caseload. Lungstrum said he does not have any influence on the opinions of the other federal judges in the district.
"Oftentimes the people who don't get the decision they like in their lawsuit complain to the chief judge," Lungstrum said. "It is simply not within the role of the chief judge to do anything about it."
Lungstrum is a basketball connoisseur, but to hear him tell it, his enthusiasm for the game exceeds his skill level. At Yale, he was captain of his residential college's second-string intramural team. The crowning achievement of his athletic career, he said, was beating George W. Bush's team in a game in which the two squared off at the small-forward position.
"It may have been the only game we won," he said.
Lungstrum still plays basketball around town and is part of a group that has played regularly for years at Hillcrest School.
"Never having been any good, I can truthfully say I haven't lost a thing over the years," he said. "I'm worse now than I ever was."
Sitting courtside, Perkins and Lungstrum mostly talk about what's going on in the game, Lungstrum said. There's just one downside to sitting next to Perkins, Lungstrum said: He has to keep the cheering to a minimum.
"If I were sitting in my own seats, I'd be yelling the Rock Chalk chant," Lungstrum said.