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Luke Ratliff: Bigger than Basketball

Updated: Oct 13



(TUSCALOOSA, Ala— )


There’s a lot of different ways you could’ve described Luke Ratliff and his larger-than-life persona. Caring. Passionate. Fiery. Friendly to an incredible degree. A hilarious thorn in Eric Mussleman’s side. A lover of Budweiser and bourbon, and the biggest fan of Alabama sports that you’d ever meet. While he was known as an Alabama basketball “super fan,” his influence went far beyond Section R Row 1 Seat 7 at Coleman Coliseum.


Luke grew up in Wadesboro, North Carolina, a small town in Anson County just 50 miles from Charlotte. At just 23 years old, Luke was wise beyond his years. In any situation you could go to Luke when you needed help and he would take the time out of his day, no matter how busy he was, to talk with you. While many people described him as an Alabama celebrity, Luke did not see himself in that light. If you asked him about all the attention and fame that came with his role, he’d tell you “I’m just a guy from a small town in North Carolina.” He lived like that too— never letting the spotlight change who he was. He was always just Luke. If you needed a ride, Luke would be there. If your car broke down, Luke would be there. If you just needed someone that would make you laugh, Luke would be there. His personality was infectious and his aura of kindness lit up any room that he walked into.


Luke was also a loving son and brother. To his younger brother, Noah, Luke was his hero, his coach, and his best friend. His mother, Pamela Ratliff, posted a story on Twitter a few weeks ago detailing what Noah would do while watching Alabama Basketball games— “Little brother love is Noah sitting here for the whole game just so he can see his brother on TV. He does occasionally throw in a Roll Tide or laugh when the other team misses a shot but the goal is to see Luke.” Noah would compete in the Special Olympics, and every year Luke would make the eight hour drive from Tuscaloosa, AL to Wadesboro, NC to coach and cheer him on.

To many, he was Fluff— the ever-charismatic and fearless leader of Alabama’s student section. An immediately recognizable campus hero that transcended the boundary of rivalry and commanded respect around the country for his relentless efforts in creating a hostile environment at Coleman Coliseum.

To some, he was simply Luke—a loving son, loyal friend, and someone that would give the shirt off of his back for the people that he cared for.

To me, Luke was someone who helped inspire all of us to build a platform such as Crimson Crossover in the first place. A friend that I could go to with anything— whether it be in regard to our personal life, or our shared disdain for Nick Markakis and the Braves’ front office management.

I’ve never met someone that had a positive effect on more individuals than Luke, and I’m not sure I ever will. His influence amongst the Tuscaloosa community is living proof of that.


We wanted to capture the overwhelmingly profound impact that Luke had on the University of Alabama and those that surrounded him, so we asked some of Luke’s closest friends and family members to give us a story or an influence that Luke had on their lives. We wanted to show Luke as more than Luke “The Basketball Guy” Ratliff. We want to show Luke Ratliff— the friend, the advisor, the son, the confidant.


Norman Crow, a basketball manager for Nate Oats’ and his Alabama Crimson Tide staff, first befriended Luke after a home game in 2018-19 vs. LSU. From that moment on, Ratliff and Crow were almost inseparable.


“The guy in the plaid jacket at Bama basketball games is a lot more than what people saw him as. Luke was a great friend and an awesome person to be around generally. Anyone who knew him can vouch for that. I respected him so much for the way he fought through his severe anxiety, because he loved Alabama Basketball and wanted to make a difference. As someone who has seen how hard it was for Luke to deal with his anxiety first hand, it makes me think I can get through almost anything that is holding me back. I loved every second I spent with him: playing poker, drinking beer, watching the Braves blow games, being in the “student section” for the SEC Tournament, and just hanging out doing nothing and I will cherish it for the rest of my life.”

Hunter Johnson and Luke first became friends after the 2018 Alabama vs. Mississippi State game in Starkville, when Luke came up to Hunter lamenting about how much the game had sucked. From there, they were able to develop a strong relationship on the basis of their undying love for Alabama basketball.


“When I first met Luke, it started as us talking hoops and him wanting to pick my brain about hoops and the Mark’s Madness days. What it turned into was an amazing friendship. I’m confident he taught me far more than I taught him. The enthusiasm and openness in which he lived his life were a joy to watch and experience. I was so excited over the last year to learn that Luke wanted to stay in Tuscaloosa after graduation. Selfishly, I wanted my buddy to stay around—but more so, I knew that he was going to do great things and be a pillar in this community.”

Not only did Luke impact the Alabama fanbase, but even the University’s athletes. Alabama Forward and 2020-‘21 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, Herb Jones, was able to develop a close friendship with Luke over the course of their four years at Alabama.


“I don’t think I’ve ever met a person as joyful and genuine as Luke. He inspired me to show up to everything with a positive attitude. If loyalty was a person, it was definitely Luke.”

Like most, Alabama basketball manager Perkins “Perk” Carden and Luke met through his repeated attendance at Coleman Coliseum. Perk and Luke would regularly chat in between pre-game warm-up sessions to gauge the other's feelings before the day’s impending matchup. From there, the two developed a lasting friendship that went beyond the court.


“Luke was one of my best friends in the world. I could tell stories of the crazy things we got into for days, but there was more to Luke than that. The thing that stood out to me the most about him was how he made time for everyone. He was never too busy to stop and talk to someone or to take pictures with fans. Luke never wanted attention or any credit for all that he did but I’m glad he received it while he was still with us. The impact he had on this university and on all of the people he met is immeasurable and he will be missed tremendously.”

Luke was a staple on Alabama Twitter, oftentimes making witty retorts and memorable one-liners. Many people were first introduced to Luke on Twitter. William Galloway was no different. William had been following Luke on Twitter for some time before finally introducing himself to Luke at an Alabama football home game, which spawned a friendship that would take them across the Southeastern conference.


“I will forever cherish the time I had to spend with Luke. From nearly losing my keys on I-10 on the way to Baton Rouge, to purchasing scratch offs in the middle of Arkansas, to spending way too much money on good food before not as good basketball games, Luke and I made memories that I will tell my grandchildren one day— and I’ll also encourage and teach my grandchildren to love people the way he loves others, and to find a passion for something like Luke had a passion for being Alabama’s number one fan. Luke leaves a legacy that challenges me to love people for who they are. He also inspires me to pursue my passion for what I want to do in life. His sudden death brings immense hurt and grief but our memories together and his impact on others will be with me throughout the remainder of my life. There will never be another Luke Ratliff.”

Truthfully, this is just a small sampling of the incredible impact that Luke Ratliff had on so many. There are people in this life that have a God-given ability to leave a lasting effect on everyone they come in contact with. Luke Ratliff was one of those people.

Luke Ratliff was bigger than basketball.



EPILOGUE

A tribute from childhood friend, Ben Rivers.


In the fall of 2005, I began to venture out into a new world called Wadesboro Primary School. Leaving everything behind at Lilesville Elementary School, I now had no friends and knew virtually no one. On the first day of school I remember we had a “show and tell” to break the ice and allow everyone to become acclimated with one another. There was one boy in the class whose show and tell was a picture of a 40 pound catfish that he had caught with his family that summer on the Pee Dee River. Eight year old Ben Rivers was amazed and knew that he wanted that guy to be his friend. Luke and myself began to develop a relationship from then on and began to spending the night at each other’s houses, visiting his Grandpa’s pool (which had blue concrete and would burn the skin off of your feet in the summer), and even playing baseball together. Throughout the school year we became inseparable. In the spring, our next journey was playing machine pitch baseball. Luke played catcher and I played first base. Luke loved playing catcher and was pretty good at it too, until a young girl who’s name I will not disclose was “warming up” in front of Luke trying to hit the ball for the first time that year finally connected and sent the ball square into Luke’s nose. Pamela Lett Ratliff snatched Luke up on field three at Field of Dream and said “we aren’t coming back, you are done.” Mind you, this was on a Saturday. Monday when I returned to school Luke’s nose was somewhat wrapped and I found out that it was broken, I followed up with “well, when can you play again?” to which he replied “didn’t you hear my mom? she said I was done.”


Luke and I went separate ways to two different schools again for two years until I somehow followed him to Ansonville Elementary school, it was at that point that Luke had become obsessed with standup comedy, and one of his favorites was Gabrielle Iglesias. I’m unsure if people really ever knew how Luke got his name Fluff, so here’s how the story goes. Luke showed up to school one day after watching Gabrielle Iglesias’ stand up comedic bit “I’m not fat, I’m fluffy”— he looked at me when I made it to lunch one day and said: “Ben you may be husky, but me? I’m just fluffy,” and it stuck.


Skipping middle school— I do this because Luke always said “Ben, I don’t even remember middle school happening.”


We went on to high school where Luke became obsessed with Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. Me? Well, I was a Gamecock and loved Steve Spurrier. Luke and I often discussed on Monday mornings what happened on the previous Saturday in band class. Luke never gave me any kind of grief, he pulled for the Gamecocks as long as they weren’t playing ‘Bama and I pulled for ‘Bama as long as they weren’t playing the Gamecocks. Luke and I spent many afternoons trying to avoid band practice just so we could hang out and talk rather than actually practicing with the marching band. As we grew older and went through the phases of high school, I graduated but Luke stayed for his “super senior” year at the early college and I decided to attend the community college where he went to high school at. We would play disc golf, eat together, and sometimes even skipped class together. Near the end of Spring, Luke decided to tell me that he got accepted into Alabama and that it was a “no brainer” to go. So, he went. I was upset that my friend was going to be so far away, but happy that he was chasing what he loved. He would call, text, and snapchat me daily when he arrived to Alabama. That was enough for me. Looking for social outings at Alabama, he found basketball. At first, when Luke started going to basketball games, there were not many people there— so Luke always got his seat in section R row 1 seat 7. When the cameras followed the players down the court, you could just barely see Luke. The first time I saw him, he was one of three people within that row. I texted him and said “Luke, I see you on tv […] dab when the players come down the court.” In classic Luke form, he triple dabbed for the camera.


Luke was a guy that always wanted to uplift everyone else and push his feelings to the side so that he could tend to others first. Luke also believed in giving back to the community, doing many volunteer hours at a special needs facility in Alabama, and always participating in the Special Olympics with his little brother Noah. Luke also shared a love of my own, an insatiable desire for new vocabulary words. At the young age of 14 while watching “The Help,” the young lady wrote on toilet tissue paper in the bathroom. Luke looked at my mom and said “Dale, I’m not too sure I have the intestinal fortitude to watch this movie anymore,” I looked at my mom and looked at him, I said, “What does that mean Luke?”— to which he replied, “this movie is a load of crap.”


You see, Luke was a person who was humble, had great humility, and loved people. Even the ones that were less than likable. He was much more than the “basketball guy” at Alabama, he was my brother, my best friend, my golfing partner, and one of my confidants. He loved much more than just basketball and cigars— he loved music, playing the piano, and strumming the guitar. He loved playing with my mom’s sugar scrub, he loved babies and kids, especially my nephew, and he really loved fishing. I hope that Luke is remembered for the person he was to his core— a jovial, happy-go-lucky, stuck in the moment human being.


Luke, we will miss you. Your decency, kindness, and sincerity will stay with each of us forever. So, through our tears, let us know the blessings of knowing and loving you, a great noble man, the best friend a guy could have and in our grief let us smile knowing that Luke has a front row seat to every Alabama game for the rest of eternity.


CONCLUSION

A sincere message to every individual who reads this from Luke’s mother, Pamela.

“Live like Fluff. Show kindness to strangers. Help others. Always take the high road. Never expect more from others than you’re willing to give yourself. Always tell people you love them and live each and every day as if it’s your last because it very well may be.”

A special thanks to Pamela Ratliff, Ben Rivers, Hunter Johnson, Norman Crow, Perk Carden, William Galloway, and Herb Jones for bringing this tribute piece together. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Ratliff family, and everyone that had the true pleasure of calling Luke a friend, during this incredibly difficult time.


A GoFundMe for the Ratliff family, organized by Alabama assistant coach Bryan Hodgson, can be found below.


https://www.gofundme.com/f/a-tribute-to-luke-fluffopotamus-ratliff


For more Alabama hoops coverage, be sure to follow Crimson Crossover on all social media platforms:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CrimsonXover

Instagram: https://instagram.com/crimsoncrossover?igshid=u62m99yjoknz

Facebook: https://m.facebook.com/crimsonXcrossover/


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