Commentary: Jimmy Kimmel and Gonzaga fans form an unexpected Dream Team

Once again, Gonzaga has reached the Sweet 16. And best of all, it forces one late night talk show host to keep the Zags in the spotlight.

For an entire week, Jimmy Kimmel has continued a debate – humorous to most, offensive to some – about whether Gonzaga actually exists.

“I’ve never heard the word ‘Gonzaga’ outside of college basketball,” Kimmel said last Monday night on Jimmy Kimmel Live. “I don’t know where it is. I don’t know anyone who went there. I don’t even know anyone who knows anyone who went there,” he said.

I immediately came up with some good one-liners, like:

1. “They should call him Jimmy “Kibble,” because the Bulldogs can eat him for breakfast!

2. 21 straight years in the Tournament is 19 more consecutive years than that hack was asked to host the Oscars!

3. No surprise, coming from a dunce that was fired from a Seattle radio station after just 10 months!

But ultimately, Zag fans didn’t need me to come to their defense.

In fact, as you can imagine, the snowball of responses from students, alumni and even the Washington State Attorney General only encouraged Kimmel to continue the Gonzaga dialogue, calling it an imaginary school. It continued through the rest of the week – ultimately resulting in Kimmel declaring that he had chosen the Zags to win the entire tournament.

Well, Kimmel’s ‘imaginary’ school has now reached the Sweet 16 for the fifth straight year – the longest such streak in the country. The Zags are once again the final school in the state of Washington still alive this deep in March, having reached every tournament since 1999.

Let’s face it: Gonzaga’s consistent success alone is publicity enough. But you can’t buy the additional exposure to a supplementary audience on late night TV.

And Gonzaga fans – and its players - deserve credit too. They could’ve easily ignored Kimmel’s outlandish statements. But enough voices from the Pacific Northwest clearly got his attention. It warranted continued responses as the week went on. And to Kimmel’s credit, the baiting and goading turned into an entertaining back-and-forth.

Frankly, I hope Kimmel’s provoking continues. It’s ultimately good for both sides. It’s a reason Howard Cosell and Muhammad Ali were so fun to watch.

And it will likely continue as long as Gonzaga keeps winning. After all, they’re heading to Anaheim this week – awfully close to where Kimmel tapes his nightly shows. You can bet that he’ll take advantage in some form if the Zags are also willing to – no pun intended – play ball.

I know the company line is that players don’t need distractions. But the school – and its fans – are more than capable of playing the protagonist to Kimmel’s foil.

And the result is only a positive for both parties involved.