A “Lex-patriot” friend (temporarily living in the Northwest until he inevitably is drawn back to where he belongs), prompted by recent FBI/NCAA headlines, asked me this week what I thought of Rick Pitino. The quick and easy answer that slipped into my mind was a quote from that source of all wisdom, Facebook;
But it’s not really.
The Italian restaurant incident, the basketball dorm stripper parties, the big-dollar payments to lure college basketball talent, and a couple of un-admirable experiences related to me by local business friends that occurred during Mr. Pitino’s University of Kentucky career are more than enough evidence to convince me that I would not want a child of mine to grow up to be like him. And isn’t that the bottom line of what a coach ought to be?
… << ahem >> …isn’t that what an adult ought to be?
…… <<double ahem>> ……isn’t that what an adult ought to expect from another coach/adult?
…or even demand?
Why is it complicated?
I believe we are profoundly confused about sports.
Except in some movies and imaginary decadent Rome, sports are not existential. They’re games. They’re amusements. We should not be so serious and somber about players kneeling (or not), whether replay is a good thing or not, whether “one-and-done” is the best strategy in basketball or sketchy restaurants. It’s a GAME, ferchrissakes! Nobody’s gonna die…well, maybe at the sketchy restaurant.
There are, right now, possibly existential things happening the world;
- North Korea’s belligerence.
- Russia’s clear-to-anyone-with-half-a-mind cyber-attack on our country.
- Climate change.
- Too many folks anguishing over pieces of cloth (flags and masks) while hundreds of thousands die.
Sports is not one of them.
Yet sports is what we dwell upon overmuch.
I find myself living and dying 15 times a night during UK Wildcat games. My seeming life and death held in the hands of five to six young men who were trying to garner a date to the senior high school prom nine months ago. As passionate as I am, part of me knows it’s just me being foolish…and I’m usually entertained by my own foolishness.
I may alternately rave or moan about baseball and “my beloved Reds”, but that’s just me being romantic and nostalgic…and perhaps…dare we say…old.
But it’s just a game.
There was a time in Lexington in 1989 when things were about as depressing as things could be. The UK basketball team had justifiably been spotlighted by Sports Illustrated magazine with a cover story headlined; “Kentucky’s Shame”. A player had been recruited to UK’s team with dollars direct. Maybe not the amounts bandied about today, but it was the existence of the deed, not the amplitude. The coach was removed, the athletics director left as well, the offending assistant was ostracized, and the program laden with appropriate penalties. Players left. Gloom and guilt signed long leases in the community.
At an initial press conference, the new athletic director at UK, C. M. Newton introduced his choice as the new coach, Rick Pitino.
Pitino’s confidence and his demeanor at that first press conference changed everything in my home town. Belief and will kicked gloom and guilt out of their digs. Mr. Pitino took the remaining Kentucky players (who were almost all from Kentucky) and over the next 24 months made them into the best versions of themselves. He took them from “shame” to one shot away the Final Four, and took Lexington along for the ride.
No, I would not want a child of mine to grow up to be like him.
But I will always be grateful for what he did for my home town.
It was unforgettable.