MIAMI - John Calipari is out as coach of the Nets.
The NY Post back page, 3/15/1999
Calipari has been given the option of resigning with compensation, it was learned, but if he does that he would then forfeit some of the money owed to him contractually.
Don Casey, a former head coach with the Clippers, will likely be appointed on an interim basis while the Nets pursue Phil Jackson to take over.
Nets ownership had planned to fire Calipari Thursday, but backed off and extended the coach's stay. The defeat against the Heat here, with Nets owners and higher echelon executives in full view, was the final indignity.
Calipari, aware of his plight, did not accompany the team to Toronto, it was learned. As of last night, he was still scheduled to join the team for tomorrow night's road game against the Raptors. The Nets could simply call and tell him to save the air fare, which seemed the logical move."They (Nets brass) have made the decision that he will not be the long-term coach there," said one league executive claiming knowledge of the situation. "What has to be determined is what is meant by long-term."
After yesterday's defeat, the coach met for more than a half-hour with Finn Wentworth, a co-chairman and co-owner, along with Lewis Katz, who is the co-chairman, principal owner and the man making many of the calls in the Nets' organization. At halftime, the Nets' hierarchy, including Katz, Wentworth and team president Michael Rowe, huddled along with GM John Nash in the walkways and rooms in the back of the arena.
Afterward, Katz said he wanted to speak with Calipari before making any comment. about the man who had seemingly put the Nets on the right track, leading them to a playoff berth last season. That chat between Katz and Calipari came in the car after a somber scene.
As he exited Miami Arena, Calipari trudged up a ramp, two full paces behind Katz. The team bus was long gone and the two men left the building and headed toward a waiting car. It had all the signs of an execution.
Katz declined comment on Calipari's future.
"You can corner me, put 16 microphones, 8,000 tapes and I'll do a Monica: 'I did not, I have not spoken (to the man)' and that's what I've got to do," Katz said. "I have nothing to say until there is something to say."
And there's not much to say about the Nets whose seven-game losing streak is longer than anything Calipari endured in his first season after leaving UMass, a 26-56 horror. It equaled the worst skid endured by the team last season, a run that began after Jayson Williams was injured. The Nets, at 3-17, have equaled the worst 20-game start in franchise history. A loss in Toronto tomorrow moves them closer to their worst start, a 3-22 nightmare in 1977-78.
"It's tough to watch [this] because the way you feel about the players, the coaches, Cal," Katz said. "It's a terrible feeling to watch."
MIAMI - If Lewis Katz hadn't made the $7 million he will owe John Calipari to fire him in one week of parking cars, the Nets would sit tight in a season already lost. But having just given $71 million to Stephon Marbury and $56 million to Kerry Kittles, there is likely a little in reserve from these owners to beat another team to Phil Jackson.
So you can count Cal's remaining days much faster than you can count empty seats at the Meadowlands, or count on the Nets to find a good reason to rally behind a coach a lot of them can't stand. They would have made a better stand yesterday, if they really cared about Calipari.
To the embattled coach's rescue rode Marbury, one of the best point guards in the game, in the nick of time to score an inconsequential 25 points, dish out five assists, and question why the Nets, who unsuccessfully fronted Alonzo Mourning yesterday as per Calipari's instructions, were not told to switch up before the Miami center scored 25 points in 31 minutes.
Marbury was a white knight wearing a black hood. On a day Katz admitted he never feels the Nets are in games, the air was so still before, during and after a 102-76 loss to the Heat that you expected to hear a trap door spring at any time.
It was a loss bad enough, on top of so many others, to cancel any lingering reason Katz and Finn Wentworth had to be fair to Calipari, if that has been a consideration or if it ever really is in professional sports.
True, this season is short. So has been the Net bench without Rony Seikaly, a center who can score, and Sherman Douglas, a point guard who would have pushed the Nets to a few victories and maybe Sam Cassell off the training table. Jayson Williams is playing with one hand and Kendall Gill has added little, more bad spins on a cycle considerably more vicious than the Nets' half-court defense. Exposed has been the team's plans to run without strong defensive rebounding.
Assuredly, some things have spun out of Calipari's control through no fault of his own. But if coaching is not specifically a problem, it has not been the solution, either. The Nets' best players haven't stolen wins to keep playoff hopes alive, haven't thrown themselves in front of media bullets bound for Calipari, to the floor for loose balls, or caution to the wind at hump points in winnable games like Friday's in Philadelphia.
You can see coaching death in the Nets' vacant stares and vacant presence in the lane. You can see it in Katz's face as he politely refuses to get angry over media badgering over Calipari's fate. You can see it in only three wins in 20 games in a season providing ample gimmes against teams too tired to function.
Most of all, you can see resignation in the body language of Calipari, who can no longer even work up a good stomp along the sidelines, let alone inspire any beta firings in a brain-dead team. He can tell you the number of Net games left against losing teams, but can't find a way to win them. He can tell you how he was the engineer of the franchise's bridge from oblivion, but now can't stop it from burning.
A team doesn't have to go on a conscious strike against a coach to put two strikes against him. If a team's enthusiasm is gone, then so is he. The defense necessary to allow the Nets to run, the only way they can win, was non-existent yesterday, a tale-tell sign they have stopped working.
"We're confusing ourselves," said Keith Van Horn. "There are communications problems. By the time we rotate, it's too late. We couldn't get our offense up the court because they were making too many shots. We didn't have an opportunity to run. That's 25 percent of our game missing."
So is an even larger portion of the Nets' concentration.
"I have never been in these circumstances before," said Van Horn. "I try not to worry about what's being written or said, but it's hard, obviously. We haven't talked about [the coach]. Maybe it's in the back of our mind. That shouldn't affect the way we play. But this is probably the most difficult thing I've ever gone through."
He meant the losing, not specifically the coaching death watch, but the two are tied together. Those Nets who tolerated Calipari better than others lost their respect for him in the different set of rules he composed for Cassell. Whether the traded point guard could have been playing on that ankle or not, the teammates thought he should have been, which became an even bigger problem than his absence.
Marbury was one of the few players Calipari would have taken for Cassell, but he arrives too late to save the coach from his own blinders.
If he was a proven winner on this level, you could make an argument that this big bump on the post-lockout, short-track season shouldn't throw him through the windshield. No matter how Kittles and Williams are playing now, they will prove their worth, Van Horn will be signed, and the point guard the Knicks need belongs to the alternative team across the river.
A lot of coaches can win with these Nets now, and if this one can't, there is no good reason not to try another one.
John Calipari can at last heave a sigh. He's not going to lose tomorrow in Toronto, or ever again as Nets coach.
The NY Daily News back page, 3/15/1999
The source said Katz and Wentworth "have great respect for what John has done with the organization."
Immediately following the 102-76 defeat by the Heat, the 3-17 Nets' worst of the season, Wentworth met with Calipari for 45 minutes. Then, as the team traveled to Toronto to prepare for tomorrow night's game against the Raptors, Calipari was escorted to Katz' private limo and the two went to dinner, where Calipari's choices were laid out for him: a seat in the recesses of the Nets offices or a buyout of the remaining $7.5 million and 21/2 seasons on his original five-year, $15 million deal, the source said.
An announcement on Calipari's future is expected today and it is believed that assistant coach Don Casey, a former head coach with the Los Angeles Clippers, will take over in an interim capacity. Heading the team's wish list to replace Calipari is former Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson.
After several hours with Katz, Calipari flew home to to mull a rather embarrassing proposition, which is basically a demotion. Calipari did not return a call from The News seeking comment. Neither Wentworth nor Katz could be reached for comment.
The strange day had all the makings of an imminent firing as the Nets brain trust of Katz, Wentworth, team president Michael Rowe and GM John Nash held a meeting during yesterday's game in a private room at Miami Arena. The confab lasted from the start of halftime until there were just a few minutes left in the game.
At the start of the game Katz had been excited about the debut of Stephon Marbury, whose trade from Minnesota he engineered last week. The owner's mood quickly turned to frustration, however, as he suffered through the Nets' uninspired performance, with Miami opening a 50-35 halftime lead.
Cornered numerous times yesterday by an increasingly curious media throng, Katz refused to comment on Calipari's status, saying he hadn't spoken to the coach in about a week.
"At the appropriate time we'll talk," Katz said.
After speaking with Wentworth, but before his fateful dinner with Katz, Calipari appeared upbeat, despite having lost a season-worst seventh straight game - the most disappointing start in franchise history.
Asked if he would continue to coach the Nets, Calipari said, "I believe so. There was nothing said in that meeting to lead me to believe anything different."
Many of the Nets yesterday seemed clearly distracted by the funereal-like coach watch.
"It's been a weird year, man," Jayson Williams said. "A weird year. Everything here is positive. I'm not in the business one way or the other of making a man lose his livelihood, so anything I say right now that's negative against John Calipari would be adding fuel to the fire. . . . We're all in this hole together, not just one person. This whole team, including Cal."
Williams seemed to be right about one thing:
It's been a very weird year.
MIAMI -- With his team having lost 17 of 20 games this season, including a 102-76 nationally televised humiliation at the hands of the Miami Heat yesterday, John Calipari will be replaced as coach of the Nets, perhaps as early as today.
According to several people close to the team, Calipari's fate already has been decided, but as of late last night, nothing had been finalized. It is believed the Nets would like him to resign, thus freeing them of their obligation to pay him the approximately $7 million he has remaining on the five-year, $15 million contract he signed in 1996.
Longtime NBA assistant coach Don Casey was the coach of the Los Angeles Clippers during the 1988-89 season and has spent the last three seasons as Calipari's top assistant. Casey is expected to be named interim coach while the Nets make overtures in Phil Jackson's direction.
According to a person close to the situation, Calipari was informed of the decision by Nets co-owner Finn Wentworth during a half-hour meeting immediately after his team's seventh consecutive defeat.
Last night, Calipari did not accompany the team to Toronto, where the Nets will play the Raptors tomorrow night. After telling the media that his meeting with Wentworth gave him no indication that he would not be coaching his team against the Raptors, Calipari left Miami Arena in a limousine with Lewis Katz, the team's other co-owner.
Earlier, Calipari's luggage had been taken off the team's equipment truck and transferred to Katz's waiting limousine. Calipari and Katz flew to New Jersey late last night reportedly on the principal owner's private jet.
Neither man could be reached for comment. Calipari did not return telephone messages left at his home and on his cell phone. His agent, Craig Fenech, said he spoke to his client more than once yesterday and confirmed that Calipari had returned to New Jersey. But he said he would have no further comment.
When asked if Calipari had been fired or had resigned, Fenech said, "I will not confirm or deny."
The Nets, who are mired in last place and have lost 12 of their last 13, are expected to pursue Jackson, the Chicago Bulls ex-coach. Jackson guided the Bulls to six of the last eight NBA titles before taking this season off. He is a former Nets player, a former Nets assistant and a former Nets television analyst. He remains a close friend of Willis Reed, the Nets senior vice president. The two were teammates on the Knicks' 1970 and 1973 NBA championship teams.
The Nets, who have shelled out more than $120 million in the last few days to sign Stephon Marbury and Kerry Kittles to long-term deals, have shown they are not afraid to spend money.
Todd Musburger, Jackson's agent, could not be reached for comment. But a person close to Jackson said the Nets had not yet been in touch with Jackson or Musburger. He said the team was expected to reach out to them soon.
There is a possibility, although it is slight that Calipari -- who also holds the title of executive vice president of basketball operations -- could remain with the organization in some capacity at least for the remainder of the season.
According to the source, ownership apparently made the decision to fire Calipari a few weeks ago but failed to pull the trigger.
"I thought he was gone two times earlier, but I was wrong," said the source who requested anonymity.
The source said Calipari was going to be fired on Thursday, the same day that Marbury was acquired, but ownership relented at the last moment.
"Cal has done a lot of good things for this organization," said center Jayson Williams, who had his battles with Calipari early in their player-coach relationship. "I know I had the best years of my career under him. But this game is about winning. Unfortunately, players don't get fired."
Sources said Calipari may have sealed his fate with the way he coddled Sam Cassell, who was traded to Milwaukee in part of the three-way deal with Minnesota that landed point guard Stephon Marbury in New Jersey. There was one set of rules for Cassell, who missed 14 of 18 games for the Nets this season with a sprained ankle, and another set for the rest of the team.
As time went on, the other players grew to resent Cassell and Calipari's treatment of him. And things apparently reached a breaking point this season when Cassell, who said he would not return from his ankle injury until he was 100 percent, remained in the locker room during games and refused to watch them from the bench.
"The players saw that there was no real incentive to play for him," the source said.
Cassell, who had 36 points in the Nets' opening-night loss in Atlanta, played for the first time since Feb. 23 yesterday for the Bucks.
The 26-point loss to the Heat was the Nets' worst of the season, and the seven-game losing streak matched the longest in Calipari's three seasons with the Nets. Only the Los Angeles Clippers, who have lost 19 of 20 heading into their game with Seattle last night, had more losses than the last-place Nets.
In a scene straight out of the George Steinbrenner handbook of management, Katz and Wentworth left their seats at halftime, with the Nets trailing by 15 points, and spent most of the second half huddled in a meeting with team president Michael Rowe and general manager John Nash. Katz, seated courtside near midcourt, and Wentworth, who was seated with two of his sons several rows behind the Nets' bench, did not return to their seats until less than seven minutes remained in the game.
None of those involved would comment on the meeting.
Rowe and Nash accompanied the team to Toronto last night, but were unavailable for comment. Reached at the team hotel, Casey said he knew nothing other than that Calipari had not come north with the club.
In two-plus seasons as Nets coach, Calipari had a record of 72-112. After a 26-56 record in his first season, he guided the Nets to a 43-39 mark and a berth in the Eastern Conference playoffs last season. His team lost in three straight games to Jackson's Bulls, who were enroute to their third consecutive NBA title.
But hurt by Cassell's injury and by some awful team-wide shooting, the Nets never got untracked this season. What bothered ownership most, according to multiple sources, was that Calipari really had no plausible explanations or the team's slump.
"The man had no plan," one source said.
"Other teams had injuries and problems with the schedule," another source said. "Why were they winning and we weren't? We had such terrific expectations."
MIAMI -- The mid-afternoon sun was a beauty, slamming a full blast of Miami heat on the two men as soon as they walked out of the arena's south end. This was entirely appropriate, as they'd each endured a full blast of Miami Heat across the past few hours, both of them sitting and standing helplessly as their basketball team crumbled one more time in the heart of another lost afternoon.
Lewis Katz stepped into the glare first, asked a man with a walkie-talkie where his limousine would be meeting them. The man with the walkie-talkie pointed to the corner of Arena Boulevard and NW 8th Street.
"It'll be there in a few seconds, Mr. Katz," he said.
"Thank you," said Katz, one of the the principal owners of the Nets, smiling a brave smile. "It's been a long, long day."
John Calipari came next, walking slowly, five full paces behind Katz, lugging a black leather shoulder bag, wearing a blank expression, his tenure as Nets coach suddenly measured in hours. It had been quite a day for Calipari, who welcomed a new star in Stephon Marbury, handed him the ball, and watched in bemused amazement as it made not a stitch of difference for his team, or for his fate.
The Nets were awful before, and they're awful now. All that's changed is the pricetag of misery. And, as of this morning, the name of the head coach. This time, the score had been 102-76. The record fell to 3-17, which is a winning percentage of .150 two-fifths of the way into a season that began with such great promise, underlined by brazen ambition.
These numbers were undoubtedly swirling in both men's minds, colliding with a million other thoughts, as they made the slow, deathly saunter along Arena Boulevard, walking silently toward the dark blue Cadillac.
Katz wanted to talk to the man who, for the moment, was still the coach of his basketball team. Wanted to "get things on the table, and have a conversation," as he'd described it a few minutes before. He wouldn't elaborate, said there was no reason to believe the earth was about to shake. Though Katz did say of yesterday's calamity: "It's terrible. You never feel like you're in the game."
So he wanted to take his coach for a Sunday afternoon drive; presumably, it wasn't to talk about going in on a time-share together. Katz decided to attend the game yesterday "on the spur of the moment," flying out in the morning, spending the night at his home in Boca Raton, about 40 miles away. He'll be joining the Nets in Toronto tomorrow.
What is now clear is that he won't see Calipari there.
"I won't comment on that," is what Calipari said after the game when asked if he expected to coach the Nets against the Raptors tomorrow night. That wasn't the loudest self-endorsement on record.
Now, out on Arena Boulevard, Calipari carefully placed his bag in the trunk, took a seat in the back, passenger side. Katz slipped in next to him, on the driver's side. Soon, the blue Caddy was speeding down the street, racing away from a day neither man is soon to forget.
For Calipari, it provided one of his final looks at an NBA sideline for a good, long while. He didn't look like a doomed man after emerging from a 33-minute postgame conversation with Finn Wentworth, one of the Nets' co-owners, and he didn't necessarily sound that way. But he was quieter than normal. And far more humbled than the man who has preached for nearly three years that he would reverse the Nets' landslide of bad history.
Asked if he'd sought a vote of confidence during their chat, Calipari smiled and said, "I don't want one. A vote of confidence is ugly ... it's like kissing your sister."
Mixing metaphors is the least of what ails Calipari now. It isn't just that his career, which three years ago cruised along the passing lane to fame and boundless glory, has been downshifted to limbo; worse, Calipari's struggles morphed yesterday into a soap opera played out on a public playground, a surreal shuffle that eclipsed whatever was happening on the Miami Arena court, culminating in the perp walk he was forced to make from arena to limo, his final public act in the Nets' employ. That was a bit much.
All of this completely overshadowed the arrival of Marbury, who was as good as expected, scoring 21 points, handing out five assists, probably missing out on three or four others when passes he used to loft in Kevin Garnett's direction instead found their way into Jim McIlvaine's hands. There is little doubt Marbury will be the cornerstone player Katz paid for.
There is considerable debate as to who will coach this $70.9 million investment, however.
At halftime, Katz had retreated with Wentworth, team president Michael Rowe and general manager John Nash to the Nets' locker area and the quartet remained there throughout most of the second half. Then, just as the Nets were huddling at the start of the fourth quarter, assistant coach Don Casey left the sideline and walked to the back of the arena, where the summit meeting was taking place.
Casey, a classic basketball lifer, is the logical pick to be Calipari's successor, marking time as a substitute teacher until Phil Jackson can be pried out of the Montana mountains, so this seemed an interesting time to be checking in with the suits.
"Don't read anything into that," Casey said as he hurried to catch the team bus afterward, though it sure seemed like an easy-to-interpret message, replete with oversized letters.
Katz later returned to the arena floor with about six minutes left in the fourth quarter, munching from a small bag of Bar-B-Q flavored Fritos. Every few minutes, he would see something on the floor that would make him wince, and he'd pop a few more Fritos, not exactly a doctor-recommended cure for acid indigestion.
"If something happens," he said cheerfully, "you'll know soon enough."
Moments later, he was leading his coach outside, toward the blue Caddy, into the kind of conversation you never want to have with your boss. Culiminating with the kind of news you never want your boss to deliver.
Most people would have to be nuts to accept the personal humiliation that John Calipari subjected himself to yesterday while being fired by the Nets.
The NY Daily News back page, 3/16/1999
On Sunday, after he told Calipari he no longer wanted him as his head coach and executive VP, Katz offered Calipari the option of staying on as his personal adviser on basketball-related issues.
Then yesterday, Katz, who never used the word "fired," flew Calipari on his private jet from New Jersey to Toronto to allow him to say goodbye to his players - before Katz officially announced his firing. The final act involved Calipari sitting between Katz and Rowe in a meeting room at the Four Seasons Hotel, listening as the two explained why he no longer has a job.
Katz closed the door on Calipari's 21/2-year tenure yesterday by naming head assistant coach Don Casey the interim head coach for the rest of the season - and terminating Calipari's other assistants, Johnny Davis, Jack Haley and Kenny Gattison.
"There's no good way to do this except to express to your friend, who is your coach, that you care about him," Katz said, looking in Calipari's direction.
Calipari said yesterday he wasn't sure what his immediate future held, and he told Katz he "needed some time" to consider the offer. However, it didn't seem likely that Calipari, a head coach for eight years at UMass before taking over the Nets, would do anything less.
Asked if he had any immediate plans, Calipari said, "As we speak, no. But you know what? I want to take some time. That's what I do, that's my life. Other than my family, it's coaching. That's what I do. . . . It's just been a grind these last 4-5 weeks."
Sixers coach Larry Brown, whose staff Calipari was on at Kansas, said last night he would offer Calipari a job as an assistant.
Were Calipari not to accept the adviser position nor the Sixers' offer, Rowe said "it's safe to assume" he would be paid for the remaining two seasons on his contract worth more than $7.5 million.
Katz and Rowe cited the Nets' 3-17 record, Calipari's inability to motivate his players anymore, new ownership's need to protect its valuable investment, and its "concern" for Calipari's personal well-being.
Katz said despite the fact there had been rumors for weeks, he didn't make a final decision until late Sunday night - following the team's seventh straight loss, a 102-76 blowout at the hands of the Miami Heat.
"I'd like to make it clear that I have high regard for coach Calipari, not only as a coach, but more importantly as a human being," Katz said.
At least one of Calipari's now-unemployed assistants struggled to hold his tongue about Casey, a friend of Katz for more than 25 years since the two grew up together in Camden - and a man whom Calipari brought to the Nets from Boston when he was hired. According to one source, they were let go at Katz' direction after confronting Casey about their status once it was announced Calipari was fired.
The team went on to practice last night with only Casey and assistant coach/advance scout Hal Wissel to coach the team. But ex-Net Mike O'Koren, now the team's radio color broadcaster, will help coach tonight's game against the Raptors.
"This is part of coaching," said Calipari, who was 72-112 with the Nets. "I came in with a five-year plan and I felt . . . that we could move this thing to where we need to be. But again, we were 3-17. I told the team as coach, that falls on the coach and I understand the business of it. We have good guys, a good nucleus, and I absolutely wish them well."
Of all the Nets, Jayson Williams, who had the most testy relationship with John Calipari, took the news of his firing the hardest yesterday.
"Cal said thank you and then he didn't stay long. He stayed a few minutes and I'm glad he (flew) up," Williams said. "It's never easy to see anybody go. I know a lot of people are going to think because of me and Cal's relationship that I had something to do with it. That's just totally opposite. . . . I don't like to see anybody lose their livelihood.
"One thing I have to say about Cal is that Cal put in a lot of time. They got their money's worth. I never played for a coach who put in more time and effort into what he did."
Said a downcast Keith Van Horn, "Cal put his heart and soul into this organization and to see somebody who, I feel, has done a lot for this organization, and done a lot for me personally, it's hard to see him go.
"I think if there was something that I could have done better to help us get more wins . . . " the second-year player said.
Kerry Kittles, who signed a six-year, $53 million extension on Saturday, said, "Cal's the guy that brought me into this league. He gave me all the opportunity in the world to be a good player. . . . But when you're 3-17, all the blame falls on the coach. Well, that's where the blame goes first. It's sad to see something happen like this."
As for Don Casey, the assistant-turned-interim head coach, there were encouraging words.
"I played for Casey for two games in Japan two years ago (when Calipari stayed home for the birth of his son) and it was a fun experience for me," Kendall Gill said. "Hopefully, it'll be another fun experience."
Added Kittles, "As an assistant, he's a great guy to talk to and try to get your head right to play the game. He's been around the league for a while, so he knows what it takes to win. So we're going to try to give it our best shot."
JOHN Calipari's firing was the Nets' biggest shakeup in some time that didn't have David Falk's germs all over it. Lab tests reveal the coach's demise was an inside job, the result of expansive bacteria backstabbing and a malignant lump of a team.
The NY Post back page, 3/16/1999
How can anybody debate such rudimentary NBA logic? Particularly your friendly provocateur.
Anybody can submarine Calipari when he's down. I was knocking him silly last season when the Nets were playoff-bound despite the absence of Jayson Williams for 17 games.
No, as Chuck Daly says, coaches are paid to win. Especially someone whose team was projected for promise. Having failed to live up to those expectations, Calipari was quickly reduced to, as Lucy says, a has-been that never was.
Was Calipari given a legitimate chance to succeed by those above and under him within the franchise? That's the question. Then again, did his ego and/or insecurities prevent him from making the most of his opportunity, tainted or not by internal combustion and injuries to critical players?
Three seasons ago, Calipari joined a franchise that rivaled the Clippers' lack of credibility, and he rebuilt a pus-filled pro program into a mirror image of the one he constructed from nothing at the University of Massachusetts.
His organizational competence was uncanny, his communication skills grating, his coaching cocky and clever. When it came to players and the media, he thought he could run everybody out of town.
The Nets' owners at the time gave Calipari all the power he demanded, and he wielded it with a vengeance and glee. Despite no prior NBA experience, which translated into some terrible mistakes, and despite constant conflict with Jayson Williams, he transformed the Nyets into a competitive and believable fighting force that real basketball fans actually wanted to see.
And rich millionaires wanted to buy the sudden attraction. That has to be Calipari's greatest accomplishment. It's also his downfall.
Once Ray Chambers and Lewis Katz replaced Henry and Joseph Taub as the people Calipari answered to, his warts became more exposed, and his rear was left unattended.
As often as Joe Taub and Calipari warred over different issues, they were on the same team. Katz, enmeshed in every signing and trade, clearly wants his own team ... comprised of people with past affections and almost everybody who harbored a grudge against Calipari (many with good reason). And they got him back with all that, and a dimesack, and a payback.
President and Chief Operation Officer Michael Rowe, for example:
Right from the outset, he and Calipari had no use for each other. Maybe it was because Rowe screwed up big-time by omitting a standard off-set clause from Calipari's contract (meaning the Nets are obliged to pay him the remaining $7M even if he takes another NBA job) and John wouldn't let him slide.
More likely it's because Rowe and Calipari both flaunt take-charge personalities (as does Katz). Rowe's responsibility was to handle the business end. Calipari ruled over personnel decisions. But they always clashed. Their disrespect was mutual. What's worse, it was overt. And office people and reporters were forced to choose sides.
GM John Nash played the part of the buffer. But it was always a difficult chore to remain objective. Hired by Calipari to work the phones and to offer trade possibilities, Nash often felt unappreciated and abused. After one season, he tried to return to the 76ers with Cal's blessing, but ownership said no. Instead, he signed a long-term extension. Still, Calipari never really trusted Nash.
Calipari also became extremely uncomfortable last season with top assistant (now interim coach) Don Casey.
Because Casey had the admiration and attention of Jayson and other players, he was viewed as disloyal. Calipari also fingered him as a snitch and would've made him exclusively a West Coast scout had Katz not intervened. That was the worst part of this relationship.
One thing is undeniable: Casey could've jumped to the Pistons last summer with a raise and an extension. Again, Calipari gave his blessing, but Katz talked him into staying.
Calipari usually had little trouble identifying his enemies or recognizing his allies. Not keeping his allies proved to be fatal. Not only were Sherman Douglas and Michael Cage great role players on last season's 43-win team, but they were exceptional locker-room leaders. They worked hard for Calipari on and off the court. Again, they might've gone to war with him at times, but they were on his team. When Calipari let those players get away he lost two pillars of stability who'd give him the benefit of the doubt.
In the end, Calipari got subverted by his own paranoia and mistreatment of underlings; a diseased record; an ambitious 18 percent part owner who fancies himself, it seems, as another George Steinbrenner; revengeful management; a vindictive assistant; and a couple unfaithful players, namely Jayson and Kendall Gill, who bailed on Calipari when his job was at stake and badmouthed him into oblivion, and Sam Cassell to Milwaukee.
Now isn't that a kick in the Nets?
Last season, at trading deadline, Calipari, out of allegiance to Gill, vetoed a last-minute deal set up by Taub and Nash that would've sent him to the Hawks in exchange for Christian Laettner, a free agent-in-waiting. Had that deal gone down, the Nets would've been in position to use that $5M after the lockout, renounce Rony Seikaly (picking up another 4M unguaranteed) and take a good run at Long Island's Tom Gugliotta, who expressed interest in coming to New Jersey.
Talk about infidelity. Had Calipari not strongly supported Jayson early-on in contract negotiations, he never would've gotten a six-year, $86 million pact. The way things worked out around the league, just to preserve his pride, the free-agent forward might've been pushed to sign elsewhere for a ton less.
Whether Jayson wants to admit it, Calipari stuck up for him. Not because he liked him, but because he needed him. Where was Jayson when Calipari needed him?
It's only a matter of time before some struggling, out-of-the-way college basketball program calls a press conference to introduce John Calipari as its new head coach.
Coach Cal will look dapper, well-groomed and optimistic. He will say all the right things. And then, as the cameras click away, he will dust off his favorite oldie-but-goodie:
``It'll be just as important that our players be quality people as well as quality athletes,'' Calipari will say, and there won't be a dry eye in the room.
Coach Cal always got a lot of mileage out of that line. It's sort of like Bob Hope singing ``Thanks for the Memories.'' In good times and bad times during his days as head coach at UMass, Coach Cal could always be counted on to talk about the ``quality people'' he was producing out in Amherst.
Alas, Coach Cal has discovered, the hard way, that quality people don't take you very far in the NBA. See, Calipari had lots of quality people during his short, failed tenure as head coach of the New Jersey Nets. These people were of such high quality that they were able to see Calipari as an enormous fraud, and they all said, ``We don't have to listen to this guy.''
The quality people on the Nets got wise to the fact that Calipari lied to them and back-stabbed them. So they tuned him out. By Sunday afternoon, it had become apparent just what a mess Calipari had made of the Nets. They dropped a 102-76 thriller to the Miami Heat, their seventh loss in a row, and 13th in 14 games. Overall, the Nets were 3-17 under Coach Cal.
The people who run the Nets had seen enough. They pulled the great molder of quality people off the bus and told him he was through.
Too bad, too. It would have been more fun to see Calipari run away from a fight, the way he did in Amherst three years ago.
Remember? Minutes after the NCAA's dog-sniffers began showing up in Amherst, Calipari sprinted from the Mullins Center to the Campus Center and hopped on the first Peter Pan bus out of town.
Seems that one of Calipari's quality people, star player Marcus Camby, had been dangling would-be agents on a string, taking their cash and their jewelry in return for vague promises that, sure, absolutely, when the time came they'd be his representatives when he vaulted to the NBA.
Apparently Camby looked like Diamond Marcus Brady as he high-stepped around campus, gold hanging from his neck and Benjamins falling from his baggy jeans. But Calipari would look Camby's way and say, ``That's one quality young man right there.''
The jilted agents started to bark. The NCAA showed up. And then Calipari skipped town, explaining that, tee hee, chuckle chuckle, his decision to sign on as head coach of the Nets had nothing - nothing at all - to do with the fact that the NCAA was about to strip UMass of its visit to the Final Four.
Poor Coach Cal. His act didn't play in the New York area. In Amherst, he could put on fancy suits and do a radio show from a local pizza parlor and it was all very wonderful. In Amherst, he could be tough on his players, because, in college, the alternative is that you get tossed out on the street.
In Amherst, Calipari was so very important that he could hold a discussion with a supporter, and then, recognizing somebody in the distance who was just a tad more important than the person with whom he was talking, he could walk away - leaving the other guy in mid-sentence. That was Coach Cal's trademark.
But in the New York area, everyone said: ``Who does this clown think he's kidding?''
Coach Cal yelled and yelled and yelled, and the more he yelled, the faster his players tuned him out. He fought with his players, he fought with the media. He even directed an ethnic slur at one of the sportswriters, and despite being fined an NBA-record $25,000 (for a coach), left with his job intact.
By Sunday afternoon, his players were turning to assistant coach Don Casey during timeouts. And now Casey, the former Celtics lieutenant, will coach the Nets on an interim basis.
Look, the NBA is filled with bow-wow players who don't listen to coaches. No news there. But when you lie to your players, when you play one player off against another player, you'll lose them that much quicker. Guaranteed.
In the eyes of John Calipari, it has always been all about John Calipari. That works in college. In the NBA, it gets you laughed at.
Soon, the laughter will stop. Soon, John Calipari will be introduced as a builder, as a man destined to do great things with some struggling, out-of-the-way college basketball program.
Get out your resumes, all you quality people. John Calipari wants you!
Had John Calipari simply been telling me the truth that fateful June night in 1996, none of this ever would have happened.
Instead, Coach Cal looked me in the eye in Chicago and said he wasn't entertaining thoughts of leaving the University of Massachusetts. Less than five hours later, the first reports hit the media that he was headed to New Jersey.
Because lying to me isn't the best way to win my trust, I haven't always been flattering of the man since then. But understand this: No one in the NBA is getting a bigger shafting this year than the coach who was fired by the Nets because they were doing what the Nets have always done - lose games.
He was gassed, ostensibly, for New Jersey's 3-17 record, and never mind that the Nets were strapped with key injuries, and that in this cockeyed NBA season, the normal rules don't apply, anyway. Teams are jamming a shortened season into an abbreviated time frame, and there's no time between games to keep a slide from becoming an avalanche.
But in truth, he was fired for continuing to be himself, and himself had always been good enough before. Calipari was on the radio not long ago, peddling his schtick about motivation and so forth. But what sounds inspirational to a college crowd, and uplifting when the team is winning, sounds hollow when a pro team is playing like garbage in a market that prides itself on having no patience.
But by firing a proven winner like Calipari, the Nets are deflecting attention from the fact that they were a joke before he came and, most likely, a joke after he's gone. That's unless Phil Jackson is somehow convinced to stop gazing at the moon in Montana and take up coaching again.
Calipari did what he does best, which is to force his will on the masses and make them take his team seriously. The Bulls swept the Nets in last year's playoffs, but the games were quite competitive, which nobody had expected.
Part of that was because Calipari was one of the few NBA coaches or players who stopped worshipping at Michael Jordan's shrine long enough to compete against him. And while I might not be the one you'd expect to say it, Calipari has some commendable traits the Nets may someday wish they had.
He is tremendously demanding of the players, assuming they want to succeed as much as he does, and in the spoiled world of NBA stars, that's a risky assumption indeed. He's fiercely loyal to those close to him, as Bruiser Flint will tell you.
And he's a brilliant coach whose NBA potential was questioned not because of his ability to instruct, but because of the willingness of millionaire players to listen.
The Nets, sick of his tirades, seem to have stopped listening. But the firing can also be traced to management's dislike of Calipari, who has to have everything done his way and didn't fit well with owners accustomed to having the hired help bow in their presence.
But the Nets say they want to win, and Calipari went from 26 wins to 43 in his first two years. This season was a disaster, but it was also only 20 games old.
He will land on his feet, as he always does. That's one of the traits that infuriates people about him.
By making him the fall guy, before he could even see if the lineup with Stephon Marbury might work, the Nets have given everyone a chance to say even the man with the biggest swagger can be cut down to size. But they have also removed a man with a better instinct and commitment for winning than anyone around him.
They did it because they were tired of his routine. But it's the same routine he had when they hired him, and it was worth $15 million to them back then.
Calipari is no saint, that's for sure, and he wasn't winning lately. But he can win. And someday, somewhere, he'll win again. We'll see if we can say the same for the team that pulled the plug on him.
TORONTO -- John Calipari came to the New Jersey Nets in 1996 with a five-year plan to turn the stumbling, bumbling NBA franchise into a championship contender.
Sunday night, the team's new ownership group played the final card in its five-day plan. In that time, the owners laid the groundwork, they believe, to turn the Nets into contenders for years to come.
One small hitch.
Calipari was not in their plans.
"I realized it wasn't the fair thing to do to keep the train rolling in the same direction if it was not the right way," said Lewis Katz, one of the team's principal owners and the one in charge of making basketball decisions.
Even for a franchise known more for the way it shoots itself in the foot than for the way it shoots the basketball, this was a stunning turn of events. The five days that have forever changed the Nets were turbulent, productive and more confusing than the league's salary cap.
Five days. Just 120 hours.
In that time, the team announced plans for a $300 million arena in downtown Newark, acquired one of the game's rising young stars, guaranteed more than $120 million in salaries to two players, fired a coach along with most of his staff, picked a replacement, lost two more games and generated enough headlines to make even their new business partners, the Yankees, envious.
It's enough to take your breath away.
Or, unfortunately for some, your job.
The ax falls
The exclamation point to this five-day stretch came Sunday night after the Nets had been embarrassed by the Miami Heat, 102-76, for their 17th loss in 20 games. Katz left Miami Arena with Calipari walking behind him. By the time Calipari threw his bag and himself into Katz's limousine, the team had decided it wanted someone else coaching its players.
The owners made the firing of Calipari official yesterday and named Don Casey, 61, the interim head coach. A veteran NBA assistant, Casey is a native of Collingswood who attended Camden Catholic High School and was once a successful coach at Bishop Eustace High School in Pennsauken.
It is expected, however, that the team's owners will pursue former Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson for next season. Jackson is the man who coached Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles. He left the team after last season to take some time off and help old friend Bill Bradley raise some money for his presidential run in 2000.
Some believe the Nets are long shots to land Jackson, but they offer a nucleus of stars under contract for years to come. They made sure of that in this wild stretch.
Plans for the future
While the deal for star guard Stephon Marbury took place last Thursday, the seed for it was planted in early January when a group of Nets executives, including co-owners Katz and Finn Wentworth, team president Michael Rowe, Calipari and general manager John Nash, met at Katz's Manhattan apartment to discuss plans for this season.
It was the day after the players had voted to end the lockout, and just hours before the NBA Board of Governors would give its okay to the new collective bargaining agreement. The Nets brass gathered to discuss the budget, plans to sign the team's own free agents and what players they wanted to add.
Katz, a rabid basketball fan, laughed off the first name mentioned, a tongue-in-cheek suggestion of Shaquille O'Neal, the Los Angeles Lakers superstar who is a Newark native. But Katz's interest was piqued when the second name out of someone's mouth was Marbury, the Minnesota point guard and former Brooklyn schoolboy legend.
Katz recalled what he had told his management team: "Let's do everything possible to get him."
The Marbury Trade
While preliminary inquiries were made, conversations did not begin in earnest until this month, when Katz struck up a rapport with Minnesota owner Glen Taylor. Katz already had developed a relationship with David Falk, the agent for Marbury as well as the Nets' Kerry Kittles and Keith Van Horn. Falk told the Timberwolves that his client wouldn't agree to an extension and would almost certainly sign elsewhere when he became eligible for free agency this summer. Minnesota had no option but to deal one of the league's best players.
The trade, which also involved the Milwaukee Bucks, was consummated hours before the trading deadline Thursday. The next day it was announced that the 22-year-old Marbury had signed a six-year, $70.1 million contract extension with the Nets.
It was believed that the deal would save Calipari's job. It did, but not in the way everyone believed.
The owners had been prepared to fire Calipari that night, according to a person close to the team, but the trade "complicated everything."
On Friday, the team called a 2 p.m. news conference at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in downtown Philadelphia to announce Marbury's contract extension. Calipari attended the conference and sat near the podium, right next to Katz.
Katz was asked about reports that Calipari's future was in jeopardy.
"I don't know where that's coming from," he said. "They didn't get it from me. I don't want to deal with that subject at this time, this moment."
That night, with Marbury and two other players acquired in the deal dressed in street clothes, the Nets, who had just eight players eligible for the game, dropped a 100-93 overtime decision to the Philadelphia 76ers. Katz, who has been a Sixers season ticket holder for years, was in his courtside seats directly across from the visitors' bench.
He was up. He was down. He was animated, living and dying with every shot.
After the game, the Nets' sixth loss in a row, the team traveled to Miami. The big news on Saturday was that Kittles, the third-year point guard from Villanova, had signed a six-year, $50 million contract extension. It came just hours before the deadline to sign such deals and less than 24 hours after Katz had told reporters that Kittles, "to be fair, was having a terrible, terrible season." Katz was right, but he was fulfilling his obligation to Falk, who had steered Marbury to the Nets with the understanding that Katz would take care of Kittles.
That meant the Nets had secured the services of Marbury, Kittles and Jayson Williams -- who signed a six-year deal right after the lockout -- well into the next millennium. It is expected that the other cornerstone, Keith Van Horn, will sign a new deal this summer.
The pieces, as they say, were all in place.
Unfortunately, the team was coming apart.
That brings Day Five.
The last day
Katz, having stayed behind in Philadelphia, joined the team Sunday for the nationally televised game at the Miami Arena. He watched the first half from a prominent courtside seat, just to the right of NBC's broadcast position. Katz's face told the story better than any scoreboard could. The further and further behind the Nets fell -- they trailed by 15 at halftime -- the worse Katz's body language became.
At the half, Katz disappeared into the bowels of the arena with Wentworth. Katz said he had left the arena, that he took a walk to clear his head. Others have said Katz and Wentworth were on the telephone with other Nets owners, a call that went longer than expected.
Immediately after the game, Wentworth and Calipari spent 30 minutes alone together in the visiting trainer's room, which doubles as an office for the coaching staff. When they emerged, Calipari was asked if he expected to be coaching the Nets in their next game two nights later. He said nothing had led him to believe otherwise.
Sources, however, said Calipari already had been told he was gone. As the team bus left from a loading dock, Calipari walked through the building in the opposite direction and, once outside, got into Katz's waiting limousine.
The two had dinner and then flew back to New Jersey in Katz's private jet, where they talked about Calipari's situation. Katz said it was his first chance to really talk with Calipari.
With everyone knowing that Calipari was gone, the Nets stayed quiet until yesterday, when Katz and Calipari -- spending more quality time together after Calipari was fired than when Calipari was coach -- showed up at the team's hotel in Toronto and Calipari addressed the players one last time.
"I kept hoping against hope that something would change," said Katz, who said he genuinely likes Calipari and always will consider him a friend. "I saw the pain. I saw the misery. It really didn't look to me like it was turning around.
"When do you say enough is enough?"
When I first heard about former University of Massachusetts coach John Calipari's firing as the head coach of the New Jersey Nets Monday, I truly felt an injustice had occurred.
After doing a pretty good job his first two years, he was blamed for injury and attitude problems that led to the Nets' 3-17 start this season.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized John Calipari is actually lucky and that once his ego recovers, he'll realize that.
Think about it. Here is a guy who is going to make $6 million dollars not to keep watch in the NBA. It's a pretty good gig.
I mean, how much fun can coaching in the world's premiere professional basketball league really be in this day and age?
With some notable exceptions, it is a league with a collection of stars who care more about their endorsements than winning and more about the name on the back of their uniform than on the front.
Because of the players' exorbitant salaries, the true lust for a championship has eluded most of the league's players, who don't really know what winning is.
Take Stephon Marbury for example. Upon being traded to New Jersey, Marbury crowed that he was going to teach the Nets how to win. Maybe my memory needs some refreshing, but I don't recall seeing footage of any victory parades through Minneapolis for the Timberwolves and I don't think there are any Final Four banners at Georgia Tech from his one season there, either.
Marbury's lone title came in high school and he seems to think that still makes him a winner. I have news for you, Stephon. Everybody in the NBA was pretty good in high school.
Fortunately for Calipari, he doesn't have to coach him.
The former Minutemen boss likely will return to the college ranks, where he owns a .731 winning percentage. High-profile jobs at Notre Dame and Iowa are available, with several other spots likely to open after the NCAA Tournament.
Calipari should go to the Final Four and reacquaint himself with the magic of the college game. College hoops is hardly pure, but it's a lot less muddy than what the NBA has become.
Going to the NBA wasn't a bad move for Cal originally. The money the Nets paid him will keep him and his family financially comfortable for generations, but now it's time to return to college ball. The NBA is a players' league and any coach who thinks otherwise is kidding himself. In college, coaches are kings.
Calipari should go back to a game where most of the players don't have agents, where three steps without a dribble still produces a traveling whistle, and where regular-season games still matter and true rivalries still exist.
Not only that, but wherever he ends up, Calipari no longer has to go to work in New Jersey. I know there are nice parts of the Garden State, but East Rutherford isn't exactly a tourist haven and the nasty chemical stench along the New Jersey Turnpike has to smell worse than Jeff Meyer's socks ever did.
This is a break, a get-out-of-jail-free card of sorts. No, coach Cal probably didn't deserve to get fired, at least not yet, but all in all, he should be glad he did.
AMHERST - The phone call was a short one, but University of Massachusetts coach Bruiser Flint did speak with his former boss Monday morning, shortly after John Calipari was fired as head coach and vice president of basketball operations of the New Jersey Nets.
"We spoke just briefly, he had some loose ends to tie up," said Flint, who planned to speak with Calipari again later in the day before leaving on a recruiting trip. "It's a tough time for him. He thought they had a chance to turn things around down there."
Flint thought that the firing reflected more on the state of the business than it did on Calipari.
"We're in that type of business, especially in the pros," he said. "In the pros, when things go bad there, they're going to get rid of the coach."
While he didn't want to speculate whether Calipari's next job would be in the pros or in college, Flint expects him to land on his feet.
"He'll have a lot of opportunities. He's too good of a coach," Flint said. "He's had some success at (the professional) level, too, so people might take a chance on him."
Despite some friction between the coach and his players early last season, Calipari coaxed career years out of both Kendall Gill and Jayson Williams. He guided the Nets to the playoffs for just the fourth time this decade. Despite being swept by the Bulls, the Nets performed well enough to have high expectations placed on them in the Michael Jordan-less NBA.
Calipari was 72-112 in two-plus seasons in New Jersey after compiling a 193-71 record at UMass.
The Minutemen had winning records in seven of his eight seasons and reached the NCAA Tournament in Calipari's last five years. They advanced to the Elite Eight in 1995 and the Final Four in 1996.
Bruiser Flint knows that the nature of business demands winning, and he also knows the nature of the man who paid the price for losing.
And as usual, Flint is squarely on John Calipari's side, as the fired New Jersey Nets coach faces the aftermath of the first major failure of his coaching career.
"We'd talked about it the last couple of weeks," said Flint, the University of Massachusetts men's basketball coach and one of Calipari's most steadfast defenders and friends. "But I think he should have been given the opportunity to turn it around."
Almost exactly halfway through his five-year contract, Calipari was fired Monday as the coach of the Nets, the result of a 3-17 record with a team expected to go deep into the playoffs this year.
Flint's comments indicated Calipari knew he was in trouble long before the final decision was made. At UMass, Flint has felt frustration and heard criticism, too, as a result of a 14-16 record this season.
He sympathizes with a friend whose season also went awry.
"Some of John's better players weren't playing well - I've been through that myself - and some guys got hurt," said Flint. But in the end, Flint said Calipari may have been victimized by players whose biggest problem was themselves.
"I told him that now he could realize why some of these guys had been traded a lot," Flint said. "When things went badly, some of them pointed fingers.
"He turned around the image of the franchise," said Flint, who worked as Calipari's assistant at UMass from 1989-96, and was the chief assistant when Calipari's final UMass team went to the 1996 Final Four. "They made the playoffs last year."
"People began wanting to play for the Nets," Flint said. "That alone should have given him a longer chance."
Flint also didn't agree with the perception that Calipari's intense style was too unyielding to work with pro players.
"I think John knew about that issue himself, and I think his coaching style was a lot different in the last year," Flint said. "I've been around him long enough, so I know he made some adjustments."
Another Calipari supporter is UMass athletic director Bob Marcum, who denied reports last month that he would reconsider bringing Calipari back to UMass. Marcum has said Flint, whose contract runs until 2002, is secure - and he added that Calipari carries too big a price tag, anyway.
Nonetheless, Marcum says his high regard for Calipari hasn't changed.
"I know John and I know the Nets, and John's dismissal does not change my opinion of either of them," Marcum said, taking a not-so-subtle shot at New Jersey.
Marcum said Calipari never gave up on the idea of turning the team around.
"Whenever you're losing, there's a great concern, but John always seemed upbeat and confident when I talked to him," Marcum said.
Another vote of confidence came from Derek Kellogg, who came to UMass in 1991 and endured some of Calipari's most withering criticism to become a starting point guard and two-year captain. Kellogg credits Calipari with helping him become hired as an assistant coach at George Mason, which reached the NCAA Tournament this year.
"He's tough, but he genuinely cares about the people around him," said Kellogg, who ironically received a Nets free-agent tryout in 1995, a year before Calipari joined the franchise.
"We wanted him to be tough at UMass, because we knew he cared," Kellogg said. "And he's a proven winner, too.
"He'll land on his feet."
Once upon a time, actually three March Madnesses ago, Prince Ricky and Prince Cal lived in the fantasy world of college basketball.
They ruled their own fiefdoms, Prince Ricky in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and Prince Cal in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. What they had in common was wealth. Of course, wealth is relative, not to be confused with the untold wealth of professional basketball. Nonetheless, the Princes were raking it in, coaching kids who had to listen to them if the players wanted to keep their state scholarships. They had side deals, TV and radio gigs, commercials, restaurants and clothing stores.
The Princes were cut from the same cloth, fashioned by Armani. They presented themselves the same way. Young men on the make, hair slicked back by stylists, handsome Italian-Americans who had made their bones in basketball.
When you stood them side by side, Prince Cal did seem like a replica of Prince Ricky in style and substance. Prince Ricky from St. Dominic's High in Oyster Bay, N.Y., played point guard at UMass. Prince Cal, the man from Moon, Pa., played guard for Clarion State, leading the Eagles to a 1981 NCAA Division 2 berth.
Prince Ricky, a student of Prince Machiavelli, had taught Prince Cal everything he needed to know about making his way in the tawdry world of hoops. He had anointed him as coach at his alma mater.
They were full of bluster and luster, super salesmen if not con men. They shared the same philosophy and ideals. Prince Ricky espoused his beliefs in several books and Prince Cal echoed those sentiments in "Refuse to Lose." Win at all costs seemed to be their battle cry. They consulted the same court jester, a former UMass frat-house cook known as "Jersey Red," who is Pitino's personal Rasputin and also has the ear of Prince Cal.
Anyway, Prince Ricky and Prince Cal clashed in the 1996 Final Four and the heralds and nation's criers went ballistic. The master would be challenged by his pupil. Would Aristotle outsmart Plato?
As we know, Kentucky defeated UMass, 81-74, in the NCAA semifinals. Prince Ricky took the crown back to Kentucky, then turned down $30 million to coach the New York Nets. The NCAA investigators exposed corruption involving UMass star Marcus Camby. Prince Cal, just as Prince Ricky after coaching Providence to the Final Four, vowed he would not leave UMass. Naturally he made no guarantees. Prince Cal took the Nets' half-price offer, $15 million for five years.
Wisely, Prince Ricky waited, returning to the NCAA final (losing to Arizona) before vowing to stay at Kentucky. Then $50 million changed his mind. Brushing aside ancient King Red, Prince Ricky took over the decayed Boston Celtic dynasty.
Now it is March 1999. Prince Cal, who turned 40 last month, is out of work, though still collecting a cool $3 million per year in NBA unemployment. Prince Ricky, 46, is coaching the sagging Celtics. He has made a dizzying number of trades, firings and acquisitions, including three former Kentucky Wildcats whom, he must figure, will accept his verbal abuse.
Prince Ricky blows hot and cold. He praises in one breath and condemns in another. Recently he caused a stir, suggesting the Celts might not make the playoffs, but that should not be a huge concern. He has endured the outbursts of Antoine Walker and the inconsistencies of his young, out-of-balance team. In Year Two of his rebuilding project, Pitino seems out of control as his 7-12 Celtics are heading south fast. Only the Nets reside below them in the Eastern Conference's Atlantic Division.
Prince Cal failed because his rah-rah college style, his insistence on up-tempo offense and in-your-face defense and his sideline rantings don't work with pros, who do not like to be shown up publicly. The Nets tuned out Prince Cal. Never having played or coached pro ball, he had no credibility among the NBA rank and file. When injuries popped up, he could not make adjustments. He never did grasp the nuances of the pro game.
In his defense, Prince Cal didn't get the five seasons he predicted it would take to build a winner. He did not have what Prince Ricky enjoys: complete control. He had to answer to a meddling owner, Lewis Katz; Nets president Michael Rowe and GM John Nash. The Nets did improve from 26-56 in 1996-97 to 43-39 last season, giving the Bulls fits in the playoffs. But Calipari took all the credit.
Nets execs grew to distrust him. So did the players. Prince Cal had a nasty habit of bad-mouthing other players during private one-on-one sessions. His back-stabbing created ill will. He was no media darling either, especially after calling a reporter a "Mexican idiot" and drawing a $25,000 fine from the NBA front office.
Both Princes preach the same type game: run, press, shoot the three. Controlled helter-skelter if you will. But in the NBA you must modify that approach. There are 82 games. Running without a definite purpose causes breakdowns and burn out. Traps work a few times, but pros get wise to them quickly. One wonders if Prince Ricky fully understands that notion even after his experience with the Knicks.
But can Prince Ricky and Prince Cal ever win in the pros? Both have struck out once. The 1987-88 Knicks and the 1997-98 Nets improved, but lost to Jordan and the Bulls come playoff time.
Prince Cal will likely step back into the college ranks, possibly at a Michigan or an Iowa.
If Prince Ricky is smart, he will realize he's not cut out to coach the pros either. What he should do is fire himself as the Celtics coach and hire someone who can handle pros. Maybe some former NBA center with experience.
Did someone say Phil Jackson? Nah. I'd go with Dave Cowens, former head coach of Worcester's own Bay State Bombardiers, the Charlotte Hornets and, 20 years ago, the Celtics. At least the pros would look up to him.