First off, I want to say that I’m a big fan of Charles Pierce. He’s one of the best sportswriters alive, and up until Thanksgiving Day 2009, was the only man to write an interesting story about Tiger Woods, ever. So thanks and kudos deserve to go his way for that.
But with that said, his most recent piece on John Calipari and Kentucky for Slate Magazine, delicately titled “The Sleaziest Coach in a Sleazy Game,” is ridiculous for a number of reasons.
For starters, it just isn’t very good. This is especially surprising considering a) Pierce is usually fucking awesome and b) some time ago Slate Magazine took it upon themselves to fill the void left by Sports Illustrated (which, for some reason, decided some time ago that the whole ‘sports journalism’ thing wasn’t working for them anymore) and has generally done a pretty good job. Most of their stuff is excellent, insightful, and, occasionally, of the longer form that things like ESPN The Magazine and SLAM have rendered extinct. However, this piece by Pierce is not only none of those things, but reads more like a blog entry than an actual piece for a legitimate magazine.
The first problem with Pierce’s article is that it gives the reader absolutely nothing they don’t already know. Calipari’s had two Final Fours vacated, really? College basketball is dirty, are you serious? It’s a running assumption that Cal is a dirty coach? Get the fuck out of here!
No shit, Sherlock. Maybe I’m the only one – and this brings me to the second problem – but I’m at the point where I’m so sick of hearing about how dirty a coach Calipari is from sportswriters – with little quips like Pierce’s “Coaches who have barbered the rulebook like Edward Scissorhands look upon Calipari with a weird mixture of awe and disdain.” – that I would honestly appreciate it if someone would just leak whatever the fuck it is that he does.
Does he get middlemen to finance houses for his players’ parents? Does he work with intermediaries that supply vehicles and cash to the families of recruits? Does he send payments in the form of cocaine and blowjobs to the rooms of potential Minutemen/Tigers/Wildcats during their overnight recruiting visits? Just tell us already! The suspense is killing me.
I mean, is Calipari really this Nick-Nolte-in-Blue-Chips kind of figure some people make him out to be? Is he dropping off tractors and luxury sedans to parents with sharp-shooters and Penny Hardaway as their progeny?
Whatever Cal does or doesn’t do, the problem with guys like Pierce – and Pat Forde and Bob Knight – implying stuff like this is that they don’t support their implications with anything more than the ominous tone in their voices. You want to say Calipari cheats? Say it. Don’t pussyfoot around about it, say it. And stop referencing the past; what’s done is done. Did Calipari do things at UMass and Memphis that got those schools in hot water with the NCAA? Possibly. But of all people, the NCAA didn’t think so. I’m not breaking any news by writing that Cal wasn’t named in either of those violations, but if I were, I get the feeling it’d be falling on mostly-deaf ears.
In sports, and especially sports media, perception almost always outweighs reality. No matter how many teams Shaq leaves on bad terms, he’s still considered a better teammate than Kobe; no matter how much involvement Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski have with players who admit to taking money from Myron Piggie, they’re still considered clean coaches; and no matter how much Cal does to repair his reputation – win games, charm fans, raise millions of dollars for earthquake-relief efforts – he’s still considered a scumbag.
But back to Pierce’s piece: it gives us nothing we don’t already know, uses teaser claims that ultimately go nowhere, and says stuff that – to anyone who’s actually watched Kentucky play this season – knows is bullshit. Daniel Orton? Really? That’s the guy you want to portray as tudious and ill-tempered? He’s the most soft spoken, affable guy on the team. DeMarcus Cousins is a hot head, yes. Does he sometimes make faces at Calipari when he’s being scolded? I’m sure he does. And you know what, I bet he’s the only player in America that does that sort of thing…which has to make him a dirty cheat of a player playing for a dirty cheat of a coach.
Pierce cites these two players as reasons for his being doubtful of Kentucky’s chances at the National Title this year, as well as Calipari’s instruction being, in his words, “distant white noise in their ears.”
This part is beyond ridiculous. Cousins, who along with committing to play for Calipari at two different schools, is one of the best players in America and still gets just a little over twenty minutes a game; Orton was a five-star recruit who stuck with Calipari, even though he was the prize recruit of Billy Gillispie, and comes off the bench. Both of these guys answer to Cal, not the other way around. And they didn’t follow him because they think he’s a nice guy, they followed him because he’s an excellent coach who gets guys to the league. I’m pretty sure both of them are listening to what he has to say.
Pierce ends his piece with a crack about Calipari potentially having another title vacated after this season – “…if Kentucky wins this thing and you picked someone else in your pool, just be patient. Appeals might be pending for a couple of years.” – exactly the type of joke I’d estimate I heard 57 million times within a week of Calipari’s hire.
So it’s at this point that I ask, what exactly is Pierce trying to accomplish with this? Did he think he was the first person to write about Calipari’s past and Kentucky’s (potential) future? It tells us nothing new, gives us nothing of substance, isn’t particularly entertaining, and ends with a joke regarding a hypothetical he deemed impossible in the first paragraph.
So it is at this time that I’d like to propose a moratorium on all John Calipari/Kentucky articles that deal with either a) Calipari’s past or b) Calipari potentially reliving his past in the coming months. If you’re going to write about Calipari being a cheater, tell us how he cheats. Or at the very least, tell us how he used to cheat. Not just teasejobs like, “When he was but a baby brigand in the employ of the University of Pittsburgh, Calipari’s recruiting tactics very nearly incited a general hooley at the Big East’s annual meeting.” I want specifics.
Because at this point, we get it – you think he cheated. And from what I can tell, you believe he still does. That’s fine. Just tell me something I haven’t heard.