With streamers falling from the sky in New Orleans on Monday night and finding themselves acquainted with John Calipari‘s immaculately slicked back hair — compliments of seemingly infinite amounts of product — Calipari was happy to have lifted the weight of his first national championship off his shoulders. But, it probably didn’t take long for his thoughts to race towards the next challenge, and according to Yahoo! Sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski, that next challenge probably won’t be a new batch of freshman in Lexington.
Before Monday night, John Calipari has had a career defined by the prospects of success and the reality of failure. No, that doesn’t mean that John Calipari’s career was in and of itself a failure, but at nearly every junction it was supposed to be better.
At UMass, he had an opportunity to win a national title and came up short of that goal, falling to arch nemesis Rick Pitino in the Final Four — which is ironic because, considering their career paths, it’s almost impossible to differentiate the two. It would be their only loss of the season and John Calipari would parlay that success into an NBA job with the New Jersey Nets.
His stint with the Nets was disastrous, as Wojnarowski cited Calipari’s tenure as “insecure.” In fact, Calipari was so insecure that sources from within the Nets claimed that Calipari ordered an intern to create a persona and defend the coach on a midday New York radio show. “Anthony from Hoboken,” believed in John Calipari and his grand plan, but unfortunately Nets management didn’t. This led Calipari to sweep his office for bugs and ultimately led to his dismissal after three years running the franchise.
At Memphis, Calipari created a pipeline for one-and-done players like Dajuan Wagner and Derrick Rose. He even took the Tigers to a national championship game but, once again, the Calipari led crew simply couldn’t get over the hump.
Eventually he found himself coaching the nation’s winningest program, the Kentucky Wildcats. And equipped with more resources than any program in the country — armed with more connections as well — Calipari took the idea of advancing underprivileged athletes into the NBA and injected it with steroids. Say what you will about the methods, but in just three years, Calipari proved he could keep a program relevant despite unbelievable amounts of roster turnover, and now the national title may have vindicated his failed/vacated efforts in 1996 and 2008.
However, the one wrong he hasn’t righted is his time in the NBA, and you’d be crazy to think that isn’t a motivating factor to a guy like Calipari — a guy whose whole professional life has been predicated on proving people wrong.
The opportunity to absolve that final failure may very well exist with the New York Knicks (though Phil Jackson is still clearly the Knicks’ No. 1 option), but he shouldn’t take it.
Surely John Calipari has noticed the disturbing trend of having the banners he has helped raise torn down, but the one thing that the people in the NCAA seem unwilling to do is vacate a national championship. Not to mention, collegiate athletics is in a period where sweeping change is almost inevitable because cheating doesn’t just exist in places that have been graced by John Calipari’s presence. It happens everywhere.
And it’s not like Kentucky doesn’t have the money to make Calipari a happy man. He already makes north of $5 million a year, and this national title will probably easily get him close to the $6 million range, especially in a place like Lexington where no price is too great for victory (and no couch is too valuable to burn.) Granted, that’s a bit less than the reported $8 million the Knicks MIGHT be willing to offer, but with cost of living adjustments, those numbers aren’t even close to comparable.
Yet, with the opportunity to build an NBA aided dynasty in Kentucky, it appears as if Calipari has his hearts set on the Big Apple and that one last chance to prove himself. The same insecurities that once drove him to search his office for phone-taps may now lead him back to the NBA and straight into the arms of the New York Knicks.
It would be a bad move, both for the Knicks and John Calipari.