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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Success Is A Choice-Hero to Zero

In celebration of March Madness The Commish takes a look at Pitino's rise and fall...

Success Is A Choice - How Pitino Went From Hero to Zero With Me

March Madness is here, and for me, there are some names that just resonate in March. Patrick Ewing... Gary McLain... Mike Krzyzewski... Dick Vitale... With the exception of maybe Ewing, the biggest name in my memory bank is Rick Pitino. The 1987 March Madness was a special time for a Freshman in high school in Massachusetts. Not because I won $5 off Mark Conway when I took Indiana and he took Syracuse. But little ole Providence, from little ole Rhode Island was in the Final Four. And it was all credited to Slick Rick Pitino. Click below for rest of article...

Was there a more adoring personality in New England at the time? The Pats were dealing with Cocaine-hell as Borges had exposed the 1986 Pats team as an active cocaine using team. The Sox were dealing with the after-effects of Game 6. The C's were looking old. But there was Pitino to carry us to a new horizon. A place New England doesn't know too well. The Final Four. Awesome. Him and Billy Donovan. Can you name anyone else from that team? I can't. Other than they had a guy who transferred from Indiana or Syracuse to play at Providence.

Like a bullet shot from a handgun, Pitino's cache and success took off. Before you knew it, he was coaching the New York Knicks. DAMN! -- Go Rick! I remember rooting for him to succeed, not because I was a Knicks fan, but let's be honest, the Knicks weren't a C's rival, despite being in NY. It's always been Sixers, and Lakers and coming on fast at the time was Detroit. So sure, Rick, go to New York and do well. Interestingly enough, he did. He took a 24 win team the previous year and won 38 the next season, making the playoffs. And then won the division the next year with a 52 win team. And then, like that, he left. What the? How could a guy who was bringing an organization back in check simply step away for a college team who was on a suspension list after NCAA violations?

Now in fairness, back in 1989, I didn't know what I know now. The Kentucky charm. The Adolph Rupp legacy. The way the NBA is run by players and not coaches. Pitino may have figured that out pretty quickly. Since Pitino left the Knicks in 1989, the Celtics have had 7 head coaches. That's 1 coach every 2-3 years. Can you believe that? if you think that's just the Celtics, would it surprise you if I told you that the Lakers have had 8 head coaches in that same period? 9 if you count Phil Jackson twice. The 76ers -- 12 head coaches in 20 years. So maybe Pitino saw the writing, and wanted to create a legacy.

Enter Kentucky -- on NCAA probation, a once-proud college program in shambles. What better place to become king, right? I mean Pitino just took little ole Providence to the Final Four, he brought Knicks basketball back on its feet. Hell, in Kentucky, it's horse-racing and basketball, right? And like that Pitino put on the bright blue tie and weaved his magic.

I remember all these stops. I remember cheering for him to turn water into wine once again. He coached BU. He went to UMASS. He was from the Northeast. He had my full support. I bought a University of Kentucky hat. I followed the Wildcats. Go Kentucky! And succeed he did. Bringing the program back to life. We all have those moments of "I remember where I was when..." for example when the space shuttle exploded... I remember the Laettner shot. I remember the game, I remember thinking Pitino is taking Kentucky to the FINAL FOUR!! And beating the powerhouse Duke! OUTSTANDING. I couldn't have been more supportive of Pitino. The shot was devastating. Goliath had prevailed. The wounds healed in time and the bottom line was Kentucky was back on the map. Recruits were going to line up down the street to play for the quick talkin Italian from New York who owned Kentucky. This was Kentucky, not Duke, or Notre Dame. Grades? What Grades? Classes? Please -- this is Kentucky -- we play basketball down here.

Then, the dream came true. The Celtics were a mess in the 90's. Pitino had established Kentucky as a pre-eminent program again. All the pieces fit. And they had a shot at Tim Duncan. This is it. The Celtics are going to return to glory lead by the quick talkin Italian who was becoming a basketball god. And he was ours -- that prodigal son -- from the Northeast, who coached BU, Providence, who graduated from UMASS -- this couldn't be any better.

I can remember how we all gave him the keys to the kingdom. How he was Head Coach, GM, President, Vice President, Custodian, etc. He wanted control and he got it. All of it. Right down to the title on the business card. Little did we know we gave the controls to an un-informed schizophrenic. Dumping Rick Fox and David Wesley? Umm ok -- he must know what he's doing.... trading Eric Williams for 2 2nd round draft picks??? umm -- ok... trading Chauncey Billups and Dee Brown for Kenny Anderson -- ummm -- well he's Pitino... in Pitino we trust, right? Signing Travis Knight to a ridiculous contract? Oh come on already!! When the hell are you going to start winning games??

The answer was never. We waited 4 years for this guy to do something. And all he did was lose his players. When you think about the numbers -- most teams chew through coaches every two or three years, the fact that Pitino lasted 4 years is proof of how long the leash was for him to succeed. At the end of the 4 years, the only thing Pitino was remembered for was his quick-talkin and his horrible mistakes. What we later learned is where he lost me.

There was a particular group who was not thrilled to see Pitino join the Boston Celtics. That group was the University of Kentucky. They felt burned. Scorned for a better-looking prom date. They gave Pitino anything he wanted. They adopted him, embraced his Yankee ways. But as soon as a better opportunity arose, he left. In fairness, that's business and Kentucky should understand. He did bring them 2 National Championships (one as a coach and one shortly after he left with his recruits that Tubby coached). Kentucky was back.

Yet, when Pitino left the Celtics, I'm sure the list was long of options for him to return to the college ranks. Yet, he goes to Louisville. You know, Louisville, KENTUCKY. That's like dumping your wife to hook up with her sister. You gotta be kidding me. As it was, Pitino lost me by the end of his Celtics run. His ego was on full display and it was ugly. I was all set with Slick Rick. Then to observe him getting in bed with Louisville. Not only did he leave Kentucky the first time, but then to return wearing the bright red of Louisville was, quite frankly, awful.

Strike One.

Even though I knew he had 5 titles with the Celtics, including President. I never put two and two together until I read John Feinstein's "Let me tell you a story" book with Red Auerbach. By the way -- any Celtics fan should read that. Anyways... Auerbach has 60 years of basketball to talk about in his book, and some of the book talks about Pitino. How Pitino demanded that he get the title of President of the Boston Celtics. A title previously owned by Red Auerbach. How Paul Gaston went to Auerbach's house, apologized in person about how this was the only way Pitino would take the job. So even though it was a "namesake" title, Red relented. And Pitino took it like a thief in the night. And then he stood there at his press conference where he referred to Red Auerbach as "Coach Auerbach" -- ahhh so endearing. Look at how he admires Red.

When I read this piece in the book, I was disgusted. I was so blind by Pitino coming on board, I probably overlooked how he took the President title away from Red, or maybe they just did a very good job of keeping the tension quiet. Which eventually Red didn't when he made the "headed for the pile" comment.

Anyways -- Strike Two... Big swing and a miss.

Infidelity in society isn't uncommon, especially in the professional sports world where egoes are the size of planets. Planet Rick was no exception. What was probably the final step of fraud-ville was in some ways the biggest but least surprising at the same time. Was it a big surprise to anyone that a super-powerful man had a woman on side? Probably not. But despite Pitino's mistakes along the way, they were always professional, right? He was very quiet personally. All signs pointed to a strong foundation of personal principles. As though, it's OK to fail in your job, because in the real world, you're an OK guy. Or so we thought. Turns out in the real world, he's quick-talkin as much as he does when he's in a high schooler's living room sitting with mom and dad about the virtues of Kentucky bl -- umm -- i mean Cardinal red.

The trouble with taking a passionate stand on a topic is you better back it up. So when you call yourself a devout Catholic, you may want to reconsider banging someone who isn't your wife in a restaurant bathroom, then knocking her up, then offering to pay for her to "take care of it." 35 years of marriage down the drain for a Blumpkin...

Strike Three, pal.

I'm not holier than thou to dismiss Pitino for cheating on his wife. As I said earlier, it's common in society. But to profess such strong opinions about Pro-Life, and Catholicism, only to then laugh in the face of those principles when temptation arrives, he may as well be a politician -- quick-talkin that turns into double-talkin...

So now Pitino is rumored to be sniffing around the Nets... Only he's publicly denied it -- but what? Did someone just sit down and decide to invent a rumor? Gimme a break. And why should we believe his denial? What principles does he have to stand on? I wish the Nets well with this consideration. Although how can you feel bad for them if they decide to swim with this shark.

The Commish is a contributor to the Bingo Bar Blog and an aspiring journalist. He's made his bones covering the MVFFL as a beat writer and now enjoys a freelance career.

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