Jeff Pearlman

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E-mail of the day

Back in the infancy of this blog, i used to enjoy running an e-mail of the day—sometimes upbeat, sometimes nasty, sometimes just making a good point. Then, for some unknown reason, the practice escaped me.

Today, it’s returned.

In case you don’t follow me on Twitter (@jeffpearlman), today was an odd one. Earlier in the day I Tweeted that I’d prefer my child not attend college than play basketball for Kentucky coach John Calipari. I didn’t quite expect the reaction I received which was, in a word, harsh. Apparently UK fans love their team and love their coach—even if he’s turned a once-honorable and storied program into a factory of here-today, gone-tomorrow future NBAers. Not that, under the rules, anything is technically wrong with such. The NCAA allows players to be college basketball stars for at least one season, and Calipari has taken advantage of the regulation to the school’s win-loss basketball benefit.

But … why is this a good thing? And why would fans—true fans—applaud such measures? Maybe I’m naive. Actually, scratch that—I am naive. But were I a die-hard fan of a college basketball program, part—if not all—of the fun would come via development; via getting to know and grow with the players. Some of my fondest sports memories date back to my days at the University of Delaware, when members of the men’s basketball team were your colleagues and classmates … for three or four years. They were your peers. Your friends. So when they succeeded and thrived, well, you felt like you succeded and thrived with them. I know … I know—”Delaware, big shit. This is Kentucky! Basketball Nation! Etc … etc.” I get it. But it strikes me as sad and odd and offputting, the way schools like Kentucky (and Syracuse. And Kansas. And UConn. And …) place winning above absolutely, positively everything else. It is the absolute be all, end all—and if you don’t win, well, what’s the point? Why even play the games?

I hate—I mean, really, really hate—this mentality. Personally speaking, I consider winning to be a vastly overrated experience. Back in my teens and early 20s, I was one of those kids who had to win at absolutely everything. As a high school runner, if I didn’t finish first, I failed (this is probably the No. 1 reason I struggled so terribly when I ran cross country and track at Delaware. I wasn’t used to losing—and it ate me up). You name the game or endeavor, I was a competitor. Ping pong, Pac Man, checkers, Connect Four. It was all about the victory. The triumph.

Then, one day, I realized something—winning is sorta meh. You win, you celebrate, then you look for the next victory. It’s an obsessive, never-ending craving; euphoric in spurts but, eventually, unsatisfying. Those people who need to win, either on their own or via a team they follow, used to earn my sympathy and, sometimes, praise. Now they just baffle me.

The myriad critics of my Kentucky Tweet were right in one regard—it’s not just Calipari, and to single him out was silly. He’s just a guy; a product of a system; a man who is hired to win, win and win at (almost) all costs. So, in that regard, I was off. I wouldn’t want my kid to play for him—or 800 others coaches.

Oh, and here’s the letter …

Why do writers or journalists become writers and journalists? Why, because you
were the guys who sucked at sports, couldn’t chew gum and walk at the same time,
and your looks could compare with a dog’s hindend. While I can understand with
these attachments, why do you later in life come down on people that you don’t
even know personally, like Calipari. First of all, the kind of pole dancing
woman who would marry you and then later have a child with is mind boggling but
to assume that Calipari would want your child to play for him, out of your short
johnson is again mind boggling. Last there are so many bad writers who are
pricks out there, it makes me wonder IS there a prize for that? Have a good day
jeff and step in front of train and make my day laddy.

 

  • Andy

    Your list of basketball-factory schools that fails develop players looks like you just grabbed a bunch from the top 25 – be careful about making such a broad generalization. Success does not equate to misplaced priorities at all times.

    I can really only speak for ‘Cuse, as that’s who I follow, but I don’t think SU or Boeheim is nearly on the same level as someone like Calipari and his history of recruiting violations. I don’t remember Boeheim ever getting disciplined for that. As far as not developing players, the current #1 team in the country is led by a pair of seniors (Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine) who weren’t stars out of the gate but grew into their roles. Junior Brandon Triche has started since Day 1 and been a steady contributor. Sophomores Fab Melo, Dion Waiters, & CJ Fair weren’t phenoms and have all grown tremendously from last year. And you’re right, it has been great to see these guys become what they are now.

    Carmelo Anthony might be an easy example of guy who went one-and-done at SU, especially since they won the title w/ him, but the rest of that starting line-up? All stayed 4 years. Since Melo, there’s been one significant player who left after one season (Donte Greene, though and he shouldn’t have left), and one who left after 2 (Jonny Flynn, was 5th pick in the draft, so that’s hard to argue).

    Sorry if this was a bit of a rant, but seeing SU on your list struck me as an incorrect assumption. Maybe you thought of them because of the Bernie Fine situation, but that seems to have been handled much better than Sandusky and not swept under the rug for the sake of the basketball program.

  • Mike

    You would also have been on solid ground by saying you wouldn’t have wanted your children to play in an arena named for a racist man named Adolph.

  • Keith Long

    Of course Andy is the typical clown fan…”all teams are bad/cheating except for my team”. If you’re such a big fan, Andy, you should know that Jim Boeheim and “the Cuse” were banned from the NCAA Tournament in 1993 and placed on two years probation due to sanctions related to boosters giving players cash, free housing, meals, etc. F’in moron.

  • Andy

    I said I could only speak for SU – there are plenty of other clean programs, but I can’t be an authority on them. And I didn’t say SU was the only one that didn’t belong on his list, and Kansas doesn’t strike me as right to be there either, but again, not an expert. UConn, on the other hand, well I hate them, so I’m OK w/ JP calling them out (and Calhoun did just get busted).

    Anyway, 1993 was before I follow the team like I do now, so I honestly didn’t remember. Could’ve checked before commenting, my bad. Either way, you could’ve made your point w/o name calling.

  • LC

    Dear Wildcat fans: Enjoy your time with Coach Vacated. As everyone in the Atlantic 10 knows, John Chaney had the right idea …

Showtime Book
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The Rocket that Fell to Earth Book
Boys Will Be Boys Book

Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life