When Cal, Larry and Rollie (Almost) Coached the Nets | Zagsblog
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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Tuesday / May 28.
  • When Cal, Larry and Rollie (Almost) Coached the Nets

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    For sheer fun and enjoyment basketball fans everywhere should read Harvey Araton’s piece on the hapless New Jersey Nets — who play their final game in the Garden State tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers — in today’s New York Times.

    From the perspective of a college basketball writer (and fan) it’s fascinating to recall that John Calipari, Larry Brown and Rollie Massimino (almost) all coached the Nets.

    All three men have also won NCAA championships, while the Nets still seek their first NBA title.

    First, the story of Brown, now 71 and the new minted coach at soon-to-be-Big East program Southern Methodist.

    It was a dark one in April 1983 when the 42-year-old Brown, who had a young team on the rise, secretly negotiated for the University of Kansas job for the next season. When the controlling owner, Joe Taub, found out, he demanded that Brown choose immediately. Brown picked Kansas. Taub sent him packing, and a 49-victory season crashed with a first-round playoff defeat to the Knicks.

    Second, few may remember that Massimino was set to coach the Nets after he led Villanova to a shocking upset of Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA championship game.

    Fresh off Villanova’s upset of Georgetown in the 1985 N.C.A.A. championship game, Massimino shook hands with the Nets’ president, Bernie Mann, on the contours of a 10-year deal, and the Nets made plans to introduce him at a news conference on June 20, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at the arena. Then Massimino changed his mind, leaving the Nets with no news conference and no coach.

    And then, of course, there is Calipari, who unsuccessfully ran the team in the mid-1990s before he became the King of Kentucky and the Master of the One-And-Done.

    When it was time to replace [Butch] Beard, [owner Joe] Taub tried to hire Rick Pitino from Kentucky and settled for John Calipari, another insulated college type who flamed out of his first professional job on Selena Roberts’s watch for The Times.

    “I remember once we were talking about the state of the Nets and Calipari asked me out of frustration, ‘Why aren’t you buying in?’ as if that was the media’s role,” Roberts said. “The real trouble was that his players weren’t buying in. And yet for months, Cal pushed on with a remarkable, upbeat energy — until the moment he snapped. That was the afternoon he called The Star-Ledger’s Dan Garcia a ‘Mexican idiot’ across a parking lot.”

    Calipari was reprimanded by the Nets and the league for that 1997 incident, and was fired 20 games into his third season. When the team flew to Toronto from Miami without him, he insisted on following it to deliver the news himself. One problem: Ray Chambers, a new co-owner, had arranged for Tony Robbins, the motivational speaker, to address the team in Toronto. By the time Calipari got to address the players, Robbins had informed them that Don Casey would be their new coach.

    Photo: The AP

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.

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