Before the title of the documentary appeared on the big screen at the Kentucky Theatre, the audience saw an indignant Bob Knight question why John Calipari was still a college coach despite having “put two schools on probation.”
A moment later, a newspaper headline appeared calling Calipari “the first honest pimp.”
Only then did the title of this documentary on the Kentucky coach, One and Not Done, come into view.
Zealous Calipari and/or Kentucky fans had been given fair warning. This latest ESPN 30 for 30 film would not be hagiography. Or as former UK player (and aspiring screenwriter) Mark Krebs correctly predicted as he entered the Kentucky Theatre for Monday night’s preview screening, “We’re going to see an honest portrayal.”
That was really hard for me to watch.
The audience of invited guests of about 700 (the seating capacity was 800) saw part biography, part airing of grievances, part high praise, part condemnation. The documentary is scheduled to air on ESPN at 9 p.m. Thursday.
“It’s an unbelievable story,” one of the producers, John Dahl, told the crowd before the lights went down. “He’s certainly had his share of opponents.”
His share of supporters had their say.
Bobby Martin, who had been recruited to Pittsburgh by Calipari, the assistant coach, colorfully explained Calipari’s gift for gab.
“Cal can talk a starving dog off a meat truck,” Martin said.
For the first of several times, laughter filled the Kentucky Theatre.
Another of the producers, Marquis Daisy, said the director, Jonathan Hock, interviewed “25 to 30” people. The project took about a year to compile.
The broad outline of Calipari’s rise to the top of his profession, the highs and lows along the way, and his willingness to buck convention are well know.
As Knight pointed out, there were vacated Final Fours in 1996 (UMass) and 2008 (Memphis). The documentary says that Marcus Camby, whose involvement with agents led to the problem in 1996, repaid UMass the $150,000 in bonuses it lost from having to vacate the Final Four.
Within days of the NCAA penalizing UMass, Calipari left to become coach of the New Jersey Nets. It was a move that sportswriter Marty Dobrow said led to a “loss of innocence” for UMass fans.
As for 2008, Dan Wolken, who covered the Memphis team, said the NCAA did not prove Derrick Rose cheated on a college entrance exam, but that Final Four appearance had to be vacated because Memphis acknowledged it had used an ineligible player.
Cal can talk a starving dog off a meat truck.
Bobby Martin, who had been recruited to Pittsburgh by Calipari
Between those college controversies came Calipari’s time as New Jersey Nets coach. Besides not succeeding on the court, Calipari called sportswriter Dan Garcia a “Mexican idiot.” This led to a Peter Vecsey column in the New York Post headlined “Johnny Rotten.”
As the documentary’s title suggests, it all seemed prelude to a discussion about Calipari’s reliance on the so-called one-and-done player. The film points out that NBA labor negotiations opened the door to college careers encompassing one season.
Former college coach and Nike liaison George Raveling said the one-and-done player “devalues education.”
Calipari and several of his players counter with the argument that makes basketball dreams come true. One of Calipari’s earliest one-and-done players, Dajuan Wagner, had his NBA career cut short by illness. Without the chance to turn pro after his freshman season, he would have been unlikely to ever cash a NBA check.
The film ran an hour and 42 minutes. When it ended, the crowd applauded for close to 30 seconds.
Dahl returned to the stage and saluted Calipari as “one of the more influential figures in basketball (and) perhaps in all sports.”
More applause ensued.
Then Calipari and his wife, Ellen, came on stage.
“That was really hard for me to watch,” Calipari said in a low-key tone of voice. “I didn’t think I was that bad.”
Calipari then spoke of the joy he believed his programs had brought players and fans. By inference, the reliance on a one-and-done formula had brought joy to his players and their families.
“We’re just going to continue,” Calipari told the audience.