One of the more curious calls in Kentucky basketball history started a chain of events that led to Sam Malone becoming one of UK's walk-on players this coming season.
His father, Joe Malone, was a Massachusetts state treasurer in 1992 when he turned on the television in his Boston area home to watch upstart UMass play mighty Kentucky in an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game.
UK fans with good memories will recall UMass refusing to lose, to borrow a phrase, and rallying in the second half. Then from the opposite baseline and across the court, referee Lenny Wirtz called a technical foul on, shall we say, the thoroughly engaged UMass coach, John Calipari, for being out of the coaching box. The technical stemmed UMass's momentum. A steadied Kentucky went on to win. Thus, UK's Unforgettables advanced to their date two nights later with Christian Laettner and destiny.
"After the game at the press conference, John said, 'I apologize to my players; that never should have happened and it will never happen again,'" Joe Malone recalled Calipari saying. "'I was the reason for ending the run, and, again, I'm sorry.'"
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Malone was so impressed he sent Calipari a note of appreciation for how he handled a difficult situation with grace.
A few days later, the phone rang in Joe Malone's office.
"He wasn't as well known, of course, at that time," Joe Malone said last week. "My secretary said, 'John Calamari on the phone.'
"I said, 'That's Calipari. Put him through.'"
Calipari voiced appreciation for the note and invited Malone to a UMass game the next season.
Joe Malone accepted the invitation and a friendship ensued that led to Sam Malone becoming a regular at Calipari's summer camps. From ages 11 through 15, he participated in the coach's summer camps.
A torn anterior cruciate ligament interrupted Sam Malone's hoop dream at age 15. Two more knee surgeries seemingly splashed cold water in his face.
"Cal was always inquiring," Joe Malone said. "'How is Sam doing? Tell him, don't let some adversity get him down.' Really was wonderful to him. I think he was particularly sensitive to the fact Sam, who loved the game of basketball, seemed to have one hurdle after another put in his way."
When Sam's injury-riddled high school career neared its end this past spring, Calipari asked Joe Malone about his son's college plans.
"Well, not too many letters are coming in," Joe Malone said. To which Calipari said, "Let me know if he wants to come to Kentucky and be a walk-on, I'd love to have him."
Walking on at Kentucky agreed with Sam Malone.
Joe Malone explained his son's reaction by saying, "On a scale of one to 10, if 10 is complete happiness, Sam was about a 22."
Of course, the name Sam Malone and Boston ring a lot of bells, Fans of the television show Cheers (1982-1993) will recall that Ted Danson played the owner/bartender named Sam Malone.
In this case, two and two do not equal four. The TV show did not inspire the name.
Joe Malone and his wife, Linda, had several friends named Sam. "We used to say, jeez, we never met a Sam we didn't like," Joe said.
They named their first son Joe. He, too, attends UK.
With another boy on the way, they tried out the name Sam with the two grandmothers.
"Separately, they both responded, 'You can't name your son after a bartender,'" Joe Malone said. "We never really watched Cheers then. It never really dawned on us."
The parents quickly caught on. When the Cheers cast came to Boston to celebrate the final episode, Joe and Linda brought Sam to the hotel. Linda snapped pictures of Danson and the co-stars with the toddler Sam Malone.
Looking back on naming his son Sam Malone, Joe looked on the bright side. "Certainly not an easy one to forget," he said of the name.
Gary Bates, the master planner for Lexington's arena district, grew up playing basketball. A high school injury helped demote him to mere student when he attended Virginia Tech.
"I have scrimmaged a bit with Dell Curry back in the day," he said of his brush with basketball greatness, "and been able to read the underside of his sneakers a few times."
Bates, 44, grew up in Wilmington, Del., loving basketball, in part, because his father played. James Thomas Bates played high school basketball and aspired to a college career. The relative scarcity of college basketball opportunities for black players in the mid-1960s led the elder Bates to a military career.
"Just ate at him, ate at him, ate at him," Bates said of his father's aborted basketball career. " ... He always had plans for me."
The elder Bates "followed every athletic move I made," his son said.
When the young Bates took an interest in soccer, the father learned the sport well enough to coach it for 20 years. "When he does something, he's determined," the son said of his father.
Bates, who will head the study of whether to renovate Rupp Arena or build a new arena, attended a few UK games while with the school's College of Design faculty in 2008-09, when he held the Brown-Forman Chair in Urban Design.
He recalled his first game, sitting in Rupp Arena's upper level and seeing a family of several generations wearing UK blue in the next row.
"That was my first experience with Rupp," he said. Of that first impression, he said, "These guys are serious."
Bates brought his love of basketball to Norway, where his company (SpaceGroup) is based in Oslo. He coached a coed group of 12-year-olds to the national finals. He acknowledged that "coach's error" led to a loss in the finals.
The opponent contained his star point guard and Bates said he was too slow to counter.
"Our kids were unsure how to react," he said. "I didn't see it quickly enough."
During a get-acquainted session with the mayor's task force last week, master planner Gary Bates referred to "slow cooking" as a good way to approach the question of whether to build a new arena or reinvent Rupp Arena as part of an entertainment district in downtown Lexington. He defined "slow cooking" in the form of a question: "How do we lower the temperature to be able to think?"
Wil James, the president of Toyota's Georgetown plant, hit on a similar theme when he spoke of the work done by his Needs, Uses and Benefits subcommittee.
"We wanted an objective data-driven report," he said. "... Not swayed by emotion."
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray also endorsed a careful examination of options on the arena and the district as a whole before deciding a course of action.
"The first step to good management is good planning," he said. "I've encouraged not rushing to judgment, and I know that's tough because everybody wants a decision today. All the fans do. ...
"Lots of planning has to go into this, and we can't jump to a quick conclusion that it's going to be easy or quick to do anything associated with either a renovation or new (arena)."
Leftovers from last week's meeting of the mayor's task force:
■ Consultant Stan Harvey noted that such areas as the Staples Center in Los Angeles and Kansas' Allen Fieldhouse had been studied. The object, he said, was to see "what's happening to some of our peers."
Then, he added, "Some would consider (Kansas) our peers."
Fortunately, no one objected to Kansas as a peer of UK. Kansas has amassed 2,038 victories, second only to UK's 2,052. UK leads the series 19-6, but Kansas has won the last three meetings and five of the last eight.
■ Quoting the mayor of Columbus, Ohio, Jim Gray said of entertainment district planning, "Surface parking lots are evil."
■ Thinking aloud led master planner Gary Bates to note the outdoor areas at Wimbledon in which fans can watch matches on a huge screen outside the tennis venue. Might fans who can't get inside Rupp or a new arena be interested in watching a UK game in an outdoor amphitheater?
However the arena and entertainment district questions get answered, surely no one will say Lexington Mayor Jim Gray's 47-member task force failed to thoroughly analyze all options.
In addition to spending about $350,000 in examining options, the task force will have at its disposal no fewer than three previous studies.
In 1986, Laventhal & Horwath analyzed the Lexington Convention Center. In 1997, Price, Waterhouse & Coopers did the same thing. Both studies concluded Lexington needed more convention space.
If you're wondering about duplicating efforts, new studies every decade or so are typical in the highly competitive convention business.
Lexington's Convention & Visitors Bureau commissioned a study by a company known as Conventions Sports and Leisure International (CSL). Jim Browder of Lexington's Convention & Visitors Bureau said the CSL study remains in draft form and has not been formally presented.
The CSL study looked at how more revenue can be generated by the Lexington Convention Center and the Kentucky Horse Park.
At a media briefing earlier this summer, Chairman Brent Rice said the task force would look at a "total evaluation of not just Rupp, but the 46 acres" in a proposed entertainment district. The task force "will have gathered all the information humanly possible," he said.
UK may want a new arena, but reader Tom Little questioned if UK needs a new arena.
"I am amazed that Mitch Barnhart and, possibly, other UK officials seem determined to demand a new arena — ostensibly with luxury suites, more dining options, etc.," Little wrote in an email. "Envy of Louisville's new arena must be overpowering.
"I wonder, though, if any of these leaders paid attention to the comments of the 'Kentucky Pros' who returned for the recent exhibition game. It seemed that every one of them talked about the excitement of returning for another game at Rupp. No one turned down the invitation due to the lack of luxury boxes. They all talked about how much they loved playing at Rupp."
In noting how a new arena could benefit UK basketball, Barnhart suggested it could be a recruiting tool. That is, prospects are more impressed by new arenas.
Little wasn't buying it.
"While UK talks about how important having the 'gold standard' is to potential recruits, I suspect most 18-year-old young men are more interested in hearing guys in the NBA talk about how much fun it is to play in Rupp than in evaluating amenities," he wrote. "Let's face it, those guys are going to be on the floor and on the bench — not in luxury suites or in restaurants around the arena."
Then Little added a kicker.
"A logical person would think that UK should be more interested in being perceived in the same manner as Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, UCLA ... Oh, I forgot, they all play in older arenas!" he wrote.
Little, 63, is retired from Lexmark, and a retired Kentucky Army National Guard colonel. He was born in Paducah, and graduated from Earlington High School. "Yes," he wrote, "I've known Lee Todd since 1964."
A Centre College graduate, he and his wife, Marcia, have lived in Lexington since 1974. They are members of UK's Catholic Newman Center Parish.
To former UK big man Mark Pope. He turns 39 Sunday. He's an assistant coach at BYU.
To former Ole Miss Coach Rob Evans. He turned 65 on Wednesday. He's an assistant coach at TCU.
To former referee John Clougherty. He turned 68 on Saturday.