Kentucky Basketball: Why I Can't Forgive Rick

Hate doesn't wear well on people. When you allow yourself to hate you've let the hatee win. Forgiveness, whether deserved or not, is a much more powerful tool. Forgiveness allows you to move on to something that makes you happy, rather than dwelling on something that pisses you off. Since I basically argue with other people for a living, I have to remind myself all the time to forgive and forget. A day rarely passes when I'm not mad at someone. You can't stay mad at everyone, or your are ruining your own life. Advancing age has helped, but it is a lesson I'm still learning.

When local radio personality Chris Cross cut in front of ten other people and me in Old Chicago buffet line then waived us all off, I have to remember his body really needs food and he probably lacks the necessary mental capacity for empathy. He'll never think about our encounter again, so why should I? I forgive you, Chris.

That felt good. I should forgive more often.

Rick Pitino took the job as the Head Basketball Coach at the University of Louisville in 2001. I recall being steamed. But as much as anything, I was bemused. Pitino was coming back to Kentucky with his tail between his legs. He left one of the best jobs in college basketball at the pinnacle of his success, and experienced, for lack of a better word, failure. Tubby Smith had some good years at Kentucky, but there was little doubt Pitino's departure was a lose-lose. Tubby was a good coach, but before he arrived, Kentucky was on a rocket ship to the Moon. Eventually, that rocket sputtered, but it was Pitino who had really crashed and burned. Generally the master of spin, Rick has admitted himself that he never should have left.

Be that as it may, as I've grown older, Pitino's decision to return to Kentucky to coach the Louisville Cardinals bothers me more, not less. Why has maturity allowed me to let so many more important things go, when the years have only made me more bitter towards someone I don't know and will probably never meet? A guy who, after all, is just doing his job. A few moments of reflection, and the answers still aren't real clear.

First off, to the extent I was ever mad Pitino left in the first place, that anger has long since dissipated. When you are from New England, and someone gives you the chance to coach the Boston Celtics with final say on all basketball decisions, that's nearly impossible to turn down. Had he lost big here, Pitino would have been shown the door in short order. Instead, he was wildly successful. He earned whatever spoils that got him. As Cats fans, we carry a healthy sense of self importance. You and I may have bled blue since we were kids, but asking Pitino to do the same was unreasonable. In the same way, expecting everlasting fealty from Coach Cal is unreasonable.


However things went in Boston, Rick could have had his pick of college jobs. He was and will always be one of the best ever at this level. What I think about now but didn't ponder then is this: what was going through Pitino's mind when he decided to come back? I'm sure everything that was said at the time held an ounce of truth. He liked Kentucky, had a good support system in place and hey, Louisville is probably a top 10-15 job.

Still, RIck was a grown ass man when he decided to come back. He knew full well how rabid Kentucky fans were. He appreciated the strength and animus involved in the rivalry, and he had to know that this decision would stick in the craw of the University and the fan base that helped make him a star and gave him the very credibility that he was trading on. Was there someone either at UK or on its periphery who he was trying to stick it to? I'll never know but I kind of doubt it. He was royalty here, and I don't ever recall him being denied anything. I cannot fathom that he left or came back with any ill will towards Kentucky or its inner circle.

But, it is at this point where the analysis gets dicey for Traitor Rick. Had Pitino left here under bad terms, been canned or had the University otherwise burned its bridges with him, taking the U of L job would have been a straight gangster move. And the right one. But that isn't what happened.

Remember in high school when you broke up with that first real boyfriend or girlfriend? Well, if that person took up with your archenemy or nemesis (if you don't know the difference, I beg you to read Chuck Klosterman IV) a couple weeks later, you were pissed. You knew they were trying to get back at you and "win" the breakup. It was irritating, but you could handle it. If the new person wasn't as good looking or popular as you, all the better. Even if they stay together for a while, the bitterness fades and it just becomes an annoyance. That is the analogy that a lot of people draw when they talk about Pitino ending up in the loving arms of the Cardinals.

Problem is, that's a shitty analogy. Here's the right one. Same breakup, but instead your ex begins dating your best friend. That one is a lot worse. It doesn't matter if you are superior to your friend in every way or even if you trade up yourself. Its worse because you're stuck with a notion that what you had with that person meant a lot more to you than it did to them. That one isn't getting better. Even after you move on with your life, it's a constant reminder that your relationship wasn't worth their consideration.

Make no mistake, I don't hate Rick Pitino. I can't muster the passion for the man to do that. But I don't like him and I don't forgive him. No matter how irrational outsiders might consider us as a fan base, the fact is he knew going to Louisville was going to crush BBN. In the end, avoiding that outcome wasn't as important to him as doing what he wanted. He didn't care, or if he did, it wasn't much. For a man who was so beloved that he could have held the keys to the kingdom forever, he owed us more.

That Rick has subsequently beclowned himself with his 15 seconds in heaven and invoking Ted Kennedy's death in a mortifying press conference is beside the point. So is his relative lack of success (the key word being relative) with little brother. Taking this job was a thumb in our collective eye. He gets no pass from me ever.

So thanks for the memories, Rick. I hope you lose by 50. Not just because I love the Cats and don't care for the Cards, but also because I don't like you.

Follow me on Twitter @AlexScutchfield

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