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Kentucky Basketball: Calipari to NBA Rumors -- Why Wreck a Perfectly Useful Friendship?

I'm just thinking this morning of the absurdity of a John Calipari - LeBron James marriage in the NBA.  Let me explain.

You've seen that couple who has been together for years, enjoying life living in sin and seemingly perfect for each other, right?  They are probably friends of yours, or family, or somebody you know at work.  You think they are the perfect pair, destined for a lifetime of bliss if only they'd just tie the knot and make and honest man and woman out of each other.  Then they get married, and one or two years later, a relationship that withstood decades as friends is on the rocks.

You've seen it, or heard about it.  Everyone has.  That could be Calipari and LeBron James.

What brought this to mind was this article today in the Elyria (OH) Chronicle-Telegram:

No matter what the Cavaliers say or don’t say — and they are saying virtually nothing at the moment — we all know the main reason Mike Brown was fired as coach Monday: Owner Dan Gilbert realized it was the only way his team had a chance of re-signing LeBron James when the 25-year-old becomes a free agent on July 1.

Certainly, the Cavs’ playoff fail­ures the last two years — losing to Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2010 and falling to Orlando in the conference finals in 2009 — played a tremendous role, but let’s not kid ourselves.

If James had gone to Gilbert and said, "I’ll re-sign if Mike comes back," do you honestly think there is any way Brown would have been fired?

We all know the answer to that question, don't we?

There is a world of difference between being buddies with someone off the court, enjoying the mutual benefit and publicity that comes from that friendship, and having a coach-player relationship on the court.  The two things are not similar.  The player is always the inferior and the coach the superior -- except if that player is a singular, world-beating talent like LeBron James.  When you are coaching a team that includes King James, you cannot be under the normally reasonable delusion that you are the daddy -- because you aren't, LeBron is.

The player-coach relationship in the NBA is not like the player-coach relationship in college.  In college, coaches are very much male authority figures in young players lives.  That's one of the things that make the job so difficult, because college coaches have to deal with the kinds of problems that come with being authority figures for young men -- rebellion, truculence, frustration with playing time, girlfriends, reckless behavior, grades, etc.  This list seems nearly infinite.  If a player messes up enough, the coach suspends or even dismisses him from the team.

In professional basketball, you are mostly dealing with adult men with adult lives and adult problems.  The coach-player relationship is like a business relationship, usually with the coach in the position of boss.  But not on LeBron's team, whatever that happens to be.  Because make no mistake, on LeBron James' team, he is the boss.  Final answer.  A coach suspend or dismiss Lebron?  I'm sure that will happen.  Not.

Which brings us back to Calipari.  Do you think he is really ready to give up being the boss?  Do you think his relationship with LeBron will not suffer when he feels compelled to point out that James is playing like crap, that his focus isn't on winning, and that he is being a lousy teammate?  Make no mistake, any and all that sometimes be true of LeBron -- he is no less human than the rest of us despite his monstrous talent at basketball.

Do you think that Calipari can't get fired in the hypothetical coaching relationship because whatever team LeBron plays for figures out, like Cleveland did, that the only way to keep him happy is to send Coach Cal a pink slip?  One thing you can bank on -- they won't be "firing" LeBron.

In the final analysis, Calipari and LeBron are much more valuable to each other as friends than as teammates, and I am pretty sure they both get that.  They can do business deals together till the cows come home, but when you slip the little gold ring on that finger in hopes of replacing it with an NBA championship ring pretty soon, the weight of expectations and the odd role-reversal makes that wedding band feel like the One Ring -- a burden too heavy to carry.

Is Calipari the only coach that can get the best out of LeBron?  I doubt it.  It's not even a sure thing that he is that guy at all. Yet reportedly has Calipari 9/4 as the favorite to wind up coaching Cleveland next year, presumably with LeBron on the team.  Give me the field.

Friendships sometimes make bad marriages, and I'll bet both LeBron and Calipari have contemplated that.  Apparently, the rumor-mongers and odds-makers haven't.