When LeBron James makes a move, the basketball world usually feels it. Ripple effects run throughout both the professional and amateur landscape of the sport. Now that he is returning to Cleveland, everyone can continue to go about their own business. That’s the kind of power James carries.
It’s the same power that enticed some of college basketball’s best minds in Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan and Kentucky’s John Calipari. All three were courted by the Cleveland Cavaliers a month ago and all three likely had fantasies of coaching James in the back of their minds. And, according to reports, Calipari was in deep discussions with Cleveland on what would’ve been a 10-year deal before choosing to re-up with Kentucky.
It’s likely Calipari — as well as the other two — had little to no idea whether James was going to return to Cleveland or not, seeing how the talks with Cleveland came before the San Antonio Spurs ripped apart LeBron’s Heat in the NBA Finals. But, to play the hypothetical game, what if Calipari knew there was a chance, even a small one?
I imagine leaving Lexington, a place Calipari has turned into a recruiting goldmine like never before, would’ve been difficult. Not to mention, his ability to control practically any room he’s in would take a hit at the next level. But coaching James, the best basketball player in the world and getting paid handsomely to do it? Believe me, Calipari is likely out the door in that scenario.
Calipari’s replies to the possibility of coaching James one day were predictable, at least to me. He’s gained this talent of always appearing to tell the truth. When he is citing a fact, you believe it. When he’s stretching the truth, you believe it.
“Are you kidding me?” Calipari told Cleveland.com “Have a chance to coach the best player in the world? Yes, I would love to coach him. But what’s happened is our careers are criss-crossing without crossing.”
Calipari weighed his options when Cleveland came calling. The signs, at the time, pointed to staying at Kentucky. So he did.
You could argue both Calipari and James are the most powerful individuals at their respective levels of the sport. There’s no denying the imprint Calipari has had on Kentucky. James has proved his worth over and over again, and then again over the past week. He’s had every media outlet — even the ESPN Empire — moving at his pace on his time.
If I had to bet, I would guess these two team up at some point. It’s inevitable. And if it does, Kentucky basketball will continue to be Kentucky basketball. Even if it happened a month ago, or if it happens four years from now. A foundation was built at Kentucky before Calipari got to it. He added on to it, created a brand and something that will last for whoever eventually takes his place.
Calipari will leave the program one day and it will likely take LeBron James to do it (or retirement). Kentucky fans should take solace in that fact.