Valentine’s Day Lesson: Forgiveness of Calipari Essential To Moving On

Allow me to get philosophical about relationships for a moment this Valentine’s Day: It’s impossible to move on in life when you’re holding on to dreams that have died.

The Basketball Hall of Fame announced its 2015 nominees Saturday at Madison Square Garden – on the list was former Memphis, and current Kentucky coach, John Vincent Calipari.

After the news was announced, Horn Lake, MS resident, Memphis graduate and former Commercial Appeal Tiger beat writer Gary Parrish – who is now a National College Basketball writer and studio analyst for CBS Sports – sparked a little debate on Twitter:

The responses were what you would expect. Some from every angle – but mostly like this:

I am of the opinion that this is more than a fun debate. I think the decision to forgive, embrace, and move on from John Calipari is important. I think it’s crucial to the future of the Memphis program. I don’t believe that anyone can truly be happy in life until they’re done being angry. The Memphis fan base is an angry fan base right now.

I think Memphis needs a moment where John Calipari is brought back to FedExForum and given a standing ovation. I really do.

Hear me out.

First of all, I realize that convincing someone to forgive is pretty stupid – and usually doesn’t work. Nevertheless, I feel strongly enough about this to attempt to influence the fan base to make this forgiveness dream a reality.

I think the next 10 years of Memphis basketball might just depend on it.

Here are 8 factors designed to sell Memphis fans on the idea of forgiving John Calipari.

1. 9 years. Calipari stayed at Memphis for 9 years, which is about 6 or 7 longer than anyone thought he would. It’s also 6 or 7 longer than he really needed to – given the fact that he turned down opportunities over the years from schools with bigger athletic budgets in higher profile conferences. Calipari reportedly had interest over the years from Missouri, South Carolina, Arkansas, NC State and others. Critics will claim he used those opportunities to get a better deal for himself – and he did – but who cares? That’s how the world works – and he also used the opportunities to get raises for his assistants and more perks for his program. Everyone associated with Memphis basketball won in those exchanges.

2. 2005-2009. Calipari’s 4 year stretch at Memphis from 2005-2009 was historic. Technically speaking, it was the most wins ever produced by an NCAA school in a 4 year period. Of course, the record is attributable to some trivial factors (CUSA, longer schedules, etc…) but it is nevertheless impressive and was important to the school and community. Most importantly, it produced another generation of Tiger fans who aren’t old enough to remember Penny Hardaway’s playing days much less Keith Lee’s or Larry Finch’s. The level of interest and passion for Memphis basketball today is partially attributable to Calipari. That’s a fact. As for the vacated wins – do you really blame Calipari or the NCAA for that fiasco? I thought so.

Photo courtesy USA Today.
Photo courtesy USA Today.

3. Dreams. Surely you can understand a man who grew up in a working class family in the rust belt pursuing the opportunity to coach in Lexington, KY, at The University of Kentucky. The fact that Calipari legitimately considered not going to Kentucky to stay at Memphis in a watered down CUSA is a tribute to how powerful a program he had built at Memphis and the level of support that had emerged around him. Memphis fans should be honored that the decision was so difficult. He legitimately agonized over it and mentioned how much he was ‘leaving behind’ during his introductory press conference at UK.

4. Reputation. Perhaps the biggest gift Calipari gave Memphis was restoring its reputation nationally. Outside of a few Sweet 16 appearances in the 1990’s – Memphis had slowly drifted from the national spotlight over the course of the late 1990’s. Had someone besides Calipari been hired in 2000, there’s no guarantee Memphis Basketball would have ever gotten back into said spotlight. Memphis fans often assume otherwise – but look no further than fellow AAC member Houston, or UNLV, to see what fading from national relevance outside the “Power 5” looks like over a long period of time. It isn’t fun for fans.

5. Opportunity Cost. By not embracing Calipari, by not inviting him back into the program, Memphis is missing an opportunity to be associated with what is possibly soon to be a Hall of Fame basketball coach. That seems silly. I’m not suggesting that Memphis owes Calipari a statute or that they should name the court after him – but why not acknowledge the near-decade the man spent in this city, in this community, and as the leader of a beloved basketball program? The more HOF coaches you have attached to your program – Bartow, Calipari – the greater your reputation. Why pass that up?

6. Good health. According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, forgiveness can lead to lower blood pressure, fewer symptoms of depression, a stronger immune system, and improved heart health. This is to say nothing of the myriad psychological benefits including fewer symptoms of depression. The city of Memphis ranks low enough on all the national health measurements as it is – we don’t need a collective resentment dragging us further down. I say this somewhat jokingly, but there’s a large element of truth to it. I’ve heard a lot of people say that Tiger games aren’t as fun as they used to be. Perhaps that’s true – and perhaps it’s not Josh Pastner’s fault. Maybe 60%-70% of the fan base is still angry.

7. Xavier Henry went to Kansas anyway. Ok, I get it. When the guy left town he destroyed a recruiting class. But remember – John Wall and Demarcus Cousins had technically yet to sign with Memphis. Sure, they were going to likely sign with Memphis – and he recruited them with University money and blah blah blah. My point here is this angle has been overblown. Xavier Henry didn’t even end up with Calipari anyway. Darnell Dodson ended up at Southern Miss. We got Will Coleman and Elliot Williams (for a year) out of the deal. Players sign with coaches – not schools. Everybody except Memphis fans still angry at John Calipari seems to understand this by now.

8. Karma. According to a website called

In this world nothing happens to a person that he does not for some reason or other deserve. Usually, men of ordinary intellect cannot comprehend the actual reason or reasons. The definite invisible cause or causes of the visible effect is not necessarily confined to the present life, they may be traced to a proximate or remote past birth.

According to Buddhism, this inequality is due not only to heredity, environment, “nature and nurture”, but also to Karma. In other words, it is the result of our own past actions and our own present doings. We ourselves are responsible for our own happiness and misery. We create our own Heaven. We create our own Hell. We are the architects of our own fate.

So maybe Calipari’s leaving for Kentucky – and the pain surrounding it – was karma for firing Larry Finch at a hot dog stand? I’m willing to look at it that way.

Or maybe RC Johnson was an evil guy in his last life? Or maybe Calipari is on his way to some other lesson with karma and the reason he left when he left is a mystery. Who really cares?

Let’s not try to figure it out.

Let’s just forgive, if we can, because otherwise we might find moving on to be more difficult.

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