My Rick Pitino Story

A basketball coach’s persistence has a newly retired journalist reminiscing about newsgathering in a different era.

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Of all the gym joints in all the towns in all the world, he walks into mine.

That’s how I felt last spring, when I learned that Rick Pitino had become the head basketball coach at St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y., which happens to be my alma mater. The mere thought of Mr. Pitino, 70 years old and still strolling the sidelines as I watch basketball at home, newly retired, took me back to the most bizarre moment of my 38-year career at The New York Times.

I’m referring to the first time Mr. Pitino and I crossed paths, in May of 1989, under the most unusual circumstances: at the beginning of a new day (2:30 a.m.) and the end of a long, winding driveway. A colleague and I could see Mr. Pitino through a large bay window. Clad in a bright red sweater, he was chatting on the phone, sitting on a sofa in what appeared to be his living room. The sound of car doors slamming behind us was enough to make Mr. Pitino whip his head around and rush out his front door to confront us.

“Who the hell are you? What the hell are you doing here?” I remember him asking.

To be honest, we were sort of wondering the same thing ourselves. Several hours earlier, I had just finished a long clerical shift in the Sports department at The Times when Bill Brink, the weekend editor, summoned me and a colleague to his desk.

It was late, and Bill told us he had just been on the phone with Sam Goldaper, our venerable basketball writer, who told him that Mr. Pitino, then the head coach of the New York Knicks, was about to resign and return to his first love, college basketball. It was rumored that Mr. Pitino had accepted a job offer from the fabled University of Kentucky, where he had always felt that the blue grass was greener.

Sam didn’t have Mr. Pitino’s phone number, but had given the Sports desk the address of Mr. Pitino’s home in Mount Kisco, N.Y., in the upper reaches of the Westchester County suburbs. Neither of us had a vehicle, so Bill wrote out a transportation slip, which allowed us to use one of the cars The Times then kept for reporters in the parking lot next door.

Before we left, Bill told us to try and get a quote from Mr. Pitino. Even if he wasn’t home, the reader would still know that The Times had tried to contact him.

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Source: Basketball -


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