LEXINGTON, Ky. — Does it feel like Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari is reportedly interested in or connected to an NBA job every year? That’s because he is. Every. Single. Year. No, really, we looked it up.
My first season covering Calipari and the Cats was 2011-12, the year he won his first national title, and since getting over that hump it’s been a nonstop string of rumors that he would return to the NBA. Eight times in that span, Calipari has been attached to a pro gig, and eight times, he’s strongly, quickly shot it down.
Honestly, I’d forgotten, but the first two of those rumors were about the Knicks, so we’ve come full circle with the report Thursday that Calipari was interested in becoming New York’s president — which he woke up before 5 a.m. in Egypt to deny on Twitter.
Here now, the complete history of Calipari-to-the-NBA rumors since he won it all in 2012:
Calipari to the Knicks? The latest NBA rumor involving Kentucky’s coach came with a twist: This time he was in Egypt coaching USA Basketball’s under-19 World Cup team when the report surfaced that someone contacted the Knicks on his behalf to express interest in becoming New York’s president (and maybe coach). Calipari was asleep and thus took a few hours to respond, but by 5 a.m. in Cairo, he was up and tweeting another denial: “NO ONE has contacted the Knicks on my behalf. I am the coach at Kentucky and will be for a long time! Even in Egypt I can’t escape the rumors.”
Calipari to the Nets? Hey, this one made some sense for about five minutes. In January of 2016, a flurry of reports indicated Brooklyn would make a serious run at Calipari — who happens to be a longtime friend of CEO Brett Yormark (dating to Calipari’s days coaching the New Jersey Nets in the late 1990s). How juicy! Work for a friend and redeem himself with the franchise that unceremoniously fired him from his only previous NBA head-coaching job? It took Calipari less than a day to shoot that down on Twitter. “You may have heard me say this before: I absolutely have the best coaching job in sports and I plan on being at Kentucky for a long time,” he wrote. “I am not negotiating with ANYBODY.” Sound familiar?
Calipari to the Kings? Sacramento seemed like a stretch in June of 2015, even though Yahoo reported that the two sides communicated for weeks about Calipari joining the franchise as both coach and front-office executive. Even with his beloved (if badly behaved) former star DeMarcus Cousins there at the time and another Wildcat, Willie Cauley-Stein, having just been drafted by the Kings. That is a highly dysfunctional organization, or certainly was at the time. Again, a quick denial from Calipari, this time in an official UK-issued statement: “For the 100th time, I have the best basketball coaching position in the world. I am not looking for another coaching position. At no time has [Sacramento] offered me the job. I will be at Kentucky.”
Calipari to the Pelicans? Hmmmm. The face of the New Orleans franchise is Anthony Davis, who led Calipari to his only national title in 2012, won every college award and was the No. 1 overall pick (and instant NBA star). The Pelicans also had Calipari’s former Memphis star Tyreke Evans. So when The Times-Picayune reported in May of 2015 that UK’s coach “made it known to New Orleans Pelicans officials he’s interested,” that made some sense. Alas, a Twitter denial from Calipari was almost immediate: “Even though Anthony and Tyreke are in NOLA, I have no interest in the Pelicans or any other job. I have a great job and I’m happy at UK.”
Calipari to the Lakers? Former Kentucky star Rex Chapman riled up Big Blue Nation by tweeting that rumor (declaring Cal to L.A. a #DoneDeal) hours before the Wildcats played Connecticut in the 2014 NCAA championship game. It sucked some air out of a joyful day for Kentucky, which had arrived there with a magical run and three consecutive clinching 3-pointers by Aaron Harrison. Then the Cats lost and Calipari stayed put — “I’m not going to even dignify that stuff,” he said in the postgame press conference — getting most of the band back together for an undefeated run to the Final Four in 2015.
Calipari to the Cavaliers? This, in the summer of 2014, might’ve been as close as he actually came to leaving UK for the NBA. There were reports Calipari turned down an offer from Cleveland, although he later told me it was “not as [close] as everybody thought,” and added that even if he’d known LeBron James would eventually return to the Cavs, he couldn’t leave behind that loaded 2014-15 Kentucky team full of stars who returned to school expecting to be coached by Cal. “That made it a tough deal to say, ‘I’m just going to leave these guys here,’” he told me then (when I was at The Courier-Journal). Furthermore, Calipari said Kentucky is “the job” and “I don’t have any aspirations for this to be anything but my last job.”
Calipari to the Knicks? Oh, yeah, we’d seen this one before. In November of 2013, CBS connected the dots between Calipari’s friend/basketball power broker William “World Wide Wes” Wesley and the New York Knicks. “That’s what Wes will be pushing,” an anonymous NBA executive said at the time. That never materialized, but a piece of the story — that “bidding would start at $8 million a year” — rings true, as that’s the deal Calipari has now at Kentucky. “I’m good where I am,” Calipari said in response to those first Knicks rumors. “My focus is here and I don’t get into all that, rumors and innuendo. And it won’t be the last one that’s out there.” A prophet [profit?], that Calipari.
Calipari to the Knicks? Seriously, this one is popular. In March of 2012, it was a familiar name, ESPN’s Ian Begley, the same guy who reported Thursday’s Calipari/Knicks interest, throwing him out as a New York candidate just days after the UK national title five years ago. Begley called the odds of Calipari becoming the Knicks’ coach back then “strong.” Calipari responded with a post on CoachCal.com saying, “Big Blue Nation, breathe. Relax. Calm down. Enjoy the championship. … But for those of you that need to hear it again, let me repeat: I’m not going anywhere. I have the best job in the country. Why would I leave after we just won a national title? We’re trying to catch UCLA, folks.”
* OF NOTE: Calipari got raises and extensions after many of these reports, up to his current $8 million-a-year deal through 2024.