- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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It’s almost time for high school seniors to start filling out their college applications, on which they’ll answer essay questions like the standard -- if you could invite four people, living or dead, to dinner, who would it be and why? That got us to thinking. What if we could host a hoops-centric dinner party? Who would make our guest list?
This week, each of our writers will answer that question. We encourage you to do the same via Twitter using #collegehoopsdinner.
Location: Alinea in Chicago. I lived in Chicago for six years, and while I found a variety of ways to spend too much money on food, I never managed to put in the reserve-months-in-advance effort required to splurge at one of the world's most renowned restaurants. What better excuse than this? As a bonus, the avant garde "food" and exacting presentation would surely force my dinner companions out of their respective comfort zones. A round of taffy helium balloons for the table, please.
John Calipari: The first invitee needs no introduction and only minimal explanation. No one in college basketball is as fascinating. There's also no one more exacting in his public persona. Every utterance is on message. It would be fun to get behind the Great Wall of Brand for an evening, to pick Calipari's brain through 22 courses of strange food. I'm not sure if it's even possible, but it would be fun.
Bob Knight: I have a deep fondness for "Midnight in Paris," Woody Allen's 2011 treatise on the pleasures and pitfalls of nostalgia. In the film, Owen Wilson's Allen stand-in "Gil" finds himself transported by some magical force to 1920s-era Paris, where he meets Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali, etc. If this idealized dinner is my "Midnight in Paris," the General is my Papa -- boisterous, irascible, in open intellectual disagreement with everyone around him. Putting him and Calipari at the same table might be a recipe for angry glares and awkward silence. Or it could lead to passionate discussion about the game and the culture that surrounds it.
James Naismith: Since this group can be anyone alive or dead, and I've already used my "Midnight in Paris" analogy quota, I think it would be fascinating to transport Naismith to the modern day and plant him in front of two coaches who symbolize distinctly different swaths of what his modest creation eventually became. This is a man who once told his protege Phog Allen that basketball couldn't be coached, only played. What would he think of what the game has become? What would he think about Knight's militaristic style -- one that became a template for thousands of coaches in the latter half of the 20th century? What would he think of Calipari, who is always five years ahead of everyone else? What would be more confusing: Modern basketball or taffy helium balloons?
Bill Raftery: This is as easy as these selections get. There isn't a table in America he wouldn't make better. Industry tales of Raftery-led dinners will reverberate through time. His legend is already secure. His services are especially required for this outing, though. What this table needs, amid all the time travel and heady verbal sparring, is an irrepressibly funny Raftery enjoying a beverage and poking fun at everyone for taking themselves so seriously. Presumably he'd make fun of whatever Naismith was wearing before saying "Ooh, just having fun with ya, Jimmy!" If heaven is real, it looks a little bit like this.