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Tuesday, May 31, 2011
After charity efforts, Calipari takes to Twitter

By Eamonn Brennan

If you're a Kentucky fan, you like John Calipari. If you're not, you don't.

Supposedly, that's the line of demarcation when it comes to Coach Cal. You're either on board in the Big Blue Nation or you're sitting somewhere outside it, wondering why a guy who had two Final Fours vacated on his watch -- though never directly implicated in either instance at UMass or Memphis -- has fans that seem so offended whenever his success is questioned.

There's little room for nuance in this configuration. But a lack of nuance always betrays some measure of misunderstanding. In Calipari's case, what Basketball Prospectus writer Kevin Pelton once termed Calipari's "Calipari-ness" -- his outsized media presence and unpopularity among many in college hoops off the floor -- tends to overshadow his immense coaching ability on the floor.

John Calipari
John Calipari's work and donations to generous causes are often overshadowed by his outsized media presence.
It also overshadows stuff like this: On May 20 at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, Fla., Calipari was honored at the Sixth Annual Dick Vitale Gala, benefiting the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research. Brett McMurphy of CBS was there to see Calipari, along with North Carolina coach Roy Williams and tennis coach Nick Bollettieri, raise $1.5 million for pediatric cancer research in a single evening. As host, Vitale regaled the audience with a story about Calipari's dependable generosity:
"John, I need help," Vitale told him. "I need to get 20 guys together real quick in about three days and I want to raise a million dollars [for cancer research]. He said 'Well, what's the problem? What do you need?' I said 'I need 20 guys to throw in 50 G's a pop.' He said 'I'll throw in my 50 [thousand].' We got the million so quick. It was unbelievable. "John gets a bigger, bigger kick out of making people smile and being good to people."

This isn't the first time fans have gotten a chance to see Calipari's charitable side. In 2010, Calipari donated $1 million to Memphis charity Street Ministries, an organization devoted to helping underprivileged Memphis youth. In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, Calipari organized the "Hoops for Haiti" telethon in Kentucky, which raised more than $1 million for the relief efforts on the island and earned plaudits from none other than President Obama.

Those efforts didn't go unnoticed by anyone -- it's hard not to hear about a call from the president, after all -- but Calipari's traditional generosity to cancer-related fundraising efforts has probably flown under the radar a bit.

Apparently, Calipari believes his efforts deserve more recognition. Perhaps that explains the coach's tweets Monday night, in which he sarcastically chided some sort of Twitter "triumvirate" for its "radio silence" any time "there are positive stories about UK." Naturally, Calipari's tweets drew a fair amount of response, and today he issued something of a correction, saying that "radio silence has nothing to do with media coverage, it's solely about response or lack of within the twittersphere."

It's a little difficult to make out exactly what Calipari means by this, even for those who cover the Wildcats year-round. (The Louisville Courier-Journal's Eric Crawford has a tremendous explanation here.) More than anything, I'd argue the tweets are yet another case of the Calipari we see so often -- the brash, controversial, us-against-the-world media figure people love to hate acting besieged for the sake of rallying the hometown fans -- overshadowing the Calipari people probably don't see often enough, the guy who donates millions to generous causes, including Vitale's heroic efforts in Jimmy V's memory.

Apparently, one Cal can't exist without the other. That might be the central paradox of the UK coach's success -- no good deed comes without some sort of media complaint attached -- but it's also kind of a shame. At the end of the day, shouldn't the good deeds simply stand for themselves?