Of course, you probably aren't surprised by this, because if there's anything we know about John Calipari, it's that his forceful personality is matched only by his ability to recruit and field teams of insanely talented freshmen All-Americans. Still, today's latest Calipari quip might be the funniest thing (and one of the most subtly cutting) the man has ever said.
You see, today is Calipari's 53rd birthday. When asked about this at his Friday media availability -- just before discussing the contents of his birthday tradition (breakfast in bed) -- Calipari responded with hilarity. From the Lexington Herald-Leader's Jerry Tipton:
Cal on 53rd birthday on Friday: "Two years got vacated, so 51."
First, the man is funny. Second, it's hard not to hear some incisive subtext baked in there, too. Calipari's past near-brushes with the long arm of the NCAA's law are no secret, of course, but Kentucky and its coach have clashed with the NCAA over even relatively minor details like the coach's all-time win totals. This summer, the NCAA sent Kentucky a strongly worded letter calling the celebration of Calipari's 500th win in February -- a total that included the wins from vacated seasons at UMass and Memphis -- "deeply troubling." Kentucky fought back a bit before eventually acquiescing. Then, at the Final Four in March, Calipari was smirkingly asked how it felt to make it to his first Final Four. He responded somewhat humorlessly then, telling the media gaggle "We’ve been here three times. Those players played those games and did what they were supposed to."
In a way, this relatively innocuous and downright funny birthday quote gets to the heart of the problematic mental gymnastics required to process the NCAA's decision to strip seasons from the record books: We know those teams existed. We remember the wins. In a way, this is no different than Calipari saying he's actually 51 when he's really 53. Those years happened. Gallons of archival Wite-Out can't change that, any more than a man can change his age.
Whether intentional or not, Calipari just turned a happy-go-lucky question about his birthday into a comedically piercing comment on the NCAA. The man has a gift.