Countless fans have wished to see Rick Pitino’s demise since he became the University of Louisville head coach in 2001. Now that his day of reckoning has finally arrived, The Big Blue Nation will miss Rick Pitino.
It only took three years for the former Knicks coach to become the most beloved man in Kentucky. Pitino reigned supreme across the Commonwealth in the 90s, creating chaos on the court with uptempo offense and full-court press defense. Off the court, the sharp-dressed New York Italian used his charisma and wit to charm the Big Blue Nation like never before, but it was not meant to be.
Fans were sad to see Pitino leave Lexington to coach the Boston Celtics. He returned to the Commonwealth in 2001 a traitor.
Born in 1991, I have a few fleeting memories of the championships in the 90s, but my first memory of Kentucky basketball is hating Rick Pitino. He was a traitor. How could somebody coach UofL after winning a National Championship at UK? It was inconceivable, unfathomable, impossible for my ten-year old brain to comprehend.
Pitino’s plunge into the dark side transformed him into the Big Blue Nation’s greatest villain. At first, we feared he would replicate his UK success at UofL. Instead, he became the rivalry’s punching bag.
A nuisance that beat Kentucky a few times early in the rebuilding process (with one ironically thanks to another former Wildcat, Marvin Stone), Pitino did not reach ultimate villain status until his heir apparent arrived at Kentucky.
John Calipari is beloved by the BBN for many reasons. One reason, and maybe the most important reason, is that he is a younger, better Rick Pitino. Charismatic characters with NBA pasts in the northeast, Rick used a press to win over the fans and rebuild the Kentucky basketball program, while Cal did it with the best talent in America. The unspoken shared disdain for one another made the rivalry better than ever. As Cal beat Pitino over and over and over and over and over again, Kentucky fans never had more fun.
With Calipari as Pitino’s counterpart just 80 miles west, it forced Rick to become an animated UK villain. He lied with hilarious hyperboles on a regular basis (Mr personal favorite: “Mike Marra is the best shooter I’ve ever coached”). A hypocrite who wore a stupid white suit, got a tattoo on his disgusting old man back and flipped off UK fans after a loss, Kentucky fans didn’t need anymore ammunition, but he gave them more. Fifteen seconds with Karen Sypher and parties with Katina Powell made him a permanent punchline across the Big Blue Nation.
That is why today is a sad day across the Big Blue Nation. Pitino was easy to hate because he used to coach at Kentucky. Pitino was a punchline because he was surrounded by (premature) sex scandals. The BBN has lost their favorite punching bag and Kentucky’s ultimate villain.
The rivalry will never be the same.