Bashing Jim Boeheim was in vogue in the wake of the Syracuse coach’s outburst near the end of a 66-60 loss at Duke on Saturday night. Boeheim was given two technicals and ejected after running onto the court to protest a charge call, with his Orange down two points and 11 seconds remaining.
I’m on the opposite side of the pompous indignation that could be found with the national basketball media on Monday. I enjoyed seeing a 69-year-old coach with the energy to get that worked up over getting homered in his first ACC road game at Duke.
Plus, in the big picture, the game meant nothing, what with both Syracuse and Duke looking at 1 or 2 seeds when the NCAA field is announced next month.
Admittedly, this kind view of Boeheim’s behavior is based on a fondness for the old coach, which can be traced to his media availability on March 31, 1996. That was the day before his Orange would lose to Rick Pitino’s Kentucky Wildcats in the national championship game.
I still consider the next day's column to be a gift from Boeheim. Here’s the bulk of the piece that appeared in the Star Tribune on April 1, 1996:
COACH RAY DANFORTH had left Syracuse for Tulane in 1976 and his assistant, Jim Boeheim, replaced him. Boeheim had been impressed by Rick Pitino, a young coach from New York, working in summer camps.
"I had two things I wanted to do right away -- recruit Roosevelt Bowie and hire Rick Pitino as an assistant," Boeheim said.
Boeheim was making a trip to New York City to recruit Bowie. He contacted a friend and said he wanted to talk to Pitino while in the city.
"The mutual friend told me it was Pitino's wedding day, but he also gave me the name of the hotel and the room number," Boeheim said. "The Americana. That was a long time ago. How did I remember
Pitino confirmed the location - "It's now the New York Sheraton, I believe" - and then said: "Literally, I had just carried my bride across the threshold and put her on the bed. The phone rang. There was this whiney voice on the other end. Jim identified himself and said he had to talk to me.
"This was an Irish Catholic girl I had married, making this a very important moment in my life. Jim insisted he had to talk to me. I was with my bride … I told him, `I can't do it.' "
Boeheim managed to lure Pitino from the wedding suite. "I kept calling my wife, saying, `I'll be up in a few minutes,’ ‘’ Pitino said. "Jim thought it was a negotiating tactic. The original offer was $14,000. By the time I said yes, it was $17,500.’’
One further problem for Joanne Pitino: Her honeymoon was canceled so that Pitino could start recruiting Louis Orr, while Boeheim continued his pursuit of Bowie.
"He moved my wife in with the three guys he lived with in Syracuse," Pitino said. "There was `1A,' a harness handicapper, and a bartender, and a coach, who was the worst derelict of the
Bottom line: Boeheim signed Bowie. Pitino signed Orr. Syracuse went 26-4 and has stayed a national powerhouse.
Through 20 seasons at Syracuse, Boeheim's image has been that of a dour coach never able to get the best from exquisite talent.
Sunday, Boeheim spent more than an hour in a mass interview in a New York hotel ballroom. There was much laughter during this exchange of questions and answers.
Boeheim was reminded that nine years earlier, when Syracuse was getting ready to play Indiana for the national championship, the Sunday news conference ritual was conducted in a humorless, testy
"That's a fair observation," Boeheim said. "I do have a sense of humor. Maybe I show it more now. I still can go the other way.’’
Boeheim even has come to understand his reputation as a complainer. "I've watched tapes that showed me on the sideline and I do look like a whiner," Boeheim said. " … People say I'm not even happy when we win.
“It's true. I don't look back on the wins, only the losses. I'm unhappy when we lose. I
hate to lose, at anything."
How much does Boeheim hate it? He still has not watched a tape of the 1987 title game, when Syracuse lost on a late shot by Indiana's Keith Smart. "Hurts too much," Boeheim said.
As for whining in defeat, Ben Schwartzwalder -- the legendary, now-deceased Syracuse football coach - brought this flaw to Boeheim's attention 30 years ago on a Syracuse golf course.
"I was a young assistant with $2 in my pocket," Boeheim said. "Ben took me to his course across the street from his home. I was a 1-handicap at the time. Ben said, `I'm a 21.’
” I started off eagle, eagle, par, birdie, and I was 1-down. True story. I said to him after four holes, `I don't think I can beat you.' Ben looked at me and said, `Stop crying.' "
And what happened when Boeheim stopped crying? "He killed me," Boeheim said. "Threw a smooth 79 at me."