In Carlesimo's first year coaching in the NBA, his star was Portland's Clyde Drexler, who is now a coach, at the University of Houston. Drexler says, "I'd be proud if I could be the same kind of coach as P.J. He has a way of commanding respect. And he's basically just a real good guy. The first time I met him was when he was an assistant [to Daly] on the Dream Team. I liked him right away. Everybody did. Believe me, what happened with Sprewell had nothing to do with what sort of a person P.J. is."
After the "unfortunate incident," as Carlesimo refers to it whenever he must, as the Warriors traveled to play around the league, a number of the top stars—including Karl Malone, Shaquille O'Neal and Michael Jordan—went out of their way to stroll up to Carlesimo before games, to chat and laugh with him, lending him their goodwill, making a sort of tacit public endorsement.
Still, the stain on his character remains, and for all his bonhomie, for all that he puts on the blinders and keeps up the stolid front, people close to Carlesimo are not gulled. They worry about him. Staak, his assistant and friend, says, "I'm sure P.J.'s been hurt much more by the Spre situation than he's ever let on. To anyone." Carlesimo periodically makes the pragmatic point that it's been much easier for him to suffer this indignity alone than it would have been if he had been married, with a wife's feelings to worry about. But this time, surely, it must have been the other way around, harder without anyone at home to love and comfort him. This time he must have been alone and lonely alike.
Now, at least, there's a new season, sullied and truncated though it may be. The Warriors still don't have enough good players, but at least Sprewell is gone for good, traded to New York. Carlesimo can start anew. The Jesuits' motto at Scranton Prep was Ad altiora nautus. "I still remember that," Carlesimo says. "It means, basically, 'born for better things.' " It seems apt right now.
He strokes his beard. Oddly, for a guy with a beard, he doesn't do much beard-stroking. "You know," he says, "like in everything, there's a best and a worst. But the thing is, those two extremes are so close in coaching. The worst is that your livelihood depends on other people. The best is that your existence is so enriched by your relationships with those same people."
He pauses, pondering it all. "I still think this is a good job," he declares. Ultimately, what coaching is for him is a beautiful, intelligent bitch of a life.
The phone rings. It's all set. His dinner for a party of 10 is on for 8:30.