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Guess Who's Not Coming to Dinner?
Frank Deford
February 01, 1999
A year after being assaulted by one of his players, the Golden State Warriors' P.J. Carlesimo is the same obsessed, demanding, exuberant coach he's always been
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February 01, 1999

Guess Who's Not Coming To Dinner?

A year after being assaulted by one of his players, the Golden State Warriors' P.J. Carlesimo is the same obsessed, demanding, exuberant coach he's always been

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Oh, this is hardly to suggest that the coach's daily life is one of worldly sacrifice. Carlesimo may be alone, but he is not lonely. The hearty laughs and the tall tales and the fine red wine flow deep into every night: the rich Continental dinners, the camaraderie, Carlesimo surrounded at the table by his myriad friends from a well-traveled life—Warriors assistants, visiting coaches, old high school and college buddies and the odd celebrity pal. The women fade in and out—"Recruits," says one reject, whimsically.

"He's like Sara Lee," Jim Valvano once observed. "Nobody doesn't like P.J."

So, the horror of what happened to him only marginally exceeds the irony that, of all people, the victim was Carlesimo, the coach's son who has devoted his life, his being, so completely to his calling. "I think that's the worst," says Chris Cohan, the owner of the Warriors. A pause. "Well, at least that's the worst of it in P.J.'s mind: that he was simply embarrassed—for basketball. He, who loves the game so, who is so dedicated to his profession—he was the one who was involved in this black eye for basketball."

Linked. Ruefully, but not pitifully, Peter John Carlesimo repeats that awful word.

Peter Anthony Carlesimo, a first-generation American, was primarily a football coach, notably at the University of Scranton, and then an athletic director, at Scranton and at Fordham. P.J. was his oldest child, but there were nine to follow him. "Half-Irish, half-Italians make the best-looking children," Pete says. That's a good banquet line, but, truth be told, it's his wife of 50 years, the former Lucy Rogan of Scranton, who accounts for the looks in the family. In her mid-70s, she is perfectly gorgeous. Also, everybody in basketball knows Lucy. Even P.J.'s old girlfriends, the erstwhile recruits, stay in touch with her. Charles Barkley always screams, "Hi, Mom!" when he sees Lucy.

Growing up, P.J. did not find his large family remarkable. Both of his parents had come from families of 10 siblings—that last dutiful generation of large Catholic families—and many of their friends had children numbering around the double figures. (P.J. refers to his youngest brothers and sisters as "the bottom five," as if they were the second division of some league.)

Unashamedly Pete joined the neighborhood housewives in doing all the shopping. That made an impression on P.J. "A lot of people say they don't care what people think about them," he says. "Well, my father really doesn't care what people think about him." Lord knows where they got the time, but they had a lot of fun, Pete and Lucy. More so the love.

"You know," P.J. continues, "it's funny, but so many people seem to have had sad childhoods that I almost feel arrogant when I say that I had—I have—great parents. It colors everything I do, everything I am. Maybe there was some time when my parents did what they wanted to, for themselves, but for most of their lives they only did for us."

Wealthy from his work but with no acquisitive instincts—"He probably still keeps it all in passbook savings," Cheryl says laughing—P.J. is legendary for his generosity to his family. He remains devoted to Pete and Lucy. Rarely does he go out to dinner after a game without first calling them at home in New Jersey to report in, and they visit him regularly. In 1994, when he was offered the Portland Trail Blazers job, a continent away, Lucy had to assure him that it was all right to accept it. None of the tough guys in sports seem to find this sappy, either; P.J. is not perceived as a mama's boy but is, rather, admired as the mother's son all of us would like to be if we weren't so damned distracted and self-centered.

Says Leslie Visser, the ABC sports announcer, who was a (relatively) serious love interest of Carlesimo's years ago, "I think P.J.'s parents were such a profound influence on his life that he's scared to take a chance with a woman and get it wrong."

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