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He was always so good, so dependable, so targeted, so moderate, that everyone would have found him to be a goody-goody pain in the ass if he hadn't also been obviously genuine. "I'll tell you this," says Visser, "if P.J. ever does get married, she's going to be the happiest woman in the world."
Carlesimo was also witty and full of fun, and no matter what he achieved, he never put on airs. Paul Westhead, one of his Golden State assistants, first met him 25 years ago, when they both coached summer ball in Puerto Rico. "On the surface it was all Primrose Lane for P.J.," Westhead says. "Life's a holiday. But you see, there's no difference to the man now, except then he was wearing sandals and no socks, and now it's Guccis and no socks."
On the court, even with the snappy clothes and the uncoachlike beard, Carlesimo is just an updated version of his father. Like Pete, P.J. runs a tight ship and tends to err on the side of severity. He is widely, and correctly, considered a disciplinarian, often loud and profane, demanding and precise in the manner of a football coach. "He's aggressive, he yells and screams," says guard Brian Shaw, who played for him at Golden State. Yet he is not considered as rough as, say, Pat Riley or Chuck Daly. "P.J.'s never insulting," says Warriors assistant Rod Higgins, who played for 13 years in the NBA. "I've had coaches who were demeaning. And P.J. just isn't."
"My father and my brother illustrate—don't they?—the great change in college sports," Cheryl says. "In one generation. Daddy had to struggle to raise a family. P.J. has financial security and fame." But mostly the differences are only those that have been imposed by the society, and the players and the games, that have changed so much around the father and the son.
"You can't separate your essence," P.J. says, "what you are, and what you've been taught. And you can't be successful as a coach if you don't have people who understand those clichés, those values of sport that my father always talked about. The sharing. The sacrifice. If your players can't buy into that, you're dead. Because it's about them. And maybe people are different now. Maybe circumstances. But not the things I heard my father say over and over. That hasn't changed."
The Carlesimo men cry a lot, for joy. Pete wept so at his own wedding that nobody could hear his blubbery "I will." At his daughters' weddings he starts sobbing long before he arrives at the church. P.J. cries just as easily. When he gave his parents a 50th-anniversary party this summer, booking a cruise ship to take hundreds of people around Manhattan, he told Cory that he would have to handle the emcee honors, inasmuch as P.J. knew he could not get through it himself without breaking down. In college P.J. would invariably cry in the locker room after his team's last game of the season. "Every year you bring a group together...for a reason, for a purpose," he says. "And each group has a different dynamic. And it's all accomplished in this tremendously competitive environment—the excitement! The energy! And now, all of a sudden, you realize this is the last time you're ever going to be together."
By contrast, Lucy, the stalwart Irish mother, is bemused by these lugubrious Italian men of hers. The family joke is that the only two times she ever cried were, first, when P.J.'s Seton Hall team lost the national championship game by a point to Michigan in 1989 and, second, when two of her grown children announced that they were coming back home to live.
Yet for all that her eldest wears his heart on his sleeve, he possesses a bifurcated character; there is a controlling, rational side of the man that rules. His father's boy he may be, but he has his mother's cool detachment. "Forget all this Italian stuff," she's told him. "You're half Irish, too."
Higgins says, "Everybody knows what an engaging guy P.J. is, but he is also so detail-oriented. It's really amazing that he can do so many things at once: practice, concern himself with his family, work with the other coaches...and, of course, arrange his dinner party for that night." It's revealing that in the two most crucial—and painful—moments of his life, Carlesimo was almost eerily contained and focused.
First: that NCAA title game. In seven years Carlesimo had taken Seton Hall, the laughingstock of the Big East, a school that had never made the NCAA tournament before he arrived, to the brink of a championship. Still, along the way, twice he had been all but fired; he had been regularly vilified, hung in effigy. But slowly he had built the team up, and now, vindicated, at the age of 39, he stood on the verge of glory.