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The Sins of the Coach

Oliva’s friend said he was probably at the nineteenth hole, which is where I found him, drinking beers with some golfing buddies. I waited outside the clubhouse and approached him after he left. For a moment, Oliva was taken aback. “How did you find me?” he asked. But then he agreed to talk. “C’mon, follow me,” he said, and he got in his Hyundai to drive back to his condo.

Sitting at a small table covered with Social Security paperwork, Oliva denied the allegations against him. He didn’t molest Jimmy Carlino or Mark, he said, never took anyone to prostitutes, and didn’t ask Albano to lie. “I think it’s a situation where they’re trying to get money from me through a lawsuit,” he said. “I’m devastated by [Carlino]. Crushed.” But his protests had a pro forma quality to them, as if he didn’t expect anyone to believe him. I asked him whether, as people had told me, he was going to plead guilty. “I still haven’t decided what I’m going to do,” he said. But if he wasn’t guilty, why would he even consider a plea deal? “I’m not even considering it,” he said. “I’m considering it, but I’m not—I don’t want to discuss that.” Was there anything he especially wanted to say for this article? He was quiet for a time. “I just want to end my life here or whatever,” he said eventually. “My life is, you know, I’m not coaching, I’m not dealing with kids no more, I’m not teaching, I’m retired. I’m old now, and what do I got? Ten years left to live?”

The video Oliva wanted to watch was of the night in 1999 when he was inducted into Christ the King’s hall of fame. “You had to have a presenter, and my presenter was Carlino,” he said. “He was in Florida. He came up just to do this for me.” He fumbles with the remote control, and eventually the TV lights up with a blurry picture of the Christ the King cafeteria, where a handsome young man in a tan suit is giving a speech. “Bob Oliva is not about basketball or baseball or sports. He’s about people,” Carlino says. And “if there were more Bob Olivas out there, we wouldn’t be having the problems we’re having today with the schools.” Then: “The greatest man I’ve ever known, I’ll ever know, my godfather, Bob Oliva.”

Oliva seems buoyed by the video, as if the things Carlino said about him a dozen years ago could somehow erase the accusations he’s facing. He reminisces about the former players who have stood by him and shows me a recent text message from the Villanova coach Jay Wright: “Bobby O., my assistant told me you were well. Glad to hear that. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.” He talks about his favorite players and rattles off his personal top five. He brags about his successor and former player, Joe Arbitello, who steered Christ the King to a state title in 2010. “He’s like my son. I love him. I talk to him two times a week.”

It’s dark out now, and it’s time for me to go. “I’m glad you came,” Oliva says. “I really am.”

Before I leave, though, Oliva has one more thing to tell me. “You know, I’m not a bad guy,” he says. “I mean, forget this. I’m not. I’m a good person, everyone will tell you that, you know? One technical foul in 46 years. I didn’t even yell at the refs.”