There was something in the air on Friday, and it had nothing to do with airplanes or fireworks. There was something up with Louisville’s biggest celebrity.
We got a call suggesting an absurd story — Rick Pitino was the subject of an extortion threat from the estranged wife of his equipment manager. This was the culmination of a long-brewing story, one that Pitino had reported to the FBI weeks ago. But what propelled it into the mainstream media Saturday was the woman’s own doing.
On Saturday, Pitino issued a pre-emptive strike. Once he learned Sypher was shopping the story, he put out a statement saying he was the target of an extortion attempt.
She had taped an interview with Fox41 and called around to other stations. Fox41 decided it wouldn’t air its interview. Still, it was the only station with video footage of Karen Sypher, and on the air Sunday Bennett Haeberle made clear to viewers that the station was leading the way on coverage. It used the footage in B-roll for its reporting of the issue.
Other media picked up a photo of Sypher from last year’s Derby.
We’re going on rumor here, but Sypher claims to have something damaging to Pitino. You can imagine what that is. She needed some money and went to Pitino, threatening to make it a media story if the well-paid coach didn’t fork over some cash. Pitino didn’t, and Sypher started calling the media.
The station, or anyone else, is not making her claims public. There’s no public records of any charges. They can’t be substantiated, and no one wants to give some crazy woman a chance to make good on her threats to extort money from the coach. Everyone in town’s heard rumors about the Rick’s private life, but no one is going to air anything without substantial proof.
Fox41 and others who have heard them aren’t allowing Sypher the media launching pad that she wants. Interestingly, she didn’t call the C-J. Apparently Sypher just wants to be on TV.
Her attorney, Thomas Clay, first tried the tactic of telling WHAS-TV that he represented the woman, unnamed in Pitino’s statement, making the charges. But then the station told him they already had her I.D.’d, and he didn’t deny it was her. And in a round of Sunday interviews said he expects his client, whom he’s representing in her divorce case, could be charged with a crime.
By Sunday, an embarrassed Tim Sypher put out a statement, expressing well-placed concern about their daughter and four stepsons. It must be a nasty divorce case.
The story has exploded, of course, in the media, making it to national outlets. At the C-J, comments are being deleted due to vulgarity and the nature of the personal attacks. The paper’s front page, devoted mainly to celebrating Thunder, gave top billing to Pitino.
For Pitino, it may just be the price of fame. Celebrities must deal with all sorts of hangers-on and nutjobs. Karen Cypher got the idea that she could get some of Pitino’s money by threatening to go to the media. Wisely, he didn’t go for it.