9.04.2008

Exuberant Carr Still Rehabbing Injury

1981-82 Boston Celtics

Of all the sights and sounds emanating from Hellenic College these days, none are more encouraging than those of M.L. Carr racing around and offering encouragement to his teammates.

Aside from a few key playoff contributions, the Boston Celtics got along without Carr last season. He missed 41 regular-season games after sustaining a broken foot on Oct. 25, and he was never able to regain his preinjury form. M.L. is now setting out to make himself an indispensable member of the 1981-82 Celtics .

"My goal," he says, "is to come back where I was before the injury. Even though I did make some contributions last year, I never got into 100 percent physical condition. There just wasn't a chance. Bill Fitch was getting the team ready for games, and there wasn't an opportunity for me to get the kind of time I would have needed."

Physical skill aside, M.L. Carr always adds something to a ballclub. Specifically, Carr instills a little joie de vivre. "It's always the X-factor with M.L.," points out Fitch. "If he didn't have that, he probably would have stayed in Israel (he played for a team in Tel Aviv prior to joining the ABA Spirits of St. Louis in 1975). Sure, you've got to have some talent, but the difference with M.L. is that he does get up for funerals and jump out of bed at 110 percent of his top speed."

But, as animated as Carr is in general, his exuberance level is still connected with his ability to perform, since no NBA player gets paid solely for his cheerleading potential. Thus the significance of his present demeanor: he looks good and appears to be capable of making significant on-court contributions to the club this year.

Fitch foresees a definite swingman role for the 29-year-old Carr. "He'll play both positions (guard and forward)," Fitch explains. "He's a competitor, and he's an old head. If anything happened to a front-line player, at guard or forward, he could make the adjustment during the Star Spangled Banner' and play."

The 6-5 Carr claims he isn't concerned about playing time, per se, only about being a valued member of the cast. "I'm not here worrying about being a starter, or worrying about how many minutes I play. I've played as many as 40 minutes a game in Detroit. I'm no longer concerned about that. I want quality time. By that, I mean that when the situation calls for my skills, I want to be out there, whether it's on offense or defense. If we're playing Julius (Erving) and he's going one-on-one, I'd like to say, Give me Julius.' If we need a steal, I'd like to be out there. It's the same on offense. I've never been afraid to take a big shot or take big free throws."

For all his smiling public image, Carr is known within the trade as something else; namely, a killer. "He's a hitter," smiles Fitch, as if discussing, say, Steve Nelson or Jack Lambert. Indeed, there are those in the NBA community who feel that lovable M.L. actually borders on being a dirty player. At any rate, his is not a noncontact style of play, and for that reason training camp is a particularly sticky time of the year. It may not exactly come as a shock to learn that some players don't enjoy getting belted by a teammate.

"I am a physical player," Carr admits, "and I do worry about how my style will affect my teammates. I need to get psyched up before coming to camp in order to play my style. I like to laugh and joke on the sidelines, but when I get on the 94' (the court is 94 feet long) it's all business. I can only hope my teammates understand."

The fans usually do. Carr has been a hit, on and off the court, since joining the Celtics in the summer of 1979 after a three-year career in Detroit. No Celtic has been more visible, charitably or commercially, than Carr. "Coming here to Boston is the best thing that could have happened to me," Carr claims. "Our reception is far better than anything (wife) Sylvia and I could ever have expected. My postcareer life will always be here."

Meanwhile, Carr is trying to establish a niche on a championship team. "I just want to be the catalyst, the terror," he says. "I want to cause destruction at both ends of the floor. I want to be the up-tempo guy, whenever called on. I want guys on the other bench saying, Uh-oh, here he comes again.'

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