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9.01.2008

That Guy Starts for the Boston Celtics?


1981-82 Boston Celtics

Chris Ford had gotten used to the routine.

He would go to work at a summer camp. Maybe he'd wind up in a one-on-one with some hot shot. Maybe he'd lose. Then he'd hear, "That guy starts in the NBA?"

That was funny enough, but when he was traded away from Detroit, the line became, "That guy starts for the Celtics?"

Now, of course, we have the ultimate: "That guy starts on the world champions?"

This is the story of Chris Ford, who may very well be the UWP: Ultimate White Player. He's a 6-foot-5 guard who doesn't jump high or run very fast. Neither can he bench press the Customs House Tower. Indeed, he seldom even shoots a real jump shot.

Nonetheless, he started the final 74 games of the 1980-81 season for a team that won 62 regular-season games and he started all 17 games as the Celtics took their 14th NBA championship. He averaged 33 minutes played a game in the regular season and 29 minutes a game during the playoffs. He is, in other words, a valued member of the team.

"Me starting on this team," Ford said, "helps solidify the fact that it takes five players doing roles to have a successful team. You don't need a team of All-Stars."

His scoring totals have dropped over the past three years, reflecting his changing role on the ball club. In 1978-79 Ford was second only to Cedric Maxwell as a scoring threat; he wound up averaging a career-high 15 points a game. That figure dropped to 11.2 the folowing season, as the offense was re- directed to accommodate Larry Bird. Last season, with the addition of Robert Parish and Kevin McHale, and the subsequent emphasis on inside play, he dropped to 8.9 points a game while shooting just 44 percent from the floor.

But Ford can't be properly discussed in terms of scoring totals. All he has to do is keep people honest defensively - primarily with his renowned three-pointers - to be effective. He aids the offense with his passing and general savvy, and he helps tie down the defense with his superb off-the-ball play. He is a master of angles, and it might not be too far wrong to start thinking of Ford in terms of Don Nelson, who survived as much on guile as he did on physical skill.

Ford will be 33 in January, but returns to the Celtics exactly as he left them last May. "To me, it's like we're on a long layoff following our final game in Houston," coach Bill Fitch said. Translation: Ford starts until somebody beats him out.

"Any time you have a 33-year old player you've got to have some thoughts to a role change at some point," Fitch said. "But any changes will take place on the floor. From what I've seen, Chris is in good shape. In fact, he's ahead of the first three days of practice last year. But remember that if his role does change, it's better to go from a starter to something, than from something to nothing." (Ah, Fitchese!)

Ford has every intention of retaining his present role, however, and also of staying around Boston for a while. "I think I can play two more years after this one," he says. "Twelve years would be a good career."

It has often been said that no Celtic appreciated winning the championship more than Ford. Furthermore, no player will find it easier to motivate himself to be a repeater. Fitch, for one, believes that.

"They say the second one is the hardest," Ford said. "But I think the guys are still hungry. I know I am."

Ford is also grateful, because he knows there are not many other places in the NBA where his game would be welcome. "Oh, there may be a few other teams around who play team ball," he said, "but none others like us. I think teams have to realize that this is the way to play."

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