April 30, 1988
It always has been strange to come back. Rick Carlisle laughs about these trips to Boston with the New York Knicks.
For starters, he gets to visit the house on which he's been making payments all season. Next, he visits with old friends, old teammates. Even that isn't the same.
His Celtic contemporary with whom he talks most often is center Greg Kite. Kite was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers months ago.
"Greg really likes it out there," said Carlisle last night, stretching his calves on the parquet floor of the Garden. "He's finally getting a chance to show what he can do. I went to his house for dinner when we played out there. He lives in Manhattan Beach -- can you believe that?"
Who can believe where the whims of the NBA can take you? Who could guess that Carlisle, waived by the Celtics in training camp, would return to the scene of the crime in the opening round of the playoffs? He is the only New York Knick with a championship ring. He is the only New York Knick who understands what Boston playoff basketball is all about.
"It's been interesting," he said. "When I was with the Celtics, I remember the attitudes of teams that came in here trying to beat them. They were all so hungry, so eager to play.
"But the Celtics were always ready to play at that point, too. After 82 games, you get stale. But then the playoffs come around and you know the Celtics live for the day-to-day challenge."
The day-to-day challenge on this New York club has been quite different. It is a young team prone to inconsistencies. It is a hungry team with a hungry coach, Rick Pitino, who has presented Carlisle with challenges he never considered.
"He's got so many different ideas on how to play the game," said Carlisle. "I've got four years in the NBA, and I figured at this point I wasn't going to learn a whole lot more. But I've learned so much from being on this team.
"Not that it hasn't been without some tense moments. During the bad times, Rick can be very demanding, very impatient. In the short run, it's hard to understand, but in the long run, it's for our benefit."
To compare Pitino with K.C. Jones, Carlisle said, is impossible. "I can't think of two further opposites," he said. "Yet both are probably perfect for their situation."
What is Rick Carlisle's situation? The biggest benefit, continued life in the NBA, has made his year with the Knicks valuable.
Pitino rescued him from the Albany Patroons of the Continental Basketball Association, where he was averaging 17.3 points an outing. After pouring in a career-high 21 in his Knick debut, Carlisle has appeared in just 25 games. He is not an integral part of the master plan. In fact, his role from team to team hasn't changed much.
"I'm really happy on this team," he said. "I'm from New York State, and I was a Knicks fan way back. All I wanted to do this year was stay in the league."
The league has changed since the season started, and the team he once knew as the Boston Celtics has taken on a new look. Gone are Kite, Darren Daye, Conner Henry, Jerry Sichting. The new guys -- Dirk Minniefield, Artis Gilmore, Reggie Lewis, Brad Lohaus, Mark Acres -- glance at Rick Carlisle with mild recognition.
You can't go back, not even less than a year later, and expect it to be the same.
"I watch (the Celtics) a lot on television," Carlisle said. "One thing that hasn't changed is the emphasis. Push the ball up and go to the strength. It's been that way for decades."
For decades, the Celtics have swept aside upstart clubs like the New York Knicks without much thought. Maybe Patrick Ewing and Mark Jackson don't completely understand how it's done, but Rick Carlisle, championship ring in tow, realizes it all too well.
"I've seen the finished product," he said. "It's something you don't ever forget."