October 12, 1980
The job of the 11th man on a professional basketball team is a simple one. In exchange for a seven-month, all-expenses-paid vacation tour of the continental United States, a young man agrees to (a) sacrifice his body in practice and (b) keep his mouth shut. Eleventh men seldom contribute directly to the winning of ballgames; rather, they help prevent the loss of games by radiating good karma.
Bill Fitch couldn't have gone wrong with any of his final three candidates for the role of No. 11. Ronnie Perry, Wayne Kreklow and Don Newman are all truly nice people with an understanding of the job requirement. Each had at least one physical asset that conceivably would have been important in the unlikely event he would be needed. Perry could shoot and handle the ball well enough to get a team into its offense. Kreklow could really shoot. Newman, built like Ronnie Lee, could defend in a physical, professional manner. Each also had a major failing. Perry could be faster, as is well known. Kreklow could display more poise in games. Newman could improve his shooting 25 percent and still remind people of the Early Chaney.
If Bill Fitch really had thought Newman could play in the NBA, he would have played him more than the 23 minutes he did during the exhibitions. So much for him. The choice of Kreklow over Perry is an interesting one, inasmuch as Perry played 65 more minutes in the exhibitions and enjoyed the admiration of many veteran players. The Fitch claim that Perry suffered due to an inability to play "baseline-to-baseline defense" doesn't wash because only one other Celtic guard in the last five years (Gerald Henderson) can do that and because, over the course of the big 82, the situation arises approximately half a dozen times, and never for No. 11.
Did Perry lose out because, in what the coach perceived to be a pick-'em situation, he figured that, well, one kid can be in Comiskey Park in two years and the other can be home in Neenah, Wis.? Did he lose out because the coach imagined crowds of 15,000 chanting for the local kid and members of the media campaigning for the neighborhood Jack Armstrong to be given a chance? We'll never know. And, incidentally, if those thoughts did cross the coach's mind, can you blame him for going the way he did?
The question always was: Can Ronnie Perry play with the big boys, or was he simply too small and too slow to compete in the NBA? The unequivocal answer is that Perry can play. There will be worse players than him drawing NBA paychecks this season.
Meanwhile, don't take out any feelings of bitterness on Kreklow, who is to be admired for working his fanny off in the Continental League and during the summer after almost making the team last year. Worse people have worn the Celtics' uniform, and recently, too. I can think of no better endorsement for Wayne Kreklow, the person, than to say that Ronnie Perry considers him to be a good friend.
Dave Cowens says he "won't cause any ripples" if the Celtics decide to retire his famed No. 18 but that he would like it better if somebody he admired wore it. He even went so far as to anoint his successor prior to his retirement. "I asked Kevin McHale one day in practice if he would like to switch jerseys," Cowens explained, "but he said he couldn't do that. I just figured that I'd get more enjoyment, and have more memories, watching somebody keep the number alive than looking at it in the rafters. But I'll do what they'd like." . . . Still available as free agents are Gus Williams, Ricky Sobers, Larry Wright and Bill Willoughby. The latter recently flunked a Nets' physical. Chicago is said to be considering re-signing Sobers to alleviate a potential backcourt problem should Ronnie Lester's knee continue to act up. Williams, of course, is the big fish. Howard Slusher has been shopping him around, but most observers feel that Seattle owner Sam Schulman will break down and give Williams what he wants. The Sonics, meanwhile, are starting a Paul Westphal-Vinnie Johnson backcourt, with Fred Brown and rookie Bill Hanzlik ("The only Sonic guard with a floorburn," says one pundit) in reserve. Johnson actually led the club in offensive rebounding during the exhibitions. Lenny Wilkens is assuming that Jack Sikma's 25-percent marksmanship during the practice games was an aberration and not an indication that his center has embraced Kim Hughes as a role model.
Asked if he ever will get fat, John Havlicek replied, "Never. I watch what I eat, and I do the Royal Canadian Air Force exercises every morning. Anybody can find 11 minutes a day to do them." . . . Tiny Archibald will not get the $400,000 he received last year, but he will take home a lot more money with his all-cash stipend this season since so much of the seven-year contract he signed with Kansas City was deferred . . . Bay Area folk are agog over the rebounding of Warrior rookie forward Lawrence Smith, a wiry 6-foot-7 leaper from Alcorn State. 'Tis said he has the Silas-Cowens gift of taking up a great deal of air space when he elevates. The question is why he lasted until the leadoff spot in the second round of the draft after having been touted as a sure member of the Top Twelve. "Some people got down on him because he didn't play that well in Hawaii," contends Phoenix GM Jerry Colangelo. "Also, every year there is one player who slips through the first round when he isn't supposed to. Smith was this year's Designated Slipee.' We loved him in Phoenix. I tried everything I could think of to trade up to the 10th spot in the draft (Phoenix didn't go to bat until No. 42, deep in the second round) in order to get him, but I couldn't do it." . . . Golden State will keep the astounding number of five rookies; center Joe Barry Carroll (1), forward- center Ricky Brown (1), Smith (2), guard Lorenzo Romar (7) and guard Billy Reid (9). There was a battle raging between Romar and the frequently injured former Houston guard, Rudy White, for the final guard spot. But White stayed with form and was placed on the injured list with a lower back problem.
Sorry, girls, but Cedric Maxwell was sporting a "Happiness Is Being Single" last week . . . Brashest Rookie Award goes to Atlanta's Don Collins, who declared that "I'd like to put Atlanta on the map" after signing with the Hawks.
Apparently news of Atlanta's 50 wins and Central Division title last season didn't reach Pullman, Wash., where young Collins was ensconced . . . Don't forget about Greg Kelser, who averaged 18 points per game over the final 20 Piston affairs last season . . . Tom Heinsohn delivered a four-star oration at the annual Framingham B'Nai B'rith Sports Lodge Celtics' Tap-off banquet on Wednesday.
Seldom does a star athlete who has lived through a memorable athletic experience express it as eloquently as Heinsohn did. He told the 1980-81 Celtics exactly what it means to be a Celtic. . . How You Know Times Have Changed Dept.: On the morning Perry was cut, a Worcester man called the Celtics and said he would order 250 season tickets if Perry made the team. They'll sell 'em anyway, but having the interest wouldn't have hurt . . . Stay loose, Rich Neiman.