Grampa Celtic Weighs in on the Dawn of the Pitino Era
October 31, 1987
When I first began covering the Celtics, the top price ticket at the Garden was $6. The Celtics needed a weekly luncheon for the press at the Lenox in order to make sure they got something in the paper
Why the Lenox? Because Red Auerbach lived there; that's why. And when the hotel ownership arbitrarily upped his rent after he had lived there for 19 years, he moved out, taking the luncheons with him.
The top price ticket at the Fleece is now $77, and we won't even talk about the club seats or the luxury boxes. There is no further need for the luncheon. And the new coach/president doesn't live in the Lenox. He lives in what is being described as the 51st state out there in Sherborn.
The players didn't make a great deal of money, and they were so cost-conscious they would park their cars at the parking lot of the Hilton and walk to the terminal in order to save a few bucks on parking when they went out of town. They carried their own luggage and they checked themselves in at the counter.
Today's minimum salary is $272,250. They charter everywhere, and they do it out of Hanscom Field. They have minimal contact with the outside world.
It is a different world.
But for the Boston Celtics there is one similarity between those innocent days of yore and the rat-a-tat, computer-driven, cellular phone society we now live in. In those days the Celtics were a 100 percent reflection of one man, and that remains the case today. Just substitute the name "Rick Pitino" for "Red Auerbach."
The Boston Celtics represent the vision and expertise of one man. This is convenient, because if things don't work out, we will at least know whom to blame.
But, of course, they are going to work out -- eventually.
Rick Pitino is not in the Failure business. He is in the Success business. He has had four head coaching jobs in his life and in each case he inherited a bad situation and made it substantially better. Repeat: 4 for 4. Why is there any reason to believe he won't make it 5 for 5?
He cannot predict a championship, and I am not going to predict one for him. Some day in the (hopefully) not-too-distant future, Michael Jordan will play his last game. Then, and only then, will there be an NBA championship available. With far too many teams involved, and given the endless variables that will govern the identity of the first few post-Michael champions, there is no way an organization can promise a championship to its constituency.
A championship is everyone's goal, but in modern American sport "success" does not necessarily involve winning a championship. Once Michael goes, the single most significant determinant in selecting a new champion will, I am sure, be luck.
The game plan for a 15-67 team such as the Boston Celtics is as follows: first become competitive, then get in the playoffs, next worm your way into the handful of legitimate contenders and then, well, then just see what happens in May and June.
If you are interested in the fortunes of the 1997-98 Boston Celtics, the two words to live by are 1. Entertainment, and 2. Improvement. If you find the first Pitino team to be entertaining, then it will, by definition, be competitive. And the idea that this team will not be far better in April than it is now is, frankly, inconceivable.
Anyone who asks for anything more than entertainment and improvement from this team is foolish and ignorant.
Oh, and, um, don't get too attached to people. In fact, if you've got a program from last night's opener with the Bulls, save it. By Game 82 it might be good for a chuckle.
They're all available. Yes, even Antoine Walker. Trading him is far-fetched, but if what Pitino refers to as a "blockbuster" deal comes along, Antoine Walker could go. Nobody is sacred.
But already you can see what Pitino is doing. At first I figured it was simple and straightforward, that he was stocking up on as many young ath-a-letes as he could find. But then Dee Brown gently corrected me.
"Not so much `athletes,' " explains Brown, "as `Pitino-style players.' You have to be careful with that word, athlete. You can be athletic in style, but not have the mental capability to play the style he wants. One thing he taught us from the beginning of camp was that it is much easier to play slow than to play fast. In his style you've got to be able to think while you're on the move, but you can't be thinking too much or else you'll be taking yourself out of the game.
"I would define a `Pitino-style player' as `someone who is mentally capable of playing fast.' "
If you keep this in mind, you will understand why there will be ugly moments and ugly games and why no one can predict when this team will get in sync. But it will happen.
"Once they get it," assures Indiana's Mark Jackson, a one-time 18th pick in the first round who became Rookie of the Year under Pitino, "it is a style they will love to play. There is no question in my mind that he will out-work everybody. Success will be just a matter of time. I think he's the best coach in the game. And one thing I will guarantee you: they are going to compete every night."
It is now Rick's World. He's got the contract. He's got the time. He's got the clout. He's got the brain. And he's got the will.
He just doesn't have the luncheon.
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