It's Not About the Money, Right, Rick?

May 1997

It has become a matter of course for anyone in sports who has just landed a huge contract to point out that it is "not about the money." They will then tell you about how the job promises to be a great challenge, an adventure, a crusade, a . . . well, you get the idea.

And so it is expected to be with Rick Pitino, who wants you to know that money alone isn't what is attracting him to Boston.

Well, if that's the way he wants it, fine. It is not about the money. Agreed.

But understand that making millions coaching college basketball is not the same as making millions coaching in the NBA. For one thing, the Celtics can offer him 3 percent ownership in the team; can the University of Kentucky do that? (OK, call UK a jock factory if you want, but even jock factories don't have shareholders and stock options. Then again, given the state of college sports these days, maybe they do.)

And then there is the staggering amount of money being talked about. Pitino's contract with Kentucky, perks included, pays him close to $ 3 million a year. A deal with the Celtics would pay him more than twice that - some $ 70 million for the life of the contract. Thus, if you consider this thing from start to finish, and the partial ownership, it's a lifetime deal: Rick Pitino, his children, their children, their children, and their children will not long for anything. So it is about the money. OK? Are we clear on that? The money is important. It would be a determining factor for Pitino.

But now that we have that out of the way, it's reasonable to believe that Pitino does have a hankering to grapple with the challenge of rebuilding a once-proud franchise that has become the NBA's laughingstock. Pitino has made many carefully phrased comments about coaching the Celtics in recent weeks, but the most telling one was delivered Saturday afternoon at the Kentucky Derby: "There's more upside (coaching the Celtics) if you're successful. For a person who would be looking for a challenge, it's a great situation."

In other words, Rick Pitino could be remembered as the man who returned the Celtics to what some would consider their rightful place as the NBA's dominant franchise. If he is successful, his name will be included among Red, Russell, Bird and the Cooz. There will be a Rick Pitino banner hanging from the rafters from the FleetCenter. Many years from now, he could be Red to a new generation of Celtics fans. That's a tempting challenge.

A lot of this has to do with power, and Pitino would be given plenty of it. The Celtics in recent seasons have been an organizational nightmare, and, as such, a number of factions have surfaced. Since it doesn't appear that a Pitino-Bird tandem is going to be in place, the possibility of a clash of egos is minimal. It's almost certain that the supremely overmatched M.L. Carr won't be used in much more than a community relations role, that all of Carr's assistant coaches will be jettisoned, that the scouting staff will be revamped, and that "general manager" Jan Volk's role will be reduced.

The question mark here is the presence of the great Red Auerbach. He remains an icon in the sports world, a sacred cow, and deservedly so. He is, face it, the greatest builder of winning teams in the history of professional sports. But Red is no longer wise to the ways of the NBA, and in future seasons he will not be a factor in major decisions being made by the Celtics.

Yet Pitino must be careful to avoid embarrassing Red, or doing anything that might appear as a sign of disrespect. In the court of public opinion, Pitino could not win anything that is perceived as a clash with Red Auerbach.

If he comes here, Rick Pitino will make the Celtics news again. They may be two or three years from being competitive again, but with Rick Pitino at the controls, we are compelled to pay attention.

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