Gavitt was the middle man in Pitino's break

May 8, 1997

Paul Gaston deserves the thanks of every Celtics fan for bringing in Rick Pitino. That is a given.

But there was another man involved in the deal, and without him, well, there is every likelihood Rick Pitino would today be out selling books somewhere in Kentucky, as opposed to being formally introduced as the coach and chief of basketball operations of the Boston Celtics.

Simply put: no Dave Gavitt, no Rick Pitino.

Dave Gavitt? Wasn't he swept out in the tide three years ago? Doesn't he have some nice cushy job with the NCAA? Sure, he's officially listed on the Celtics' masthead as a member of the board of directors (meetings held once every 10 years or so, whether they need one or not), but what does that have to do with anything, really?

This wasn't a matter of titles. It was a matter of the heart. Dave Gavitt came to the aid of Paul Gaston because Dave Gavitt, whatever his personal experience during those rocky five years as the team's day-to-day Big Cheese, loves the entity known as the Boston Celtics, and because he genuinely likes Paul Gaston.

"I'm no different than anyone else in New England," says Gavitt. "I grew up as a Celtics fan and I want to see them succeed."

What Gavitt did was put Pitino and Larry Bird together in the first place and then hold Pitino's hand through the entire process. Gavitt guided Pitino through the ins and outs of the deal, assuring him that Gaston was someone he could trust while answering any other questions the perplexed mentor might have. The two talked continually, the final conversation taking place at 7:45 a.m. Tuesday.

"I think he was 90 percent certain that he would take the job when we talked," Gavitt reveals. "By the time we were done, I think it was up to 100."

The way Gavitt sees it, the idea of coaching the Celtics someday was never very far from his mind. "I wouldn't be surprised if it was something in his head for maybe three years," Gavitt says. "I think when Larry first approached him about the job this year, Rick was too involved with the Kentucky situation going into the NCAAs to give it very serious thought. I think he kind of just filed it away. But when the season ended and he started hearing from teams like Philadelphia, Golden State, and Orlando, he was more receptive to the Celtics idea."

Gavitt had to operate in a very delicate manner during the process for a strong personal reason. Kentucky athletic director "C.M. Newton is a very good friend of mine," Gavitt says. "I knew what this would do to Kentucky. Deep in my heart, I wanted him to stay. I thought college basketball needed him more than the NBA did. But I also told him that if he should decide he wished to come back into the NBA, the one and only team he should be involved with was the Celtics."

The Gavitt-Pitino relationship goes back a long way. It began when then Providence College coach Dave Gavitt took a long look at a high-scoring point guard named Rick Pitino playing for St. Dominic's in Oyster Bay, N.Y., before deciding to take a pass (Gavitt did have a kid named DeGregorio in house).

Gavitt remembers one particular collegiate encounter. "Rick was playing for UMass, and things weren't going well with he and coach Jack Leaman at the time," Gavitt explains. "He came out early to warm up, and he came over to say hi. He said he was really unhappy and that he was thinking about transferring.

"I asked him what he wanted to do with his life, and he immediately said, 'Coach.' So I said the best thing for him would be to stay right where he was because he was playing for an excellent coach and there would be no point in leaving UMass."

There is a postscript to the story.

"It comes down to a 1-point game," Gavitt continues. "We're down 1 and Rick gets fouled for a one-and-one. He misses, and Kevin Stacom hits a jumper at the buzzer."

I'm sure the story gets told with great relish every so often. And I'm equally sure it gets better every time, with Pitino either airballing or watching the ball bounce on the rim six or eight times before falling off.

The frustrated point guard grew up to be the acclaimed coach we know today. "Rick is exceptional," says Gavitt, who, lest anyone forget, was a proficient enough coach himself to have been named to head the ill-fated 1980 Olympic team. "I don't know exactly how he got that way, except to say that there is some Pat Riley in him in terms of being driven. He's a worker and a half. He's very demanding on both players and staff. Very much so."

The fact that Gavitt would step up to the plate so readily on behalf of the Celtics, and Paul Gaston, will surprise people who assume that the former chief exec and the team would be obvious don't-invites to the next local soiree.

"I really like Paul Gaston," Gavitt explains. "In any dealing I've ever had with him, he's been a man of his word. He could not be more honest and forthright, and I told Rick that. I think he's very bright, and he has obviously inherited his father's great instincts in financial matters."

One truly great thing about Paul Gaston, according to Gavitt, is that there is no Harold Katz lurking inside, waiting to leap out. Gaston is neither a frustrated scout with satellite dishes piled atop his roof nor a rotisserie geek. When it comes to basketball, he is just a fan with many millions of dollars in his bank account.

"He is just great as an owner," Gavitt stresses. "He does not want to be the general manager. He wants to win, sure. But he hires you and leaves you alone."

Gavitt, like Larry Bird, is immensely pleased to think that the Celtics will again be respectable. "The last couple of years have been tough," he points out. "I think I've been to one game - and I've got tickets! I've been giving them away, like everyone else. Now I know the Celtics are going to be very exciting to watch."

Oh, and what about the rumor that Dave Gavitt will be part of the deal as the basketball mind in support of Coach Pitino?

"No, no, nooo," Gavitt laughs. "Put that one to rest."

That's OK, Dave. You've certainly done enough for the cause already.

1 comment:

FLCeltsFan said...

I never realized that Gavitt was so big a fan of Pitino and "Thanks Dad" That was a bad mix all the way around.

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