May 9, 1997
There were several chairs on the parquet floor, all there for the
dignitaries, family, and members of the New Celtic Order. Next to the
chairs was a table, and on top of that a speaker that Who guitarist Pete
Townsend would be proud to call his own.
It was from behind that speaker that M.L. Carr chose to witness
yesterday's lovefest at the FleetCenter. Was his mind flashing back to
three years ago, when he took over basketball operations for the Celtics
and the announcement was made in a cramped conference room with, maybe,
20 people? Or to two years ago, when he named himself head coach and a
small room at Brandeis served as the locale?
How long had it been? A month ago, he was still, on paper, the most
powerful basketball man in the organization. Now he is not even
involved. Now he wasn't even important enough to warrant a chair. He
stood, arms folded, shielded from view from most of the people who were
there to see the man who came to replace him.
Of all the people who were dismissed, dissed, or otherwise disrupted on
Bloody Monday/Tuesday, Carr remains the only one with the Celtics. That
is not wholly surprising. As Rick Pitino
noted yesterday, "He took a bullet for the organization." In reality,
Carr took a lot of bullets. He ended up more like Rasputin, but he says
that was part of the plan and he was more than happy to be a human
He has a new title, something
called executive vice president for corporate development. (As we heard
umpteen times yesterday, however, titles mean nothing. Even if Pitino
had to be the head coach and president.) Carr will even have a new
office on a new floor, so, in effect, he really has been kicked
upstairs. His new job will have nothing to do with the basketball team,
unless shaking down rich people to support the Celtics counts. He says
he is content. He also says he has been rewarded for his efforts.
"The basketball side is over for me. I recognize that," he said after the Pitino
coronation. "What I believe the organization needs now is more money to
get some free agents for Rick. I became the bridge to get us to the
point where we're at now. You don't need the bridge anymore. And I'll
tell you this: The bridge is safe. Very safe. Paul Gaston stepped up.
The agreement we have is, believe me, wonderful, fellas. I'm very, very
happy with it."
We all suspected that it
would turn out something like this. Carr had been a lame-duck coach ever
since it was revealed that Larry Bird was out hunting for a new one. No
one gave any credibility to his remaining as chief of basketball
operations; the new guy would want that authority as well.
(Isn't it interesting that no one, absolutely no one, is wondering if Pitino, who hasn't been in the NBA in eight years, is up to doing both jobs?)
The new guy went out of his way to praise Carr yesterday. They had a brief meeting and Pitino
noted, "Some people, it takes five years to figure out. I found out in
five minutes that he's a giant of a man." Gaston also threw a bonbon at
his former hoop el jefe, for being Gaston's (not to mention Ernest
Hemingway's) definition of courage: grace under fire.
then even suggested that Carr might make a good representative for the
Celtics at the May 18 draft lottery. It was a little bit like Ronald
Reagan allowing the defeated Jimmy Carter to be the one to greet the
just-released American hostages in Germany. Carr, ever the company man,
said he would be available.
"He's about to become very lucky," Pitino said.
To listen to Carr, he already is. He performed what he views as a
valuable public service by taking the Celtics to the bottom. He
weathered the criticism, deflected heat from the players, kept
everything positive and upbeat, and now has his just reward. He will not
have to worry about making the next mortgage payment.
"You can't deny it now," he was saying. "We are championship-driven
now. We have the person who will get us to the next level. I started the
race. Rick is going to finish it. This is an incredible coup for this
organization, and Paul Gaston deserves all the credit."
He paused, smiled, and added, "I'm not brown-nosing the boss. I don't need to do that at this stage of my life."