May 9, 1997
Before yesterday, the historic FleetCenter parquet was just another old
floor. It had been in cold storage since April 20, the last time many
of the 1996-97 Celtics disrespected the wood with 16 NBA championship
banners hovering above it.
tried to correct that slight yesterday afternoon. The Celtics chairman
of the board called for part of the floor to be carted out to help
provide scenery for the Celtics' New Era. As far as Gaston and most
Celtic fans are concerned, the parquet now resonates.
The new basketball authority of the Celtics will be associated with that floor for the next 10 years. Pitino,
the 44-year-old president and coach, was officially introduced here
yesterday after deciding two days earlier to end his eight-year run as
Kentucky coach. It quickly became obvious why he will be paid $ 70
million over the next decade: This is his team.
Gaston said that yesterday. He didn't have to. Anyone who saw Pitino
speak, surrounded by the banners, legends, and throng of national
media, felt it. Gaston announced that Auerbach will become vice chairman
of the board, relinquishing the president's title to Pitino. Jan Volk resigned from the general manager's position, which Pitino
probably will fill with University of Pittsburgh coach Ralph Willard.
He said Celtic legend Larry Bird was his first choice, but Bird accepted
the head coaching job with the Pacers. Former coach and director of
basketball operations M.L. Carr, who literally stood in the shadows
yesterday, was moved two flights upstairs and given a corporate
There is no confusion about leadership; this is Rick Pitino's team.
Rick Fox, who captained a 15-67 Celtics team last season, watched Pitino
speak for 60 minutes. Before the press conference, he and Dana Barros
spoke with the coach in the Celtics' locker room. Fox was impressed.
you're a fan of the Boston Celtics, you've got to be one of the
happiest people around the NBA today," Fox said. "You're seeing your
team return to the status it was used to being at for a long time."
And if you're a free agent like Fox?
look at Boston and tell yourself that they ain't b.s.-ing about getting
to the top," he said. "I think you will see that the Celtics will
attract the middle-age free agents who are financially secure and only
care about winning."
As for current Celtics, the message is clear: Be ready. The team will not be the same.
"I don't believe so," Pitino
said, "because they won 15 games for a reason. There was a lot of
injuries, lack of talent, and certainly, there's no mystery when you
lose and win in the NBA. The NBA is a players' league, and talent
Although Gaston took "full
responsibility" for the firings of several Celtics employees earlier
this week, the office sweep allowed Pitino to introduce several members of his new staff. It was clear that all decisions will run through him.
talked about his dream for a first-class practice facility with a wall
of fame in the hallway. As he detailed what promises to be a pricey new
building, he paused and said, "I can feel Paul's vibes over here."
Still, the facility will be built. And, possibly, the Celtics will
travel on a new team plane.
promised that the Celtics will be in the best shape of their lives. He
promised that one of the worst defensive teams in NBA history will play
"We're going to have a lot of ball
movement and player movement in our half-court offense," he said.
"We're going to be very entertaining, and I think a lot of free agents
out there are going to want to play this style of ball."
agents. In the NBA, they can come to your team only if you have the
salary cap room to afford them. Right now the Celtics do not have
significant space. Pitino acknowledged that is a hindrance, but added that the Celtics would be "creative" in clearing room.
spoke, his words were captured by several camera lenses, stacked two
deep on the FleetCenter floor. John Havlicek was on one side of the
room. Tommy Heinsohn was on another. Jo Jo White and Cedric Maxwell were
there, too. Auerbach, seated next to Pitino's
wife, Joanne, smoked a cigar and chuckled when Gaston mentioned that
Red would remain in the organization and be "a pain in the ass."
A crowd clamored toward Pitino
as he stepped down from the dais. Several security guards, marketing
and public relations types shielded the basketball chief. The Celtics
have not had to worry about overflow media since 1992, when Bird was
But now Bird is gone, as are many familiar faces. This is a new era. Pitino, the former UMass player and BU, Providence, and New York Knicks coach, will be the main character. This is his team.