May 8, 1997
There was a time when Boston was to basketball what Burgundy is to
wine. One of the best reasons for living here then was the privilege of
going to the old Garden to see Cousy and Sharman, Russell and Havlicek,
Bird and McHale.
Historians will probably
call that era the Age of Auerbach after the master builder, Red
Auerbach, the cigar-puffing monomaniac from New York who operated on the
assumption that the purpose of playing the games was to win. For some
years now, alas, that tradition has lapsed. Celtic fans have been
subjected to insouciant prima donnas who deign to jog back and forth on
the enchanted parquet merely to fulfill the letter of their inflated
contracts. But the Celtics' decline ended abruptly this week when Rick Pitino signed on to restore the grandeur of Auerbach.
The hiring of Pitino
signifies a rare congruence of good business sense and competitive
moxie. The leases for many of the luxury boxes in the Fleet Center
expired this year, and without a team worth watching, owners had little
hope of luring back the big spenders. With Pitino,
suddenly the Celtics are a hot property again. The trading in their
publicly held stock is snowballing. The area around North Station gets a
new lease on life. And youngsters shooting hoops in playgrounds will
learn that even millionaires have to play defense.
the coach who turned around floundering teams for BU, Providence
College, the New York Knicks, and the University of Kentucky, Pitino
arrives with the perfect resume. He is a healer of ailing franchises, a
motivator who does not allow players to become comfortable with losing.
Other teams in the league realize that the Celtics have ceased to be a
laughingstock. Finita la commedia!
Best of all, Pitino
is a throwback to Auerbach. He has the same street-smart flair for the
little edge that separates champs from chumps. He has the same fierce
contempt for the fool's gold of individual statistics. It may take him a
few years to liberate the franchise from foolish salary cap
commitments, but Pitino is the man to restore the Celtics' lost glory.