The kid is now king

May 9, 1997

What, no music?

No London Symphony Orchestra recording of "Pomp and Circumstance"? No Dixieland band? No Allan Parsons Project?

There was a stage. There was the grandiose backdrop of the retired numbers and the championship banners. There were more minicams and tripods than state senators under indictment. It was, everyone agreed, nothing less than a coronation.

People from Lexington (the other one). People from Louisville. People from New York. People from Philadelphia. People from Washington. People from national publications. People from everywhere. There was certainly a whole lot more life on the floor of the FleetCenter than there was at a majority of Celtic games last season. A little music would have been the sundae cherry.

For this was not just news; this was good news, and not just for the Boston Celtics. This was good news for the team, the stockholders, the fans, and, yes, the media, because this is a story with both legs, as they say in Hollywood, and tentacles. Larry Bird's involved. Red Auerbach's involved. Dino Radja's involved. Tim Duncan may soon be involved (a Duncan representative was in house, checking out the scene). This story is endless. I mean, wow, who needs Michael Kennedy (hey, even there we have a BU connection)?

Across the street, there was a gigantic cake set out on a table in front of The Fours, the obligatory pre- and postgame haunt on Canal Street. The brainchild of George Regan's PR outfit, the cake was whipped up by Montilio's Bakery in Quincy and delivered to Fours owner Peter Colton, who put it out on the street for all to enjoy.

Written on the cake: "WELCOME TO BOSTON RICK PITINO."

Welcome to Boston, all right. The spinoff benefits already are kicking in. The Celtics' publicly traded stock has risen dramatically of late. North Station area establishments such as The Fours, whose October-to-March business dropped off alarmingly last season, know already there will be no repeat next year. After two years of utter irrelevancy, the Celtics have dominated casual conversation this past week. Somebody had darn well better welcome Rick Pitino. He's responsible for it all.

But there were likewise people responsible for Rick Pitino, and one of them was present. Now we can assume that sooner or later, somebody was going to recognize the inherent genius of this coaching prodigy, but let the record show that the man who had the gumption to turn his school's basketball team over to a 25-year-old kid back in 1978 was then Boston University athletic director John Simpson.

"I think I paid him $ 21,000, $ 22,000, something like that," Simpson laughed. "Now what is he worth, $ 70 million? Wow. But I'm excited for him and the city both."

It all seems so logical and obvious now, when we're all gifted with the wisdom of hindsight. Rick Pitino has gone on to win more than 70 percent of his games, make four trips to the Final Four, and win a national championship in the college phase of his career, while winning one division championship in two years as a head coach in the professional ranks. He is on everyone's short list of greatest all-around coaches, period. But he had to start with his very own program somewhere, and that place was Boston University.

"I needed a coach and I wanted a young, teaching coach specifically," Simpson recalled. "I called up then University of Massachusetts coach Jack Leaman, who was an alumnus, for advice. He said there was a young coach who had played for him who was now an assistant at Syracuse who would be ideal. The young man's name was Rick Pitino.

"I talked with him, and in five minutes, I knew he was the one," continued Simpson. "I hired him, and of course, everyone questioned it."

Why not? Rick Pitino was 25, and he looked 15.

"He was immediately nicknamed the 'Boy Coach,' " Simpson said. "But I was absolutely sure I had done the right thing after watching his first practice. I could see he was a teacher, and that's what we needed."

It's what the Celtics need, too, although that's not the only thing. There are bad teams and there are baaaaad teams. There are teams in a little down cycle and there are teams who have lost touch with their constituency and who therefore need a Cosmopolitan-style makeover. Now we are talking about the Celtics, and that is why, as their primary public face, they need more than a man proficient in general X's and O's. They need a larger-than-life personality.

And so . . . they have turned to Rick Pitino.

"It's like hitting the lottery," beamed a tall man standing off to the side of the assembled press corps. "If you had to pick one guy who, based on where this team is and where it has to go, you would want to be in charge at this point in time, it would be Rick Pitino."

So declared John Havlicek, anyway.

No. 17 was decked out in his double-breasted green blazer.

"I wanted to remind him that his new colors are green and white and not blue and white," Havlicek explained.

No one asked him to come. This was a gesture of Celtic loyalty.

"I just thought I wanted to be here because I'm excited about this," Havlicek said. "I love the way he thinks. He's a proponent of winning with defense, but the difference with him is that he can teach it."

(Imagine, for a moment, a prime-of-life John Havlicek, the man who was never out of shape, who loved to play defense, who loved to run, and who could nail today's 3, playing for Rick Pitino. The little hairs on the back of my neck are standing at attention.)

When M.L. Carr was anointed as coach two years ago, the press conference took place in a smallish room at Brandeis. The main table had the usual Celtic politburo look, with owners, general managers, Auerbachs, and assorted poobahs. Yesterday there was a giant room and a small table was set for two. There was an owner, and there was a Pitino.

And from now on, there will be one voice. The owner has done his duty. The Boston Celtics now belong to Rick Pitino.

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