Rick Pitino faces his first test as Celtic-in-Chief today. And he's only got a 36 percent chance of choosing success.
the Ping-Pong balls bounce Boston's way and the franchise gets the
rights to the first pick in the NBA draft, a.k.a. Tim Duncan, fans will
hail this good fortune as an inevitable byproduct of Pitino's arrival as designated savior. If the balls bounce incorrectly, Pitino-induced euphoria will come to a sudden end.
is most illogical. The draft lottery is an arbitrary proceeding based
on mathematics and sheer chance. It has NO relationship to Pitino's many skills as a coach and leader or whether or not he'll be worth the $ 50 million paid him to rebuild the Boston franchise.
Oddly, that's why it's so absolutely vital for Pitino
that the Celts win the thing. Boston fans don't just expect their new
coach to be good at his job. That's treated as a given. No, they expect Pitino to be lucky, too.
cold basketball fact, there's no way the Celtics can lose in the draft,
whether or not they land Duncan. The Wake Forest center is agreed to be
a level above the other eligible prospects in the draft. But Boston is
guaranteed one of the top three picks and two of the top 10 no matter
There's no way two players out of the
top 10 draftees won't make the Celts a better team. They were that bad
last year. If the Celtics don't win the lottery, expect Pitino to make that point.
can save his breath. Celts fans will treat missing out on Duncan as a
devastating loss not because Duncan is the next coming of Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar (unlikely), but because more than an All-Star player, the
fans want a sign that Celtic luck is back. They want to see if the
leprechaun is one of Pitino's assistants.
idea of "Celtic luck" is one of the strangest phenomena in sports. It
never existed and was no factor in any of Boston's 16 NBA titles, and
yet both Celtic lovers and Celtic haters devoutly believed in its
The myth of Celtic luck began when
the old Cousy-Russell-Havlicek-Jones, etc. teams of the '50s and '60s
won nine titles in 11 years while squeaking out one agonizingly close
playoff victory after another, frequently in seventh games. Obviously,
karma had nothing to do with this. The Celts didn't make the winning
play in the clutch every time because somebody upstairs liked them. They
did so because they were matchless champions.
fans in LA and Philly cursed Celtic luck. And fans in Boston began to
see victory as an entitlement granted by supernatural powers, rather
than as the residue of Red Auerbach's designs.
utter bushwah ought to have been abandoned forever in the past decade.
The Celtics got a tragic dose of real luck - the bad kind. The sickening
deaths of Len Bias and Reggie Lewis were indeed events beyond the
control of anyone associated with the franchise.
else that's gone wrong with the Celtics since 1986 can be attributed to
the residue of bad designs. They stuck with the Bird-McHale-Parish team
until it broke down, and paid the price. They put a man with no
experience in charge of their operation, and paid the price.
would think that if Celtic fans had a prayer, it would be that they
never see another stroke of luck in their lifetimes. But not even two
funerals can debunk the leprechaun fraud. People really DO believe it's
better to be lucky than good. That's one reason why so few people become
Pitino knows better. As a longtime horse fancier and current horse owner, Pitino has also seen far too many 3-1 favorites finish up the track to be giddy about his chances in the Duncan Derby.
But Pitino is also a shrewd student of psychology. If Boston does grab that first pick today, expect him to credit a leprechaun or two.
Celtic luck may be a myth. But lately, so is the idea of Celtic victory, and Pitino and Duncan together won't change that overnight.
Fans will wait more patiently for victories if they can go back to worshipping the graven image of the leprechaun.