The Ping-Pong Balls are Ready: Will the Curse Continue?


Today is Lottery Sunday, perhaps the most important event in Boston Celtic history since Red Auerbach drafted Larry Bird 19 years ago.

The Ping-Pong balls are ready, M.L. Carr has his fingers crossed, and the Celtics have a 36.31 percent chance of being awarded the No. 1 pick in the 1997 college draft.

No. 1 means the rights to Wake Forest center Tim Duncan, and all good Celtic fans know that the Green must have Duncan if they are to compete again in this century. There is no consolation in the No. 2 pick this year. In the 1997 NBA Draft, there is Tim Duncan and there is Not Exactly.

Bird himself, now coach of the Indiana Pacers, said, "The Celtics had better get him. They're banking on it. There's a big dropoff after Duncan."

There is nothing scientific about Boston's lottery effort. No game plan, no film viewing, no pregame huddle. There's nothing the Celtics can do to prepare for the big event. It's pure dumb luck.

Like any marriage, the Celtics and Lady Luck have had their ups and downs through the years.

There was a long period during which the Celtics always seemed to have good luck. From 1950 through '86, the Celtics enjoyed as much good fortune as any franchise in the history of sports. Granted, they were good, but they were also lucky.

In the spring of 1950, Boston had a coaching vacancy and a young man coaching at Tri-Cities was available. Sportswriters (those clever sages) convinced Walter Brown that he should hire Red Auerbach. What luck. Auerbach came to town and never left.

Of course, Red didn't want the Celtics to draft Holy Cross hotshot Bob Cousy. The Cooz ended up property of the Chicago Stags, but the Stags folded. When it came time to divvy up Chicago's roster, names were put into a hat and Auerbach drew the name of Cousy. Dumb luck. Again.

Auerbach got Bill Russell because Rochester's owner wanted the Ice Capades more than he wanted a 6-foot-9-inch black center from San Francisco. In exchange for Brown's ice shows, Les Harrison agreed not to select Russell with the No. 1 pick. Red traded for the No. 2 pick and got a center who would win 11 championships in 13 seasons.

Even as champions, the Celtics had some luck. In '62, they beat the Lakers in Game 7 of the finals, but only after Frank Selvy's wide-open 15-footer somehow rolled off the rim at the old Garden. In 1969 at the LA Forum, a lucky bounce of a Don Nelson shot delivered another title at the expense of the luckless Lakers.

Boston also got lucky with draft picks. John Havlicek and Jo Jo White should have been long gone when the Celtics got around to making their first selections. The Celtics got lucky with trades. They got Nelson off the waiver wire.

They got lucky when five teams passed on Bird in 1978. They got lucky when Golden State coveted Joe Barry Carroll more than Robert Parish or Kevin McHale. They got lucky when everybody passed on Danny Ainge, figuring his heart was in baseball.

Dennis Johnson for Rick Robey? What luck!

In the spring of 1986, the Celtics were perhaps more fat and happy than any team in the history of sports. They'd just won their 16th world championship with a team that many consider the best in NBA history. They were awash in cash and season-ticket applicants. And on top of everything else, a foresighted two-year-old trade with Seattle resulted in the championship Celtics adding to thir riches with the No. 2 pick in the entire draft.

Then Boston's luck changed. On the morning of June 19, 1986, Len Bias died of cocaine intoxication in a dormitory room at the University of Maryland.

Almost nothing has gone right since Bias died. Bird got hurt and had to retire early. Jimmy Rodgers failed as a head coach. Dave Gavitt came on board with disastrous results. The Celtics picked Michael Smith ahead of Tim Hardaway. They couldn't sign Jon Barry. Brian Shaw sued to leave.

Then came the worst moment in franchise history. Reggie Lewis dropped dead while shooting baskets at the team's practice facility.

The bad luck has continued. Dominique Wilkins. Pervis Ellison. The worst record in team history. At times it seems as if the franchise has been cursed, starting with the death of Bias.

The week that Bias died, former Celtic owner Alan Cohen wrote a letter to then-general manager Jan Volk. The letter was about hubris. Cohen wrote that Bias's death reminded him that you can never cease to be humble. It was as if the higher powers decided that the Celtics had been too good for too long.

We've had enough humility around here for the last 11 years. Time for the Celtic luck to change. Rick Pitino should be the start of some good fortune.

Today's lottery will tell us if the Celtics' luck has changed or if the curse continues.


FLCeltsFan said...

sigh... the curse continued. The Celtics have never had luck in the lottery and as much as I fight it, I think that David Stern may have some how fixed it. I have no idea how but I just have that feeling. That's why tanking for the Celtics have never made sense. It's never done them any good.

Lex said...

One of my friends on a celtics mailing list is 100% with you. He believes stern is very anti-celtic.

FLCeltsFan said...

If you read Red's books he talks about butting heads early and often with Stern. A few times Red got the owners to overrule Stern's desires. So yes, Stern had a thing against Red and thus the Celtics. Red was also one of the toughest coaches on Stern's pet refs and that always riled him up too.

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