Today is Lottery Sunday, perhaps the most important event in Boston
Celtic history since Red Auerbach drafted Larry Bird 19 years ago.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Dennis Johnson for Rick Robey? What luck!
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.
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.
came the worst moment in franchise history. Reggie Lewis dropped dead
while shooting baskets at the team's practice facility.
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.
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.