Pitino Dines with Red

June 7, 1997

The day starts at 5:45 a.m. when Rick Pitino bounds out of his downtown Boston apartment and runs along the Charles toward the Boston University law school. His 6-mile run takes him over the BU, Mass. Ave., and Longfellow bridges.

He returns to his temporary home at 6:45, showers, goes to a nearby bagel shop, then walks to work at 151 Merrimac Street. In the afternoon, he rides out to Brandeis to watch potential draftees work out. Then it's back to Boston for staff meetings and dinner in the North End.

"I pick a different restaurant every night," he says. "And I go with different people every night."

He's still chuckling over his dinner with Red Auerbach. In a rare departure for Red, they did not eat Chinese food, but instead went to a meat-and-potatoes place.

"Red's a character," laughs Pitino. "His steak came with potatoes and vegetables smothered all over it, but he sent it back, saying, 'Could I just have steak on this plate?' Meanwhile, he's not supposed to be smoking much, but he's got ashes all over him. He says when the doctor tells him three cigars a day, he really means four."

This is the life of Pitino in his first month on the job after signing a 10-year, $ 50 million contract to bring the Boston Celtics back to glory.

It's somehow appropriate that Pitino is living in an apartment near the New Garden. During his entire coaching career with the Celtics, Auerbach lived in Room 900 of the Lenox Hotel, storing potatoes in a small refrigerator and heating french fries on a hot plate.

Pitino is planning to move his family to Greater Boston, but they don't expect to settle into their digs (Dover-Sherborn area) until mid August. In the meantime, Pitino works without distractions and without the need for an automobile.

This week he's in Chicago for the predraft camp. Saturday night he'll be the commencement speaker at his Long Island high school alma mater, and he'll be back into his Hub habits Monday morning as the Celtics prepare for the June 25 NBA draft.

He loves his Boston routine. During his BU years, Pitino lived behind Lucifer's in Kenmore Square, then moved to an upstairs apartment in Newton Center before finally buying a small home in Needham. Now he's back downtown and he can walk to Hanover Street for dinner. When the season starts, he'll keep the apartment, sharing it with Celtic capologist Rick Avare.

"It's been great," says Pitino. "People around town are very supportive. They're all saying, 'Great to have you back.' "

What about the inevitable end of the honeymoon? The reality of the 82-game NBA schedule is bound to dampen this spring enthusiasm.

"I don't worry about that because I've been in so many situations like this," he says. "The Knicks were down when I got there. Providence was at the bottom of the Big East. And Kentucky was a mess because all the players had transferred and we had sanctions. Now I come in with 21 years of coaching experience.

"I want to build a level of entertainment and excitement. I want the fans to leave the FleetCenter with a good feeling, that the value of the ticket was worth it. That's not easy to do with ticket prices today."

Would he trade either of his top two draft picks (Nos. 3 and 6 overall)?

"I'm definitely open to it," says Pitino. "My sentiment would be that I'm not leaning toward doing it, but if someone gave us a solid basketball player, I would trade either one. We do have a plan for those two picks, but in case I do trade one, we want to be able to think about a guy like Austin Croshere, who figures to be chosen around 12-14."

Maybe he's using some Auerbachian strategy, but Pitino doesn't sound eager to pick Colgate center Adonal Foyle.

"The kid is very intelligent," he says. "I remember him from recruiting him when he was in high school. We worked him out and he's actually a little small. He's only 6-9 and he's not an NBA center. He's a power forward with tremendous upside. In three or four years he could be an outstanding player."

Pitino says he worked out six potential draftees, plus Celtic players Eric Williams and Dana Barros. He wants to see Rick Fox play. He's content with Brandeis as a practice facility until the Celtics build something of their own.

He bristles at the memory of Sunday's televised interview with Bulls coach Phil Jackson.

"They were talking about Larry Brown's contract and mine, and Phil said, 'I'm not about money. Maybe that's for Riley and Pitino,' " says Pitino. "I'd rather it not be brought up like that, but there's nothing I can do about it."

Right. For the rest of his life, Pitino's going to be the $ 50 million man. It's a cross he'll have to bear. He can handle it. He's loving his Boston life. It sure beats the apartment behind Lucifer's.

"I just feel so much more comfortable this time around, in every aspect," he says. "It's just been more fun."

It should be fun - right up until the games start. Only then will Pitino truly know what he's gotten himself into.


FLCeltsFan said...

I still say it was ego that did Pitino in. He had to have absolute authority. If he didn't become GM, president et al, he may have done better as a coach. A lot of nerve to dine with Red after stabbing him in the back.

Lex said...

It all went to his head and then when the Cs didn't win he didn't know how to be patient

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