Bird v. Pitino Match-Up Creates Summer League Intrigue

July 7, 1997

Supposedly, fans don't come to games to watch the coach. This is supposed to be a player's league. So what to make of the fuss over Larry Joe Bird?

Making his debut as Pacers coach, the Celtics legend walked toward his sideline seat at Life University last night and received a standing ovation. Television cameras tracked his initial path to the bench. Children and adults flocked to him, seeking autographs. He declined. You must understand, he is Coach Bird now. How often do you see a coach signing something before the game? It was a mostly free agent-rookie contest in which the Pacers beat the Hawks, 88-75. It was a humid summer night. It was un-NBA-like. But it was still Bird's first game as coach.

Don't expect the man to be quiet on the sideline. Two minutes into the game, he called Jalen Rose over and told the guard to be assertive. He yapped with the officials.

Coach Bird could face coach Rick Pitino tonight when the Pacers face the Celtics, bringing intrigue to these often dull games.

Cavs get the jump

The Celtics lost the opener of their four-team round-robin tournament to the Cavaliers, 85-75. Many spectators at Life University had joked that the Celtics were the early favorites, since their roster includes Dana Barros, Greg Minor, and Eric Williams. Problem is, none of those players is a center. That would have helped, because the Celtics were pounded on the boards, 37-20.

The play of Barros and Williams was encouraging - especially the 6-foot-8-inch Williams, who appears to be in terrific shape. On one play, he left Devin Davis landlocked with a spin move. Williams finished with 15 points in 32 minutes.

Minor looked lost. He began the game at small forward and took only two shots in 27 minutes. He missed both.

If he remains with the Celtics, Minor will be pressed for minutes by rookie Ron Mercer. He was a clear crowd favorite, primarily because he often went to the basket with style and finished with 10 points. This is how good things were for Mercer: He was cheered even when he missed a reverse layup that would have been nifty.

Danya Abrams had a forgettable night. In 16 minutes, he totaled 4 points and five fouls. The forward from Boston College seems to be plagued by a classic NBA problem: too big to guard small forwards; too small to bang with the big guys.

Where's the star?

A television crew from Lexington, Ky., was in town to record Pitino's first game with the Celtics. Before the game, the crew interviewed former Wildcats Derek Anderson and Mercer. Only one problem. Pitino wasn't in the gym. He had an afternoon flight to Atlanta (the rest of the team departed Boston at 8 a.m.) and reportedly went to the team hotel trying to close the Dino Radja deal . . . As for Radja, the forward's status remains the same. He's close to signing on with Panathinaikos AC, but nothing is official yet. "I'm sure we'll be able to work something out soon," Celtics general manager Chris Wallace said. "I can't put a timetable on it." Asked why the deal was taking so long, Wallace said, "There are some t's and i's that need to be crossed. From my experience with international moves, it always takes a little longer than you think it should." When the Celtics free themselves of Radja, sources say they will quickly sign free agent forward Derek Strong. The 6-8 Strong, a former Celtic, spent last season with the Magic . . . When the Celtics waive Radja, they must wait 10 days for him to clear.

Fox crossed up?

Sources say Rick Fox is not happy with the Celtics. Supposedly, the club had a handshake deal with its former captain worth $ 20-plus million. But when they realized they could not sign Fox and Travis Knight, the Celtics renounced Fox and eight others and signed Knight. Was there a verbal agreement between the Celtics and Fox? "No," Wallace said. "I will say that we didn't want to lose him. But we didn't want to lose the big guy, either. There was a heavy recruiting battle going on" with the Lakers. "And if he had left Boston for the West, there's a good chance he wouldn't be coming back East."

Minor appealing

Minor has decided to appeal the latest court decision in Kentucky which ordered him to pay $ 30,000 a month in child support to the mother of his three children. Attorneys for Minor, who will earn $ 2.16 million this season, filed the motion yesterday with the Kentucky state court of appeals. A hearing will be held Monday to determine if Minor must post bond during the appellate process. Minor had been paying $ 2,000 a month until the recent court order in March. Meanwhile, yesterday's appeal motion apparently did not stop the release of more than $ 80,000 held in escrow since March. That amount is due to arrive today in Kentucky and is being sent to Celestyne Rowan, Minor's former girlfriend and the mother of the three children. Minor speaks occasionally to the children and is not involved with Rowan anymore. Earlier this year, he failed to go through on a real estate deal, which resulted in Rowan and the children being evicted from their home. For the last six weeks, she and the children have shared one bedroom in her mother's two-bedroom house in Louisville.

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