July 6, 1997
He is tanned, muscled, and ponytailed. He is equal parts World Wrestling
Federation and "On the Waterfront." He is Steven Segal if Segal had
swallowed a barbell or two.
Leo Papile, 43, is a lifelong gym rat and one of Rick Pitino's
first hires in the rebuilding of the once-proud Boston Celtics. Papile
is chief scout for the new C's, and he's no typical NBA headhunter.
know, I know," Papile said. "The long hair, the beard, the tan. I was a
bouncer as a kid. I've had altercations in my life. When I was at the
pre-draft camp, Kevin McHale and Danny Ainge and Don Nelson all grabbed
me and said, 'What's Red going to do when he sees you? You're going to
kill him with a heart attack.' "
Pitino just laughs.
Red saw Leo in the gym and said, 'Who's that?' I told him Leo is our
chief scout. Red puffed his cigar, and I was trying to imagine what he
was thinking. But Red's gotten to know Leo, and it's OK."
the draft, Papile spent four 10-hour days with Auerbach, pumping the
Green Godfather for information and impressing Red with his knowledge of
basketball. Papile, who grew up in North Quincy, remembers Gene
Guarilia, Ron Bonham, and some of Red's more obscure players and moments
from the golden days. Red likes that.
know me," said Auerbach, who will turn 80 in September. "I'm of the old
school. These guys with long hair scare me. But I didn't say anything
to him about it.
"He talks and sometimes
you wonder where he gets all this information, but he's right," Auerbach
continued. "I checked him out on a few things just for the heck of it,
and he turned out to be right."
That was OK
by Papile. "I enjoyed that time with Red," he said. "He still doesn't
know my name or anything. I'm just the guy with the ponytail."
Response to the times
It was one of the great visuals of TNT's Draft Night production. Every
time the camera cut to the Celtics war room, there were 15 men in snappy
suits, plus the guy with hair. Had it been winter, the camera would
have caught one of Papile's full-length minks or leather jackets.
Those clothes, this man, are the New Celtics.
Leo Papile, looking like a leg-breaker, is now in charge of procuring players for Rick Pitino.
Papile's hiring is Pitino's
response to changing times. The NBA is getting younger. Players only
one year out of high school are being drafted. Teenagers are suiting up.
Teams need firsthand knowledge of baby ballplayers.
has the knowledge. In his head, he carries a complete dossier of every
Basketball Jones from Long Island to Long Beach. He's coached almost
1,200 amateur games over 20 years, driving the country with as many as
seven kids ("Two guards and a big man in the front with me, four in the
back") piled into his 1966 white Cadillac convertible (280,000 miles).
the Celtics considered candidates in this year's draft, Papile had seen
all of them dozens of times. When top pick Chauncey Billups arrived
from Colorado, he walked into the Celtic offices, saw Papile, and said,
As coach of the
200-games-a-year Boston Amateur Basketball Club, Papile saw Billups play
at least 20 times before the young man even started college.
"What I wanted from our general manager Chris Wallace and Leo is two people who spent their lives evaluating talent," Pitino
said. "Leo I've known since I hired him at BU 18 years ago. He has a
tremendous passion for the game of basketball. He's always observing
Still, Papile hardly looks like an NBA chief scout, and he has little pro experience. He knows he's an odd hire.
that don't know me probably think I'm a nut," he said. "Listen, there's
28 other guys in this league doing what I do. Put us all in a room. Put
us on 'To Tell The Truth' and let's go. Let's talk expletive facts and
figures . . . I've been a coach. I had no interest in going into the NBA
or working in the NBA or with a college team. But Rick's a good guy and
a good coach and I'm local."
At 8:30 a.m., the Brandeis gym was empty except for two 7-footers and
the 6-3 Papile, who was beneath one of the baskets, posting up one of
the treetop tryouts (Papile's "finds" and other Celtic rookie hopefuls
will be on display at Auerbach's rookie camp at Brandeis today through
"That's the most difficult pass in basketball - the lob pass to a stationary big man," he told one of the players.
that?" he told the other, after executing an effective inside move. "I
had you in jail. I got the key to get you out. Hey, it's in the hip
movement. I got you. I'm an old, fat man, George Foreman, overweight,
but I can beat you inside with the right move.
gave you guys great bodies, but if you're going to make it in this
league, you're going to have to do it with your legs and hips."
players listened. Making up more than 14 feet of raw talent were
Tennessee Tech center Lorenzo Coleman (7-1, 300 pounds) and Garth
Joseph, (7-3, 330), who worked as a civil engineer in Dominica after
finishing at College of St. Rose in Albany, N.Y., two years ago.
a project of mine," Papile said. "Last summer he was a waiter at
Saratoga Race Track and at night was a pizza delivery boy. He's a
legitimate giant. He's brilliant. He will play in the NBA 15 years.
Throw me out if he don't.
"One thing I can
teach the players is low post play, individual instruction with big
kids," he said. "It's pretty much on-the-job training, but it's still
basketball. I'm dealing with younger players, and they appreciate people
who speak their language."
Basketball was his habit
Lesley Visser, the ABC and ESPN sports reporter, says Papile always thought big, even when he was just one of the little guys.
the Final Four in Indianapolis in 1980," she recalled, "he asked me if I
wanted to go to a club where he said there was a great band playing. We
got in the car and he drove to Chicago! We went to some club on State
Street and got back to Indy at about five in the morning."
was born in North Quincy in 1954, the first of two sons of Leo and
Loretta Papile. His mother died of cancer when he was a teenager. His
father, one of 19 children in a tight Italian family, was a Metropolitan
District Commission homicide detective who put in 39 years on the
Papile grew up fast. By 12, he was
6-2 and weighed 195 pounds. He was the Wes Unseld of his eighth-grade
team, and a fast-talking young man from Somerville named Kevin Mackey
talked to Papile about playing ball for Cathedral in Boston. Papile
didn't make the move, but he would join Mackey years later in another
venture in another town.
By high school,
basketball was a 365-day-a-year habit. Usually, he found a game in
Quincy. If not, he would hop a bus to Fields Corner and then take the
Red Line to the asphalt jungles of Boston.
played football and basketball at North Quincy High. Hoop was his true
love, but his limitations were obvious. "I was a 6-2 white center,"
Papile played a year at Keene
State College, then tried Bridgewater State, then UMass-Boston. He never
got a degree, a fact that doesn't bother him a bit.
a vociferous reader and an amateur historian," he said. "I have no
interest in any other stuff that goes on in college. I see degrees as a
waste of time and money. I don't think I have to debate my intellect
with anyone. I accumulate knowledge on things I'm interested in."
son of a son of an immigrant, Papile has always worked. He raked
beaches for the MDC. He sold insurance. Mostly, he worked in bars. At
19, he lied about his age and got a job as a bouncer at the Boston Club
on Commonwealth Avenue. When he was 22, he managed Ryles in Inman
"Hire people. Order liquor. A moron
could do it," Papile said. "What else was I gonna do? I'm a blue-collar
guy. I did these jobs so I would have time for basketball."
never left the game he loved. His court career ended when he blew out
his left knee while playing for the O'Brien Club of the Cranberry League
in 1973. So they made him coach. He was 19. He coached a guard named
Jimmy O'Brien, who was between American Basketball Association stints
with the Kentucky Colonels and San Diego Conquistadors. O'Brien would
later become BC basketball coach and recruit Papile players like Scoonie
Penn and Jonathan DePina.
1977, when Papile was 23, he was named head coach of the upstart Quincy
Chiefs of the long-running Eastern Basketball Association.
Chiefs were the EBA's answer to the ABA's St. Louis Spirits. Home games
were played at the Quincy Voke-Tech Gym off Route 3A; the team traveled
to Alaska for a game. Papile had Walter Luckett, who had been on the
cover of Sports Illustrated, and Frank Oleynick, whose nickname was
"White Magic." The estimable Pat Jordan wrote a book about Luckett and
The Chiefs PR man was Ted
Sarandis, now of WEEI sports radio. Papile paid Sarandis $ 100 per month
- and that didn't include all the mileage with two clunky 24-second
clocks rattling around in the trunk.
didn't have much," Papile said. "We needed 24-second clocks. Jeff Cohen
then Celtic GM let us use the Garden's 24-second clocks. Teddy used to
drive down with them in his trunk, then sneak 'em back up the Garden
ramp before Red ever found out."
Bigelow, who played briefly for the Chiefs after he was let go by the
NBA's Kansas City Kings, doesn't remember the clocks being necessary.
"On that team, you didn't need a 10-second shot clock," said Bigelow.
"No one would take the ball out of bounds, 'cause you'd never get it
back. The ball would just be left sitting there.
first game I played, I hit a shot to tie it and put it into overtime.
Leo and Ted started jumping around like five year-olds. I said, 'Leo, we
got an overtime to play.' I think I coached the team in the overtime."
Chiefs folded after a year, and Papile went to Suffolk University to
coach under Jim Nelson. By then, he had formed the BABC, and it would
become his mission. More than anything, Papile said, he believes in
amateur basketball for teen-agers.
Papile was coaching a BABC team against a Soviet team. After the game,
he was approached by 27-year-old Boston University coach Rick Pitino. Pitino
had been asking around town, trying to find someone who knew local
talent. He kept hearing Papile's name. He hired Papile for $ 6,000 a
Papile found friends and BABC alums to take over the amateur team while he coached in college. After two seasons with Pitino,
he took a job as head coach of the Maine Lumberjacks of the Continental
Basketball Association. At the time, Phil Jackson was a mere assistant
coach in the CBA. During the summer, Papile coached in the California
summer pro league where Pat Riley was an assistant.
was like Siberia for Papile. Just to have something to do at night,
he'd drive down to Boston. He'd rush to the bank to cash his check,
fearing it would bounce if he got there after his players cashed theirs.
he went to Cleveland State, where he was an assistant under Kevin
Mackey, the same Kevin Mackey who had watched Papile as an eighth
grader. Mackey was building a big-time program at the tiny Cleveland
school - a team that would upset Bobby Knight's Indiana Hoosiers in the
1986 NCAA tournament.
Papile's time in
Cleveland has always been something of a mystery to basketball folks in
Boston, primarily because Papile was hardly ever in Clevelandre. As a
Celtic hire, Papile gets questions that are not asked of Chris Wallace
or Jim O'Brien.
"I realize easily I could
be cannon fodder because of the way I look," said Papile. "Let's face
it. I'm Italian. I've been around all kinds of people. But I've never
been arrested. I'm a basketball guy, and sometimes people have
objections because I didn't do it the way everybody else did."
like Mackey said, Papile seems to enjoy the image. Though he calls
sports talk radio "the growth of idiot culture," he reacted to WEEI's
recent bad attempts at humor with tongue in cheek. "I heard they
supposedly said the problem with Dino will be resolved when Leo puts him
in the Cadillac and he never returns," said Papile, referring to Dino
Radja, whom the Celtics are trying to dump. "Now, Dino has a family.
Please. If that's going to happen, he shouldn't be tipped off. It should
be quiet and painless."
Last winter, when Pitino
wanted a recruit's nagging father off his back, the coach made one call
to Papile and Kentucky's basketball office never heard from the
recruit's old man again.
Though Papile has
been accused of just about everything, none of it has proven true.
Still, rumors trail him like one of his floor-length coats.
has been talk of women, and Papile concedes he does adore them.
Gambling? He enjoys the track and used to own a few $ 5,000 claimers at
Suffolk Downs. There have even been ugly rumors about drugs and dirty
deeds. But Papile's legal record is clean. He's never even been
arrested, records show.
"You can call J.
Edgar Hoover if you want," he said. "I checked all the post offices and I
haven't seen my picture on the walls. Did you check where I was
November 22, 1963?"
"Leo gets a bad rap,"
said Al Brodsky, who has coached with him for 15 years. "A lot of people
don't like the AAU program. He's a loud person, but he's not as bad as
people think he is."
Papile spends a good
portion of his winters in Miami. His AAU teams travel and play up to 200
games a year. They stay in hotels, not dormitories. They pay refs top
dollar. They wear nifty footwear. Papile has the leather and the gold.
Obviously, he has money. But it isn't from basketball.
have property," he says. "I'm a small potatoes guy, but I'm in good
neighborhoods. These weren't really big down payments. That was the era
of buy now, worry later."
Papile says his
tenants include Haitian women who own a hair salon and Greeks who sell
sandwiches. He says he believes in the immigrant work ethic. If his
tenants have to pay the gas company first, he says that's fine by him.
draws no salary from the BABC and says he puts extra club expenses on
his Visa card. But Nike helps out, too. As a major sponsor of the BABC,
the company pays up to 70 percent of the team's travel budget. The
players wear Nike shoes.
Every coach of
top-level amateur basketball teams comes under suspicion of selling
players. Papile has coached Patrick Ewing, Dana Barros, Chris Herren,
Wayne Turner, Carmelo Travieso, Elton Tyler, and just about every other
high-profile Boston amateur of the last 20 years.
of all, if anyone ever tried to do that - and they haven't - in my
younger days I probably would have said, 'Sure,' taken the money, drove
to the airport, and kept the money. But no one ever came to me. It's
complete nonsense. I've never seen it.
who has the courage to confront me with that, I would go into a steel
cage with them and pound them to smithereens, because that's how untrue
He says the greatest tragedy he's
experienced was the murder of former BABC player Jamal Jackson. The BABC
paid for Jackson's headstone.
in life," Papile said, "whether I stay with the Celtics for one or 50
years, is making Boston amateur basketball what it is today, arguably
the premier program in the country. That will be written on my
gravestone, and I want nothing else."
the BABC was all that mattered, Papile was a small-time guy in this
town. But now he is a major player in the New Celtics of Rick Pitino, and NBA fans across New England are wondering about the guy with the ponytail.
is delighted with his new scout. And who knows? Maybe Garth Joseph -
Papile's "legitimate giant" - will someday have his Celtic number
hanging from the rafters of the New Garden.