Rick Fox will Not be Walking through that Door
Rick Fox made it official yesterday: He will not be coming through any door to have a second go-round with the Celtics. As shockers go, this one is slightly behind "Dewey Defeats Truman."
The former Boston first-round draft pick (one of Dave Gavitt's best moves) spent 13 years in the NBA with the league's two most storied franchises. The first six of those were in Boston, where he was around to witness the decline of the Big Three and the arrival of Rick Pitino, who promptly told Fox to look elsewhere because Travis Knight was more important. Fox then signed with the Lakers, for whom he played seven years, winning three titles while establishing a reputation as a hard-nosed, defensive-minded forward who fit seamlessly into Phil Jackson's triangle offense.
Attempts to reach Fox yesterday were unsuccessful, but he told the Los Angeles Times, "I gave it the effort this summer to get my body back in the condition it needed to be to play at this level. Age caught up. I thought it was time to go off into the sunset."
The Celtics waived Fox - a procedural matter necessary when one retires - and wished him well.
"He has been a true professional and will always be a member of the Celtics family, especially considering this is where he started his career," Celtics hoop boss Danny Ainge said in a statement.
Fox, who turned 35 July 24, came back to the Celtics in the August deal with the Lakers that also brought (we think) Gary Payton to Boston in return for Chris Mihm, Jumaine Jones, and Chucky Atkins. Fox had one year remaining on his contract and Ainge said Wednesday that the financial situation was in "negotiations." (Translated: You can be reasonably sure that Fox did not leave his $5 million salary on the table. Fox was the Celtics' No. 1 pick in 1991, 24th overall, and promptly made history of sorts when he became the first rookie since Larry Bird to start the opener. (Kevin Gamble was late reporting that season because of a contract dispute.) When Gavitt announced the selection on draft night, however, there were boos and quizzical looks from fans assembled at the old Blades and Boards Club. Maybe their last recollection of Fox had been a dismal game (5 for 22) in the Final Four for North Carolina that spring.
But Fox wasted no time winning over converts; then-Knicks coach Pat Riley raved about him during the exhibition season, and Bird, who would retire at the end of that season, also loved the kid. He made second-team All-Rookie in 1991-92 in a season in which he played 81 regular-season games and eight of the team's 10 playoff games.
He was a regular right through 1996-97, playing unselfish, complementary basketball, just the way Dean Smith taught him. When Chris Ford, his first coach in Boston, suggested that Fox was lacking defensive skills, Smith shot back that Fox knew how to play defense, NBA be damned. What Ford subsequently learned is that Fox suffered from attention deficit disorder.
Most of Fox's time in Boston was positive. There was one silly contract dispute with M.L. Carr in 1994 and Fox did miss out on the Celtics' playoff run in 1995 because of surgery for bone spurs. When his deal expired in 1997, he thought he had reached an agreement with Pitino to remain a Celtic. But when word leaked that Pitino had also reached an agreement with Knight, the new coach had to make a choice. He went with Knight, renounced Fox, and that was the end of Fox's stay in Boston.
Fox turned down a more lucrative offer from Cleveland to sign with the Lakers in 1997, joining Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. It took a few years for the pieces to come together, but Fox was a key player on three LA title teams. Perhaps it was coincidental, but the last two seasons the Lakers emerged titleless were years in which Fox was hurt and either didn't play (2003) or played a reduced role (2004) in the postseason.
He said this spring that he would find it difficult to return to the Lakers if key players, as well as Jackson, departed. That turned out to be the case. Timing and Mother Nature coincided to make it an easy decision.
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