ML Carr Alive and Well

February 7, 1999

ML Carr Alive and Well

He was there last night, looking as if nothing had ever changed. There was the double-breasted Joseph Abboud suit, the mingling with fans and media, and, later, rubbing elbows with the rich guys in the Putnam luxury boxes. "Billionaires," M.L. Carr was saying. "That's what we want, billionaires. Not millionaires. I've gone from the bench to the luxury boxes. Is that success or what?" There weren't a lot of Carr sightings at the FleetCenter last season. By his own count, he attended three of the 41 games: one with a client, one as a social night out, and the third to honor former teammate Robert Parish. It was absence by design, he says now.

 He knew he was no longer in the basketball picture, also by design. Yet he thought it best to stay away, lest someone ask him about Rick Pitino's team, or Pitino's style, or clothes, or shoes. "There obviously was a need to step back," Carr said. "I didn't want to have people ask me questions about second-guessing. Rick is a career coach. I'm not a career coach. What I did, it was a business decision. I feel good about what I did. Now he can take it to another level." Carr also was there last night to see Antoine Walker. He has become even closer to the Celtics' captain, whom he drafted out of Kentucky after making a great trade with Dallas. (When Walker was a rookie, his teammates saw that and nicknamed him "Antoine Carr.")

It's one legacy which is his and his alone, even though we'll give him a pass for offering Walker and the Dallas pick in 1997 (which turned into Ron Mercer) for Marcus Camby. It's becoming fun to be a Celtics fan these days, but it was anything but in Carr's two lean years as coach, especially the second. But, he maintains, he knew what was going on, did what he was supposed to do, expected to take the hits, and never flinched. That still doesn't explain the ridiculous contracts given to Greg Minor or Pervis Ellison. But it does explain the 15-67 record, the best statistical shot at Tim Duncan, and, well, the Ping-Pong balls were one of the few things he said he could not control or oversee. Dee Brown said last week that Carr took a bullet for the organization, and Carr did everything last night but show us the scar. "I feel real good about what we did," he said. "It was a tough period. What we're able to do, I don't think too many people could have done that and taken the hits I took.

I knew going in what I was looking at. I told [ owner] Paul Gaston, 'Why bring in a guy you're just going to have to fire and lose all that money? It doesn't make sense. We don't have what we need to get where we need to be.' He said I was crazy: 'You'll get killed.' Red [ Auerbach] said the same thing. I told Red, 'It's because of you. You always taught us to put the team first.' " So, we're now told, it was all by design, which we suspected all along. Carr got a $1 million bonus for steering the team to that 15-67 record and then disappearing into the corporate woodwork so Pitino could come in with the cranes and bulldozers. It was, we're told, calculated, deliberate, even disingenuous at times, with Carr saying he knowingly misled reporters because "it was all a cat-and-mouse game to me. I'd send you guys on wild goose chases.

 "I knew I was going to take a lot of hits, no question," he went on. "I had never coached a high school team. Most people would have been scared to death to do what I did. But I wasn't at all. I'm not intimidated by anything or anyone, so I was able to do that. I did what I thought was right for the organization to the point where a guy like Rick could come in." He said we'd see more of him this season. The FleetCenter no longer is a basketball arena. It's a selling venue. His job is to make money by shaking down the suits. The one-year hiatus from the FleetCenter is over. Carr sees no reason to be incommunicado any longer. The team is headed in the right direction with its "career coach," and he is content to be a spectator. "This is home for me. I helped build this," he said. "I'm a Celtic. I've got two championship rings. This is my city. I chose to stay here. I've done it here from every conceivable angle. My father used to tell me to come back home [ North Carolina] when I retired, but on his last visit here, he said to me, 'This is your home.' He understood. I love Boston. I love the action here. This is home. And you should never feel uncomfortable in your own house."

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