Ramon Rivas May Make Celtics Despite Not Cracking Rotation for Puerto Rico

October 26, 1988


In Seoul, the Puerto Rican Olympic coach had no interest in making Ramon Rivas part of his regular rotation. So the big guy played when he could, which was hardly ever.

He didn't play very well.

"Ramon," a reporter from Boston said to him after Puerto Rico was eliminated by the United States in the medal round, "K.C. Jones was here watching you."

"Oh," he answered, after a night of no points and no rebounds (there's no need to mention the two fouls). "That's too bad."

Back then, he was a one-line blurb on the transactions page. No one had given much thought to this 6-foot-10-inch, 260-pound widebody center out of Temple actually making the Celtics. But since Rivas signed, Bill Walton has undergone more foot surgery, the Celtics have returned from Spain without Yugoslavian center Stojan Vrankovic, and the need for a backup center has not disappeared. Only one of the four newcomers -- that's right, the big guy --fits the bill.

"Tell the coach that he will not make a mistake with Rivas," said Temple coach John Chaney on the phone from Philadelphia. "He stays away from his weaknesses. He will not take bad shots. If he's going to miss, he'll miss a good shot. He's a good foul shooter and a good outlet passer. He knows how to make a straight line out of routes.

"He's got great hands and he can follow orders. But his greatest asset is he's very smart defensively. He knows just how to use his weight. He can ram those NBA centers out of the sweet spot."

Indeed, Rivas' size simply cannot be overlooked. In fact, it would be impossible to try. But Rivas has warmed the coaches in other ways. He is willing to learn and he understands the game. Rivas even proved an international hero when he apprehended a purse snatcher in Spain by sitting on the perpetrator until the police arrived.

All of this is nice public relations, of course, but Boston is in the business of choosing ballplayers, not simply honorable citizens. And Rivas is acutely aware he is on the edge.

"I'm just hoping so hard to make the squad," he said yesterday. "I'm kind of scared, but I'm doing the best I can."

His confidence level has improved since the Olympics, and the relaxed atmosphere in camp has helped. On the eve of signing the biggest contract in the NBA, Larry Bird took Rivas and the other rookies out to dinner. That kind of reception tends to make the new guys feel welcome.

"I've been kind of surprised how nice the guys have been," Rivas said. "When I was at rookie camp in San Antonio, the veterans were totally different.

"Here it's like a family. I mean, Larry Bird is still Larry Bird, but he treats us like we're another member of the team."

Rivas was playing in a haphazard league in Puerto Rico when his father saw Temple play North Carolina on television one afternoon. The father liked Chaney's act and told his son that if he went to America, it would be to play for the Owls.

"I don't know all that much about this kid, but a friend of mine down there told me he'd found the biggest Puerto Rican player he'd seen in the world," recalled Chaney. "I couldn't believe that, but I went down to take a look.

"We saw Ramon in a game where all he did was run foul line to foul line. He was the youngest player on the team, and no one would pass him the ball. I don't think he ever played in the post until he got to Temple."

Rivas said the outing his college coach saw was an all-star game.

"And you know how all-star games are," he said, his big smile widening. "Everyone is out there trying to show his stuff, and the last one to touch the ball is the center. So I just got myself comfortable under the basket and tried to get some of those 'fruits,' as I call 'em."

Those would be cherries, loose apples, offensive rebounds. The ability to pick those "fruits" has been the one thing coach Jimmy Rodgers has mentioned over and over again as the big plus about Rivas' game.

Yet it has not been completely smooth sailing in the preseason. Rivas' jumping ability is highly suspect, and that makes it difficult for him to release his turnaround against the likes of Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. He is not exactly a gazelle filling the lanes on the break, although he has done surprisingly well for a player with his bulk. Offense? It hasn't been there, but then, the Celtics aren't looking for points from their 12th man, which Rivas is aching to be.

"I'm trying not to think about it," he said, "but once in a while, I catch myself saying, 'I'm here this week, but next week I could be gone.' That hurts, but it's part of growing.

"I'd be more than happy to stay here, even if it means sitting on the bench all the time. But if not, I can't let the whole world come crashing down on me."

Chaney figures the big guy could at least manage to spell McHale and Parish for eight or nine minutes a game. Even longer, if the bangers are on the floor.

"The Celtics are still a team that will take it down in a half-court game and try and beat you in the mud the middle," said Chaney. "Ramon could do that. He helps other big men by always staying in the house.

"And I'll tell you right now. There aren't too many guys that will be able to move him out of there."

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