The Dave Gavitt Regime


Dave Gavitt joined the Celtics on May 30, 1990. The cover of the Celtics' 1990-91 media guide featured a Bot Roda caricature of Gavitt, flanked by Auerbach and coach Chris Ford and backed by the Big Three - Bird, McHale and Robert Parish. They're all smiling. Even Ford.

But in his four years as Boston's basketball boss, Gavitt spent more time dealing with crises than building a winning team. He paid the price for the franchise's decision to let the Big Three play out the string when Bird suffered back spasms during the 1990-91 season and underwent postseason surgery. During the 1991- 92 season, Bird was again limited by back pain, playing only 45 games.

In 1993, Gavitt was the Celtics point man during the Lewis tragedy. He directed team physician Arnold Scheller to assemble the Dream Team of cardiologists that diagnosed a serious heart condition. He couldn't do much when Donna Harris-Lewis transferred her husband from New England Baptist Hospital to Brigham and Women's Hospital in the middle of the night and put him under the care of Dr. Gilbert Mudge, whom she later now suing for malpractice.

In 1993-94, Gavitt's club finished 32-50 and did not make the playoffs, the first time since 1978-79 the Celtics were on the postseason sideline.

Gavitt had mixed results in his personnel moves. He drafted Dee Brown in 1990 and Rick Fox in 1991, and each became a serviceable player. He drafted but could not sign Barry in 1992, so he traded him to the Milwaukee Bucks for Alaa Abdelnaby. He drafted Iowa's Earl in 1993 without having worked him out and probably regretted the decision. Earl was gone after two seasons.

Gavitt also brought in Sherman Douglas, Xavier McDaniel, Jimmy Oliver, Dino Radja, Derek Smith, Stojko Vrankovic, Lorenzo Williams, Joe Wolf and the immortal A.J. Wynder.

In 1993, Paul Gaston assumed control of the Celtics from his father Don. On June 14, 1994, he made Gavitt a vice chairman and put M.L. Carr, the flag-waving cheeleader from the 1980s, whose only front-office experience was in community affairs, in charge of basketball operations.

But mostly, Gavitt will be remembered for bringing Rick Pitino to the Boston Celtics.

Simply put: no Dave Gavitt, no Rick Pitino.

Although Gavitt had left the green a couple of years earlier, Gavitt put Pitino in touch with Larry Bird in 1997, and then Gavitt held Pitino's hand through the entire hiring process. Gavitt guided Pitino through the ins and outs of the deal, assuring him that Gaston was someone he could trust while answering any other questions the perplexed mentor might have. The two talked continually, the final conversation taking place at 7:45 a.m. Tuesday.

"I think he was 50-50 when Bird first approached him," Gavitt revealed. "By the time I was done talking to him, he was up 100%."

The Gavitt-Pitino relationship goes back a long way. It began when then Providence College coach Dave Gavitt took a long look at a high-scoring point guard named Rick Pitino playing for St. Dominic's in Oyster Bay, N.Y., before deciding to take a pass (Gavitt did have a kid named DeGregorio in house).

Gavitt remembers one particular collegiate encounter. "Rick was playing for UMass, and things weren't going well with he and (coach) Jack Leaman at the time," Gavitt explains. "He came out early to warm up, and he came over to say hi. He said he was really unhappy and that he was thinking about transferring.

"I asked him what he wanted to do with his life, and he immediately said, `Coach.' So I said the best thing for him would be to stay right where he was because he was playing for an excellent coach and there would be no point in leaving UMass."

There is a postscript to the story.

"It comes down to a 1-point game," Gavitt continues. "We're down 1 and Rick gets fouled for a one-and-one. He misses, and Kevin Stacom hits a jumper at the buzzer."

I'm sure the story gets told with great relish every so often. And I'm equally sure it gets better every time, with Pitino either airballing or watching the ball bounce on the rim six or eight times before falling off.

The frustrated point guard grew up to be the acclaimed coach we know today. "Rick is exceptional," says Gavitt, who, lest anyone forget, was a proficient enough coach himself to have been named to head the ill-fated 1980 Olympic team. "I don't know exactly how he got that way, except to say that there is some (Pat) Riley in him in terms of being driven. He's a worker and a half. He's very demanding on both players and staff. Very much so."

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