Rick Fox: Celtics Latest Sixth Man

After four years, Rick Fox may be finding his niche in the Boston Celtics ' storied sixth-man role.

It has been more than 35 years since Coach Red Auerbach introduced a distinctive "sixth man" concept to the Boston Celtics.

The way Auerbach conceived it, the ideal sixth man was a more dynamic offensive player than most of the starters. When other teams replaced their lineups, the sixth man's explosive skills would take command of the game's tempo.

It worked, and the sixth man became an essential ingredient in the Celtics' 16 championships, dating from 1958 through '85. Frank Ramsey was the first to fill the role, followed by John Havlicek, Don Nelson and Kevin McHale.

For the last decade, the league itself has even presented a "Sixth Man Award."

The tradition still survives, but neither the Celtics nor the role Auerbach originated are quite the same.

In his fourth season with the Celtics after a noteworthy college career at North Carolina, Rick Fox is the latest aspirant to the job. While it's true that he has yet to become a Ramsey, Havlicek, Nelson or McHale, the Celtics also are struggling to regain their championship form of the past. They have won just eight of their first 19 games.

Fox, who was awarded a new multi-year contract last summer, is off to what is by far his best NBA start. He is Boston's fourth leading scorer at 13 points per game and owns impressive shooting percentages of 56.1 from the floor and 81.8 from the foul line.

The statistic that pleases Fox most, however, is the 22 minutes per game he is averaging in the sixth-man role for coach Chris Ford.

"So much of this game is mental, and getting consistent minutes has helped my mental state," Fox said before a recent game against the Chicago Bulls. "In the past, I've played 25 minutes one night, 5-10 the next, almost none the night after that. So I'd dwell on wondering how much I'd get to play.

"It's a lot easier to get into an effective playing rhythm when I know how much I'm going to play."

Fox's development into his current role has been gradual. The 24th choice in the first round of the 1991 NBA draft averaged 8.0 points as a rookie, slipped to 6.4 in his second season, then improved to 10.8 last year.

"The NBA game forces you to play to your strengths and hide your weaknesses," Fox said. "I'm large but fairly mobile. I'm not the fastest, but I'm fairly quick. I try to outquick other small forwards and get physical when I play against a shooting guard. The things I do best are defense and open-court offense - creating and moving without the ball."

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