Chris Ford: A Big Fan of DJ

Chris Ford, Jr: A Big Fan of DJ

February 9, 1994

DANVERS - As one would expect, the coach's son is a smart player. Like his father, the current coach and former player for the Celtics, Christopher J. Ford Jr. finds the open man and never disrupts the flow. The only part that does not seem to fit is the number on his jersey.

"I've been wearing No.3 since the sixth grade, and that's because of Dennis Johnson," said Ford, a senior at St. John's Prep. "He was one of my favorite players."

DJ must not get many invitations to dinner. Chris Ford Sr. wore No.42 when he helped the Celtics win the NBA championship in 1981, but when Chris Jr. enrolled at St. John's 2 1/2 years ago, he had already been wearing No.3 for five years. There was certainly no reason to change. If something works, stick with it.

That formula has made Ford the leading scorer in the Catholic Conference this season. A 6-foot-3 guard and forward, he is averaging 22 points and nine rebounds a game for the surprising Eagles (12-3). While his performances are often an unspectacular collection of bounce passes, free throws and defensive rebounds, they are, nonetheless, effective.

"Because of his personality on the floor, he doesn't stick out. He's very solid. He's very consistent," said Kevin McCann, who coached at Revere High School for 10 years before taking over at the Prep in 1991.

"As an opposing player or fan, you've got to give him respect for the way he plays the game," McCann said. "He's not out there trying to show anybody up. He plays hard. He's not out there trying to prove a point."

In the process, Ford has made one just the same. Yes, his father is the coach of the Celtics, but he just happens to be a good basketball player, too. Ford said he didn't know where to begin when asked to list the good things about being the son of the Celtics' coach, but the one bad thing is easy to remember.

"Everyone thinks it comes naturally," said Ford, who wants to play at a Division 1 college next season. "The real truth is I have to work as hard as everyone else."

McCann will testify to that. When the coach first arrived at St. John's in 1991, Ford had just enrolled as a sophomore. In him, McCann found a player who was skilled but apprehensive, a characteristic that can easily overpower talent.

"He was new to the program, just like I was," said McCann. "I noticed that even as a sophomore, unless we asked him to do something, he didn't deliver. But when we did ask, his response was amazing."

So now, McCann and the rest of St. John's coaches have done the logical thing: They ask Ford to do everything. During the course of a game, Ford will play in the post as well as bring the ball up the floor. He handles a bulk of his team's rebounding and is one of the Eagles' many 3-point threats.

Most important for McCann, Ford has become a leader. After partially tearing a muscle in his right calf in the season opener, Ford came back for the next game against Durfee and collected 34 points, nine rebounds and six steals in a three-point loss. He has not missed a game this season.

Earlier this winter, in a Christmas tournament game against Boston Latin with St. John's trailing by two, Ford uncharacteristically missed a pair of free throws with 19 seconds left. After he made a steal and tied the game with a second to go, Latin was issued a technical foul for trying to call a timeout it did not have.

McCann was prepared to send junior Chris Dexter to the line to decide the game when Ford intervened.

"He came up to me and begged me to go the line," McCann said with a smile. "He stepped up there and buried both after missing both on a two-shot foul. For him to do that said a lot.

"I think everything is centered around his growth as a leader on the floor," McCann said. "He's a shy kid by nature, but there's a leader locked up inside of him."

As for Chris Ford Sr., who grew up on the playgrounds of New Jersey, there was clearly a leader inside of him, too. The coach of the Celtics quietly and anxiously sits in the stands when his son is on the playing floor. He offers his son a few messages during the game through hand signals. He doesn't say much but he is, quite clearly, proud.

"Since he was 3 years old, he came to practice with all the guys," said Ford, who joined the Celtics in 1978. "(Larry) Bird, (Robert) Parish, (Kevin) McHale - those are all his buddies. He grew up with those guys.

"He doesn't get caught up in who I am or what we do," Ford said after a Celtics practice at Brandeis University in Waltham. "He's always been here. He's always been part of the Celtics."

Chris Ford Jr. does not remember much from his father's playing days. Chris Jr. had not yet turned 7 when Chris Sr. ended his playing career in 1982. While the son now gets the better of his old man in their rare one-on-one confrontations - "The last time we played, he kicked my butt," said the coach of the Celtics - Chris Jr. can recite the scouting report on his father with ease.

"Slow. White. Great outside shooter. Real smart player. Real good on defense. Got a lot of steals. That's probably it," he said. "He made up for his lack of athletic ability in other areas."

So does his son.

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