Something is Different in the Land of Chris Ford

May 6, 1995

A strange serenity has overcome Chris Ford these past few days. Does he know something we don't know?

He's been saying nice things about this Celtics team, and we know he really doesn't like this bunch, at least not professionally. Nor do they like him.

Are we supposed to believe that some sort of player-coach rapprochement has taken place in the span of five days and two games? 'Twas only a week ago that the Celtics were mailing in a 47-point loss in Orlando, a colossal oinker about which the word "disgraceful" would have been considered a complimentary adjective. That game confirmed the worst fears and suspicions of all card-carrying Nattering Nabobs of Negativism, and that included people seated both in the stands and along press row. It was the artistic low point of the five-year Ford coaching era, apparently demonstrating with extreme prejudice the folly of allowing 35-win teams into postseason play.

Then came last Sunday's fairly amazin' victory in Game 2, and suddenly, Coach Ford was lauding his squad for its gutsiness and heart. He even admitted that, for once, someone had followed one of his directions.

Move now to Wednesday and Game 3. This was a classic playoff grinder. Neither team could mount a consistent offense. The Celtics fell behind, 7-0, and struggled all night to score a basket. Under ordinary circumstances, Ford would have been hyperactive. He wasn't.

Oh, he yelled, all right ("Dominique, get back!" and a steady stream of "Dino!!!!!" led the list), but he was never overwrought. When he emerged from the locker room at halftime, with his team losing by 4 points, he had the look of a man who was just going out of the house to buy milk, a loaf of bread and a newspaper. He almost looked as if he realized it was just a game.

The Celtics lost a tough game, and Ford spoke only in positives. He didn't worry about the 31 percent shooting, the 139 times times Dino Radja, Pervis Ellison or Eric Montross lost the ball in the midst of excursions into the lane or the other failings that once again pointed out the terminal mediocrity of his team. He saw, or at least spoke of, only the good, which basically came down to the fact that the Celtics played with passion and conviction (1, 2, 3, all together now, for a change).

Perhaps Ford has simply come to realize what neutrals have known all along: namely, this series was never about the 35-47 Boston Celtics. This series has been about Orlando. The Celtics are the battered middle-aged heavyweight Never-Was being served up to the undefeated young contender. They were placed in this tournament to help us see what The Kid has learned, or needs to learn. If the Celtics were to win this series, it would tell us far more about Orlando than about them.

Even if the Celtics were to wake up Monday morning as upset victors over the Magic, no essentials would have changed.

Dominique would still be the NBA's answer to Norma Desmond with a $ 4 million check coming next year.

Sherman would still be short.

Dino would still refuse to guard anybody.

Pervis would still be fragile.

Dee would still be inconsistent.

Etc., etc., etc.

The Celtics finished ahead of both Milwaukee and Washington this season, but if M.L. Carr were given the opportunity to swap rosters before the start of the 1995-96 season, he'd do it. No Celtic has half the market value of Glenn Robinson, Vin Baker, Chris Webber or Juwan Howard. The Celtics have no immediate future, and no one knows this better than Chris Ford.

My guess is that Ford has a job he really doesn't want. He needs a divorce from this team. Call it "irreconcilable differences." He knew this all along, but probably didn't want to confront it. A 124-77 score crystallized matters. He's more relaxed now because he isn't fighting it any longer.

The worst that can happen is staying here as a hostage to the hard-fought two-year contract extension he obtained a year ago. With his new attitude, he'd get through it.

The fact is that Chris Ford is in a good career position. He's 46, neither too young nor too old, and he's sufficiently experienced. He enjoys a very nice NBA reputation. There are jobs out there (Golden State and Miami, to name two) and there could be a few more popping up once the season is over. It is difficult to imagine the Celtics standing in his way should an offer be made. What would be the point?

It's time for a change, anyway. Ford came here 16 1/2 years ago as part of a lopsided trade with Detroit. (Earl Tatum and a draft choice for Chris Ford? Yet another Dick Vitale Special.) In the volatile world of professional sports, very few people get to spend 16-plus years in one place. Three of his four children were born here, and the youngest is 13. Unheard of. He has enjoyed enviable stability in his personal life. (Of course, he works at it a lot more than many people in athletics do.)

Red Auerbach came here 45 years ago and never left. It can happen. But most people need a change every now and then. Chris Ford's time may be upon him.

Anyway, something's been going on this week. This is not the same old Chris Ford.

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