(This post is running as the lede item on DigitalSportsDesk.com tonight)
|Danny Ainge, new coach Brad Stevens and co-owner Wyc Grousbeck|
WALTHAM, Mass – July 5, 2013 -- The formalities were already covered by a series of phone calls between Boston Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens. It was time to sit down and finalize a deal to make Stevens the 17th head coach to walk the sidelines for the storied National Basketball Association franchise. Not a soul outside of the organization was aware of the breakfast meeting at Stevens' mother's house in Indiana, a setting that would make the casting directors and set designers for the motion picture "Hoosiers" marvel in creative vision. The deal breaker was going to be the Celtics' ability to put Stevens and his family at ease with the daunting task and unfathomable opportunity being proposed to the young coach, the most successful coach in the history of tiny Butler University.
Stevens' mother's shitzu poodle, Mack, greeted Ainge and the Celtics hierarchy at the garage door. Then, with the snuff test administered by the 10-pound pooch successfully passed, the deal-making could unfold with the negotiating at a dining room table in a setting right out of Americana, in the hotbed of hoops in the Hoosier State where basketball is indeed a religion. Ainge, along with minority team owner Stephen Pagliuca and Managing Partner Wyc Grousbeck, gathered around the table covered with plastic to protect young Brady and Kingsley’s grandmother Jan's furniture from the kids’ arts and crafts projects
Believe it or not, before the job opportunity came along and before the phone rang and Ainge was asking Stevens if he'd be interested in succeeding Doc Rivers, the Stevens family's belongings were already all packed up and in storage, not because they envisioned a change of employers, but simply because they were trying to find the right home to settle down and raise two wonderful children right smack in America's heartland.
"It's really comical, and you have to be able to laugh at yourself," said Tracy, sincerely happy that their challenging real estate ventures were the subject of questioning instead of her viewpoint on x's and o's or the trials and tribulations as a coach's wife. "We had purchased a house in Carmel, Indiana a couple of years ago and immediately knew it just wasn't the right fit, she explained. "We tried to sell it for about a year and we hadn't received any offers. So, we finally get an offer, and we sold it and had to get out fairly quickly. We've been looking for a place and - this time - we didn't want to make the wrong choice in buying a new house. We were hoping to find a place quickly but it wasn't working out, so we decided to put all of stuff in storage and move in with Brad's mom. It was only going to be a few weeks, as we had (Butler University) basketball camp and Brad was going to be gone a lot in July, recruiting.
"The call comes in on a day when we'd just looked at two houses and we both agreed they weren't the right fit." she elaborated. “To me, it was a little bit of a 'sign,' as we still hadn't found a home and, maybe, this is something we should really think about. When it came time to meet, we met at Brad's Mom's house and they came in, walked through the garage and the dog is barking,” she laughed.
"Then, right in the middle of the meeting, my cell phone kept ringing multiple times, which sometimes means something is wrong," she recounted. "I looked at it and it was one of the basketball secretaries at Butler where we had 160 campers. She was calling to say a construction crew had turned off the water and while they had some running water, the restrooms were not working! So I had to excuse myself from the meeting, but when I came back, Brad said "I think I'm going to do it," and I said, 'Okay!"
The rest is history, and you can call it Celtics lore or maybe even Celtics "lure."
Amidst pure fate, some scrambled-up living arrangements and real-world issues like the timing and feel to sign on the dotted line for a longterm real estate move, -- never mind the ill-timed plumbing failures -- the fade-to-black background story that brought Ainge and Stevens together at this crucial moment in Boston Celtics franchise history actually began at the 2010 NCAA Final Four at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis. The former NCAA star from Brigham Young University and two-time NBA champion as a Celtics point guard sat with Pagliuca, a Duke University graduate, as the David vs. Goliath NCAA championship game unfolded, pitting Stevens' underdog Butler team against Duke and Coach Mike Krzyzewski's blue blood Blue Devils.
"In 2010, Steve and I went to the championship game against Duke, and, of course, Steve was rooting for Duke,” remembered Ainge. "Not to bring back bad memories for Brad, but as I sat there, I said to Steve, 'this is the best coach in college basketball, right there down on the sideline. He thought that I was talking about Coach K, so we had a little debate right then and there. But, well before that time, I had known of Brad and watched him coach, and I loved to watch his teams play. I love his poise, and more than anything, in talking to Brad about prospects for the draft, I always valued what he said, and I talk to a lot of coaches. For some reason, I just trusted his opinions, and I liked his feel and understanding of players - the character of players and the talents of players.
"Brad was my first choice," said Ainge at a packed press conference on the floor of the Celtics suburban Boston training facility, a place where the children of Celtics staff and players frequently traipse around, shoot baskets and glance up at replicas of 16 NBA championship banners that mimic the real ones that hung in the rafters of the fabled Boston Garden and now adorn the more modern-looking TD Garden on Causeway Street downtown.
"I've watched and admired his poise, his intelligence, his teams and their execution under pressure. I've always looked at him over the last few years as a candidate to be a great head coach, never really thinking it was going to be this soon in Celtics history.
“I viewed him as a great talent, but maybe more importantly, a man with great integrity and character,” noted Ainge who was shoulder-to-shoulder with the 10th different Celtics head coach since he played for Bill Fitch in the glory years of the '80s.
“I am absolutely humbled to be sitting in this room,” said Stevens as the time came for him to speak at his introductory media conference where he let it slip that he had already been reading Celtics great Bill Russell’s memoirs. “As any young basketball coach was or is, I am just in awe of the Boston Celtics organization and all that’s been accomplished by the many players, coaches and everybody else that has worked in this building to help them do what they’ve done.
“One of the things that I’m so thrilled about is to work in a place that has high standards but also places such a value on culture. It’s really important. I’m a process-driven guy. I believe in relationships. I believe in trying to be the very best you can be and that has clearly been something that has been stressed in every conversation that I’ve had here, starting with the multiple conversations I had with Danny.
I want to thank and appreciate Butler, as there’s been a lot of emotion,” Stevens added, sincerely, as he named the Butler support team and called out to the players past and present. “I wouldn’t be sitting here and I’m not one of these guys that’s crazy enough to think that I’m here because of me. I’m here because I’ve fooled a couple of these guys and because we’ve had great people on our bus all the way through and I’m looking forward to working with the great people here.”
"Since the hire, the feedback we've gotten has been amazing from coaches, some that I've never heard from before, saying that same thing, that Brad is one of the great young coaches that they've ever been around. I couldn't be more excited about our partnership. We've spent a lot of time on the phone over the past 10 days, as it's been a very difficult decision for Brad, leaving a wonderful situation at Butler with his staff, his athletic director and his players,” noted Ainge.
"Brad's success will be determined by what I do to help him and support him and what (Celtics) ownership does to support us. We all know what we're about to embark on, and he will have great support from ownership and management. There will be transition from the college game to the NBA game, but we will give him that support to make the transition fast. He's a very smart guy, and I'm not worried about that. He's probably more worried about that than I am," said Ainge with a smile.
"Wyc and Pags knew how much I liked Brad from the very beginning," said Ainge. "We hadn't made a deal but it was getting close and the thing that was preventing it from happening was the uncertainty of the NBA. There was a tug to stay at Butler where he was recruiting new players and they’re going into the Big East. Brad loves his athletic director and it was just really, hard. But once he met everybody, he and his wife felt more comfortable."
|Brad Stevens, the 17th head coach of the Boston Celtics (photos by Getty Images).|
The Celtics organization has long embodied the term "Celtics family," and Ainge took that organizational culture up a notch when he took over the basketball operations job in a place where he and his family literally grew up.
"I lived it," said Ainge. "I've been a coach and I've been a player, and I know how draining it can be. We welcome families here. We welcome players to include their families. We want the kids hanging around, shooting with their dads on the court, and we want the whole family to participate in the experience."
For Stevens, a self-described “process-driven, day-to-day guy,” his hard decision process was a fork in the basketball road. If he jumped at the pros, he would have to leave behind the security of a dream-come-true job at Butler and take that "leap of faith," as Ainge put it multiple times in the introductory press conference. In Stevens' mind, surely there was a laundry list of upside factors such as coaching a strong but ornery point guard in Rajon Rondo, who can masterfully quarterback a foundation of gutty, road-tested, high basketball IQ players who will compete mightily during a period of transition and change for this franchise.
On the long-range planning chart for the young coach and his family is the potential for a bright future, living in one of America's great cities, coaching the league’s most respected and winningest clubs with a newfound, windfall NBA bank account with a different type of security - financial security - to the tune of his freshly minted six-year, $22 million dollar deal.
In taking the gig, Stevens has the utmost admiration and support from senior management, in Ainge. In the past three days, he quickly learned - at his mom's dining room table - he has the support of team ownership.
Said Grousbeck, with a breath of fresh air and even - yes, humility, uncommon in NBA ownership circles, "Thank you to Brad and Tracy and their family for believing in us, believing in the power of "Celtics Pride." When you take charge of this organization and all of the tradition and pride that has been built by so many great people in the past, you are a trustee and your obligation is to build the Celtics pride and take it forward. We think that by having Brad and his family here, as a key part of the Celtics going forward, we're doing everything we can to bring back the championship ways. Both on and off the court, we think Brad will help us lead this franchise to where it needs to be and we're going to be patient, committed and resolute."
Reflecting back at the scene from his moms dining room table, Stevens thought hard and you could see the wheels turning in his mind, relishing the request to elaborate on the feeling he had when Ainge and the Celtics’ contingent departed.
“We were pretty well set on what the decision would be when they arrived because of the fact we were meeting in person,” said Stevens, painting the picture. “Obviously, it was important to them to meet us and be sure they felt good about us and for us, we felt a tremendous sense – we felt at home.
“Sitting there around that table, it was very evident, it was very obvious. When they left, it was obvious it was the right decision. But that didn’t make communicating the decision any easy to the people I spent 13 years with (at Butler). We’ve done nothing but look forward since and we had a blast with our family here in Boston yesterday, walking downtown.
“I just can’t wait to get back to normalcy,” added the young coach who can mark his calendar with a date to watch Celtics 2013 draft picks Kelly Olynyk and Colton Iverson along with 2012 No. 1 pick Fab Melo when they play on the Celtics summer league roster in Orlando just about 48 hours after Brad Stevens, the 17th head coach of the Boston Celtics, was introduced to a group of reporters who all shared the same opinion about a very good hire. That being a coach fitting of a new value in Celtics family history – one of humility.