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Jersey Red Offering Valuable Insight Into Rick Pitino
Wed., April 14, 1999
RED'S WORLD: He loves him, he loves him
not... Rick and Jersey, together again
By KEN 'JERSEY RED' FORD
This is a story of two visits to the Fleet Center. My
first two of this year, a year in which the Celtics and
their coach have been a disappointment to say the least.
The coach and I have been friends for approximately 27
years, not without a few periods of silence by two very
stubborn people, especially me, but even though we
weren't speaking I did watch every game and suffered
through every loss.
But I was excited to get up there and see exactly what
was going on.
Yes, the "feud" between the Celtics coach and yours
truly is officially over and I did make up for a couple
of games last week and got to see this team up close and
personal on my first visit. The Celts won easily over
the Wizards and I liked what I saw.
I was accompanied by a local fella named Angelo
Fillippi. I first introduced Rick to Angelo when he was
coaching at Boston University and they hit off
instantly. Angelo's best memory of Pitino in those days
was how "driven" he was to win.
One night, we made the trek to Keaney Gym at URI to
watch them play. At halftime, Rick's Terriers were down
by about 20 and went on to defeat the Rams by pressing
and trapping and never giving up, with Pitino going
"ballistic" on the sidelines.
Driving back to Fall River, Fillippi said to me that if
Pitino didn't slow down he would self-destruct in a
couple of years, that no man could be that intense. I
just laughed because I knew better. I knew better then
and I still do.
Despite the Celtics record, the Exorcist is even more
driven than ever. This was Angelo's first visit ever to
an NBA game. Given a choice, he would opt for a quiet
evening at Fenway watching his Red Sox, poor guy.
But he's Italian and he's a friend of Pitino's and that
combination spells "loyalty." So, when Rick requested
that he came to the game was an offer "he should not
Angelo is also close to Nick Zito, and when comes to
horses there is no one whose advice I listen to more
than Angelo except, naturally, Zito!
Pitino pulled a great one on us.
When we entered through the press gate, the security
guard got on his walkie-talkie and said Jersey and
Angelo are entering the building. Fillippi's eyes lit
up. From there, we were escorted to the locker room,
walking right across the parquet floor. It was about a
half hour before tip-off and the Wizards were warming up
inside the locker room.
The Celtics were behind closed doors. There was another
visitor in town and he was speaking to the team -- some
guy named Bill Russell -- and when one of the three
greatest players in the history of the game speaks,
players listen. More about that in a minute.
When they walked out, Angelo, Rick and I spoke with
Russell for a couple of minutes and the coach told him
that was an honor to have him speak to his team and that
he felt he had truly gotten to them. He then turned to
Angelo and said, "I've pulled out all the stops for you.
You're going first class tonight."
We wished him good luck and walked out of the locker
room, where our escort was to take us to the two best
seats in the FleetCenter. I was grinning like a Cheshire
cat and Angelo was actually semi-excited.
Well, the escort took us to an elevator. The door opened
and was jam-packed, so we barely squeezed in.
I naturally figured we were headed for one of the luxury
boxes, but when the escort said, "Seven please," I got
my first sense that something was up. But to be
truthful, I still wasn't sure.
The elevator started up, and you guessed -- stopped
between floors, causing everyone to gasp. Thankfully,
started moving again slowly, very slowly. Up we went,
two ... three ... four ... five ... six ... and finally
seven. There is no eighth floor, so we were as high as
goes. We were also the only three people left on the
elevator -- the escort, Angelo and me. Now I knew
something was up.
After a short walk, we found ourselves at our seats.
They were at the very top of the FleetCenter in the last
row and they were directly behind the basket. Looking
down, the players looked like ants.
Angelo turned to the escort and said "Tell Rick,
arrevedici. I'll see him at Saratoga." He then said this
is what he called first class.
The escort apologized and said that the game was a
sellout and Rick, not knowing that he and I would patch
things up, could not come up with anything better.
As we started to walk away and head back to Fall River,
the escort started laughing hysterically and said to me
Rick and I have been playing jokes on each other for 25
years and this was one of the best. He got me good But
that was not enough.
In the middle of the third quarter, the Jumbo Iron
flashed a message on its four-sided screens to those in
attendance: "The Boston Celtics welcome back Jersey
Red!" It was the only time all night that the crowd
After the game the team was headed directly to the
airport for a trip to Toronto, but I did get to catch up
with several of the players, in particular with Walter
McCarty, Ron Mercer and Antoine Walker. I've known these
guys for about six years, since they were recruited and
played for Rick at Kentucky.
Several years ago I traveled with them to Italy for two
weeks, so was great to share a few memories and laughs.
Then Angelo and I sat in the coach's office for about 20
minutes and shot the breeze.
He then headed for the airport and we traveled back to
Fall River. It wasn't a good night. As Angelo would say
on the way home, was a great night!
The following evening the Celtics dismantled the
Raptors, so when the phone rang around 1 a.m., was a
happy coach Pitino telling me that there would be two
tickets for the game that night against Philly.
This would be the Celts' third straight game in as many
days and a "W" in front of the home crowd would be huge
in this season from hell.
This time I traveled up with another local friend of
Rick's, Father Jay Maddock, and even the padre's prayers
didn't help as the Sixers crushed the Celtics. It was
ugly. The "Boo Birds" were out in full force, as they
have been for most of this year.
After the game, we went to a North End restaurant with
Ralph Willard, the new head coach of Holy Cross and a
former assistant of Pitino's with the Knicks and
Father Jay asked Rick how he was holding up under the
negativity that has been swirling around the team and
him. He said that he was fine, even though he had never
faced a year like this in his entire career.
He did voice concern over what the boos were doing to
this young team. On the road it's a given, but when the
home team fans turn on you it's disheartening to say the
Naturally, the subject of talk radio and what Pitino
calls the "fellowship of the miserable" came up. The hot
story last week was that Glenn Ordway of WEEI called
Pitino a coward on his show, leading several Boston
media guys to crucify Ordway in print for clearly going
over the line.
I joked that Vinny Pazienza was fighting that night and
I would give 10 years' pay to see Rick and the Big "O"
on the undercard, but Pitino brushed off. He does not
ever, and I mean ever, listen to talk radio call-in
Pitino was at his best that night when he spoke of the
Celtics' future and about their brand-spanking new
multi-million dollar training facility in Waltham, and
how he couldn't wait for this aberration of a season to
end so that the very next day he can get to work on
turning those jeers into cheers.
He was extremely positive. This was not media spin. This
was a guy talking to friends, a guy who hates to lose
more than anyone I've ever met in my life and a guy who
does not lie and "is not a coward!"
He is the same guy who said when he took the job that
the fans should make the journey with this team, not
root against it.
Sadly, that has not been the case in this era of instant
gratification. It's all or nothing, especially in
Boston, and that's the reason I begged him not to leave
Kentucky. But what's done is done and I'm telling you
right now that Pitino is not done, folks. He hasn't even
started. And all I have to say to anyone who doubts is
As far as Bill Russell, Pitino said his speech to the
players was unbelievable and Big Bill didn't pull any
punches. He let a few of these new-era Celtics have it.
He said that he had an ego as a player, but was a "team"
ego. There wasn't any room on those teams for guys who
were into individual stats. The Celtics were a "we"
He went on to say that if he took a breather during a
game would be on the offensive end of the court, never
on defense, and that's a problem he sees in today's NBA.
He then showed them his championship ring and said he
had 11 more and was mad that wasn't an even dozen.
Russell then reminded this group of youngsters of the
banners that were hanging above courtside and the hard
work that took to get them up there. He told them that
the uniforms they were wearing were special, belonging
to an organization called the Boston Celtics, and that
they should be honored to be wearing them.
Russell was preaching like he played, and after the game
several of the players told me that was a night they
will never forget.
Russell has had his moments since leaving the Celtics,
but on this night he was bleeding green when the game
started. Russell was sitting in the row in front of me.
Every once in a while I would look up at the No. 6
hanging in the rafters and then look at this man
approaching his 65th birthday and just wonder if there
would ever be anyone who could play the position of
center the way he did. The answer is never.
As for the Celtics, as of Monday night they had won four
out of the last five, but that did not stop the booing
from the meanest, rottenest fans in sports. In the third
period, one guy screamed at Pitino, "Put Patapenko back
in, you idiot."
The guy didn't have any championship rings on his
fingers and if he ever goes to Springfield, he will have
to pay to get in the Hall of Fame. And if he ever writes
a book, will be called "Born to Lose!"
(Jersey Red writes a weekly column for The Herald News.)
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(c) 1999, The Herald News