Ring of fire for Dickie V
Long-ago trade gave C’s 3 titles
Paul Pierce rightfully had his No. 34 placed in the Garden rafters Sunday, in large part because of his role in bringing a championship to the Celtics.
But there was a guy at the gymnasium on Causeway Street last night who had a hand in three Celtics titles, and what I want to know is when is someone going to raise a banner for Dick Vitale?
Yes, that Dick Vitale. Richard John Vitale from Passaic, N.J. Dickie V.
He was the coach of the Pistons in September 1979 when the Celtics, negotiating compensation for signing free agent M.L. Carr, worked it out by trading Bob McAdoo to Detroit for two first-round draft picks. The following June, seven months after Vitale was fired with a 4-8 record in his second season, the Celts sent those two picks, Nos. 1 and 13, to Golden State for Robert Parish and the third pick, which they turned into Kevin McHale.
And three NBA championships — 1981, ’84 and ’86.
It’s no surprise that Mr. V, in town to work the CeltsClippers game on ESPN crossover night, has gotten a lot of mileage out of it.
“I remember speaking at an event where Red Auerbach was honored,” he said yesterday, “and I remember turning to Red. I says, ‘They’re honoring you here, Mr. Auerbach, and I love you. I love everything about you. But how come I keep looking in my mail and I’ve never received a championship ring for us giving you the foundation for your championships in the ’80s? I gave you McHale and Parish.’ The place went crazy laughing.”
Vitale can take the joke now after years as the preeminent college basketball commentator. And, truth be told, he got blamed for a trade that was engineered from above his pay grade. Just as former Brooklyn general manager Billy King gets the heat for the Pierce/ Garnett trade for a barrel of picks when it was the Nets owner who did it, Vitale was on the sideline when Pistons owner Bill Davidson got taken by Auerbach.
“What happened was M.L. Carr signed as a free agent with Boston, and I wanted to keep him,” Vitale said. “M.L. was a coach’s dream. He played hard all the time, great attitude, just a winner, always a smile on his face. He was like Ernie Banks from baseball. Let’s play three games. I mean, he loved playing and I hated to see us lose him.
“But the Celtics made him a heck of an offer, and our people didn’t want to go that kind of route with the money. In those days it was basically a compensation deal where you would get something back for your free agent. Our owner loved McAdoo, his scoring ability and how it would excite people. He and (Bob) Lanier would be tough to defend.
“We had no general manager and (Davidson) took over the negotiations with Red Auerbach. He came back and said, ‘I’ve given them two first-round draft choices, and we’re going to have McAdoo.’ Well, McAdoo really never wanted to be with us. Mac’s a good guy, too. I got to really know him after, but he didn’t want to be the guy any longer. He wanted to be with a team where he could just blend in and play. He was tired of getting traded, and he wanted the Lakers, and that’s where he ultimately went and he was great for them.”
McAdoo won two titles with the Lakers, while the end product of the draft picks won three in Boston.
“You’ve got to be loyal to your organization,” said Vitale, “so what am I going to do? Am I going to stand in the press conference and say, ‘I don’t want to do this?’ You take the shots. But the bottom line is that it worked out beautifully for Boston. It didn’t work out for us.
“I got fired 12 games into my second year, and it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened in my life. Nov. 8, 1979, I was down as can be when I was told I was fired. I went from coaching high school in 1970 to coaching in the NBA in eight years, and my career was exploding. And then all of a sudden, bam, I was fired. I was just as depressed as could be, and if you’d have told me on that day that I would be talking to you today and telling you I’m in 13 Hall of Fames, including the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, the college Hall of Fame, the University of Detroit Hall of Fame, the Italian Hall of Fame — I mean, 13 of them — I’d say you’re wacky, because that’s how down I was.
“But, you know, you look back on your life and it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me, because, I tell you this, I hated losing so much that if I stayed in coaching, whether it be college or pros, I would have been dead by 55. I couldn’t handle losing. It tore my insides to shreds. And the owner was great to me.
“Bill Davidson treated me like royalty. He kept saying to me day after day, ‘You’re your biggest enemy. You want to win now, Dick, but it’s going to take us five years.’ But all I could think about is that we couldn’t beat Dr. J or Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) or those people with the talent we had. And then we had major injuries on top of it.
“But by getting fired and getting away from that, it’s given me a life that’s exceeded any dream I’ve ever had.”
Vitale was smiling when he got to the Garden last night. He was taking in the affection of the fans. When he looked up at three of the banners, he could be thankful for a botched trade and a firing that left him free a month later to take a color commentary assignment for a fledgling network.
And become Dickie V.
HOW DO YOU DO: Kyrie Irving shakes hands with Dick Vitale before last night’s game at the Garden.