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Almost Famous - Part 2

This story originally ran on April 7, 2005

Coach Rivers
Doc has a reputation of being good with the media. Not only was he a member of the media himself, but he was so good with press relations that his detractors even point to that as a factor in him winning the coach of the year award with Orlando. They say that the press fell in love with him so they gave him the benefit of the doubt. I don’t know how much stock you can put in that, he did lead that team to a remarkable record given their talent. However, I don’t think his charisma hurt his chances at all. Bottom line: the man is smooth.

You can take public speaking lessons all your life and you can practice a speech till the sun goes down, but you just can’t teach yourself to be smooth. It is a natural charisma and easygoing persona that makes people around you feel comfortable. This is what Doc has. He addresses your question in the manner in which it was asked (yet still finds a way to work in his own agenda). He’s quick to laugh, quick to make a joke, and knows the reporters by name (and makes a point to say their names). But its not just that. He looks you right in the eye and makes you feel like there is nobody there but you and him talking like you’ve known each other for years.

Does it make him a good coach? Nope. However, it does give you a sense of how he is with the players. With the kinds of personalities on this team, communication and people skills are essential. For the same reasons he’s good with the press, I would imagine he’s good with the players.

Now, there is a fine line that is drawn between being smooth and being slick. The current coach of Louisville is slick. The current coach of the Celtics manages to stay away from that label, but that doesn’t mean he’s not measuring his words. Take for instance the decision to start Kendrick Perkins. That meant sitting Mark Blount (again). Fresh off being ousted from the starting lineup in favor of Antoine, he got the start when Walker got injured. He was one of many on the team to have a horrible game on Sunday. The coach could have justly said something to the effect of “Blount just isn’t getting it done so we’re trying something different.” The end.

Its widely known that Mark is a bit of a moody guy. Don’t think for a second that this thought didn’t enter Doc’s mind as he “thought long and hard about this decision.” Mark Murphy asked if it looked like Mark was going to be “the guy coming off the bench.” Instead of being negative, Doc goes positive by saying “Yeah, I just like the way he’s been playing, I mean he’s been great coming off the bench. When we switched that and put him in the starting lineup, I think that maybe upset him. Its rare when you upset a guy by starting him, but in this case, you know, he’s a different guy.” (Everyone laughs) See how easy that was? Its appropriate that we were standing in the Nations Capital, because the spin doctoring was brilliant.

Still, he doesn’t leave it there. Once the attention is off the negative, he shows that there are some solid basketball reasons to make the lineup change. He describes the effect of having a post player teamed with a perimeter player in the starting lineup as well as off the bench. Perk on the post, Raef outside. Al Jefferson on the post, Mark outside. It makes sense. For the icing on the cake, he points out the downside of having the two young guys in at the same time. Both valid points.

All of this could have gone through any coach’s head while they were making the decision on starting lineup changes. Its how he presented it to the media, and likely to his players, that sets Doc apart from the “my way or the highway” coaches that end up with a mutinous crew on their ship.

Bristol Moments
In addition to meeting the players and coaches, the entire night had a surreal quality to it. Basically, I felt as though I was stuck in an ESPN commercial where you walk around and bump into random sports personalities in the hall like its nothing. Earlier, on my way in, I got directions to the Celtics locker room from Mike Gorman. A guy walks by with a mascot costume slung over his shoulder. Someone quips to Doc, “how often do you see a mascot’s butt walking past you?” “Now which butt are you talking about?” he deadpans. Later in the interview, who walks up? It’s Mike Wilbon and David Aldridge! Might as well be Norm and Cliffy from the greeting they get. Later, as we’re all walking down the hall, out of a side door emerges a giant man (Brendan Haywood). “Hey,” Wilbon shouts. “How much did you win last night?” “Nobody took the bet.” Responds the UNC alum.

I actually had a chance to speak with Aldridge and Wilbon for few minutes. Both guys are exactly as they seem on TV, and that’s a credit to them. Friendliest guys you’ll ever meet. Treated me with respect and we talked like any sports fans might. We talked about the playoff seedings and what teams were hot right now. I asked about Red (he lives in DC) and they pointed me to where he would be sitting if he was there (he wasn’t). Just felt very comfortable talking to them.

That wasn’t the case with everyone. I can’t blame media personalities if they get a little weary or defensive when it comes to their celebrity, so I’m not holding it against them. When I felt I was maybe interrupting their routine or space, I always made a quick exit. Tommy Heinson was one of these guys. You could tell he wanted to be friendly, but it was halftime and I think he probably wanted to relax and work on his ice cream Sunday (courtesy of the MCI Center) more than anything else. I asked him if he knew about and he said he did. We shared a chuckle at the fact that someone has enough spare time to track these things, but I could tell he needed space and gave him a quick “thanks and take care.”

I’d Like To Thank…
Finally, I need to mention all the people that made this chance of a lifetime happen for me. Gabe Kahn gave me some encouraging words and a great background on what it takes to get a press pass. Sean Grande put in a good word for me with Jeff Twiss, the (award winning!) vice president of media services and alumni affairs. Jeff turns out to be the most loved man in the Celtics organization. Seriously, every player, coach, trainer, etc. goes out of their way to pat him on the back and say hi. If you have some time, read this excellent article done on the most unsung hero of the Celtics. (Think I’ve buttered him up enough to let me come back again sometime? See, he wouldn’t even need that. That’s what makes him so great.) Also, a great big thanks to Steve Bulpett who gave me the lowdown on what to expect and a few great ideas. All of these guys were the Lester Bangs to my William Miller and I’m grateful for it. Thanks also to Shira Springer and Mark Murphy for letting me rub elbows with them. Both are pros and do great work for their papers. Finally, to my lovely wife, who waited patiently as I ran off to play with the big kids and who supports my Celtics addiction with a caring heart.

So it was a great night, one that I’ll always remember. I’m not sure when I’ll have the opportunity to do something like this again, but I’ll do what I can to walk through the doors that open to me. Like I said, I have a renewed respect for all the professionals that I came in contact with. Their job is much harder than it looks, and they do it very well. Hope you all enjoyed the tour. I now return you to your regularly scheduled

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