- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2003

The NBA’s Final Four has a distinctly greenish hue.

The coach in Dallas is former Boston Celtic Don Nelson.

The coach in Detroit is ex-Celtic Rick Carlisle.

The coach in San Antonio, Gregg Popovich, is a former Nelson assistant.

And the coach in New Jersey, Byron Scott, recently declared his undying hatred of the Celtics, a clear-cut case of Shamrock Envy.

Now you know why the Wizards are reportedly interested in Paul Silas as their next coach — that is, should they decide to get rid of Michael Jordan’s hand-picked handler, Doug Collins. Silas, of course, is another branch of the Celtics tree, having cleared the boards for two of their championship teams in the ‘70s.

Nearly half a century after Red Auerbach swindled the St. Louis Hawks out of Bill Russell, the NBA is still, in many respects, a Celtics world. Red has long since retired to the smoking room, but his disciples — and their disciples — carry on. Those concerned that the league is becoming more about celebrity than substance can take heart in this year’s semifinalists, at least three of whom have gotten where they are by displaying the selflessness that made the Celts the Celts.

Only Nelson’s Mavericks play at the frenzied pace reminiscent of the great Celtics teams of the past. To watch the Mavs push the ball up the floor, whip a few passes around and then launch a shot is to be reminded of what the NBA once was — and can still be. The only reason Dirk Nowitzki and Co. didn’t average more than 103 points a game during the regular season is that many of their opponents prefer to walk rather than run.

Carlisle’s Pistons play more like he did. They’re a collection of grinders who beat you with defense, smarts and the well-timed 3-pointer. His everywhere-at-once power forward, Ben Wallace, is perfectly content to grab rebounds and swat shots — while Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups get the scoring glory. Everybody on the club knows his role and seems to be at peace with it; it’s the only way a modestly talented group like this could make the conference finals.

As for Popovich’s Spurs, they fall somewhere between the Mavericks and Pistons on the Auerbach scale — a little less pizzazz than the first, a little less elbow grease than the second. Tim Duncan could score 30 points a game if he wanted, but he’s satisfied with 23 because, with him, it’s all about the team. (Other superstars please take note.)

It’s an amazing phenomenon, this Great Celtic Diaspora. Besides Nelson, Carlisle and Popovich, you’ve got Don Chaney coaching the Knicks and Dennis Johnson taking over on an interim basis with the Clippers. In front offices, you’ve got Kevin McHale in Minnesota and Danny Ainge recently returning home to Boston (a few years removed from a successful coaching stint in Phoenix). And let’s not forget Silas, let go by the misguided Hornets, who doesn’t figure to be unemployed long.

Before them there were Dave Cowens and Chris Ford and Larry Bird. And before them there were Russell and Bill Sharman and Bob Cousy and K.C. Jones. (Tommy Heinsohn was a head coach, too — as were Satch Sanders and M.L. Carr. But they only coached the Celts.)

No wonder Scott hates the Celtics. They get all the coaching jobs.

The NBA is kind of like pro football was in the ‘40s. One year — 1945 to be exact — five of the 10 coaches in the NFL were former Notre Damers (Curly Lambeau of the Packers, Gus Dorais of the Lions, Adam Walsh of the Rams, Jim Leonard of the Steelers and Herb Kopf of the Boston Yanks). And another Golden Domer (Hunk Anderson) was a co-coach. Such was the magic of having Knute Rockne’s name on your resume.

Nowadays, it’s the Bill Walsh School (Mike Holmgren, Brian Billick, Steve Mariucci et al) — an extension of the Paul Brown School — that still strongly influences the NFL. But it’s nothing like the Red Auerbach School.

In times of trouble, NBA teams often reach for the Celtics life preserver — and understandably so. Many former Celts/Auerbach disciples have done well as coaches, even away from Boston. Sharman won a title in L.A. Jones got to the finals in Washington (as did Bird in Indianapolis). Cowens had back-back 50-win seasons in Charlotte. Chaney won 52 one year in Houston, and Ainge won 56 in Phoenix.

In other words, Abe Pollin can probably do a lot worse than Paul Silas.

If he’s listening.

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