Pitino Deal Reverberates Beyond Boston

New Celtics coach promises to work hard for 'more money than I am worth'

Rick Pitino, the new coach of the Boston Celtics, has said he likes his players to have "PhDs - that's poor, hungry, and driven. Maybe not poor when they leave the locker room, but very much with a hunger to be better."

Pitino has gone from basketball pauper to high-paid prince, using pressure as an ally. "It's the greatest friend you have in life," he says. "It forces you to work every minute of every hour of every day. It forces you to work up to your potential."

His ascendency was celebrated the other week with a press conference that probably set a new National Basketball Association standard for grandiosity .

To accommodate the horde of reporters, approving ex-Celtics, and assorted VIPs, the televised event was held at the FleetCenter, with all 16 Celtic championship banners and retired jersey numbers forming a majestic backdrop.

Pitino, of course, was the centerpiece of this larger-than-life tableau, which was reminiscent of the famous scene from "Citizen Kane," in which Orsen Welles orates before a huge likeness of himself.

Naturally there were questions about Pitino's outsized contract, which he acknowledged is for "an incredible sum of money, and much more than I am worth, but it's not $70 million," as originally reported. Even at $50 million over 10 years, the revised figure, it is clear he can buy a lot of Boston baked beans, as well as a nice house in the suburbs.

When he first began his career as a frisky young turk at nearby Boston University, he says he had a modest one-year, renewable contract and a humble Back Bay abode. "My wife and I had a little apartment behind Lucifer's [disco]. We slept about an hour a night."

For the last eight years Pitino may have lived like a horse baron in Kentucky, where he's put his million-dollar home up for sale after leaving the University of Kentucky, but he claims, "Anyone who knows me personally knows I am not driven by money. I never have been. I give away more than I should."

Pitino, however, lets on that the money is useful. "It is just to make sure [Celtics owner] Paul Gaston can't fire me," he says. Gaston says the price on everything but the cheapest seats will be reviewed.

The Pitino signing continues to reverberate. In one form or another, it has impacted the careers of four basketball notables: Red Auerbach, Larry Bird, and K.C. Jones of Celtics fame, and Tubby Smith, who replaces Pitino at Kentucky.

Auerbach has relinquished his title as Celtics president so that Pitino can assume this additional mantle. Pitino has vowed "to work harder than Coach A (Auerbach) has ever seen any individual ever work to represent him in the best light possible to bring back this organization to the championship level."

Bird was Pitino's first choice to become general manager of the Celtics. Bird, however, said he didn't want to feel like he was peering over Pitino's shoulder and opted to return home to coach the Indiana Pacers. Jones, dumped as a Boston assistant coach during a franchise "housecleaning," has surprised observers by accepting the head coaching reins of the New England Blizzard women's pro team. Smith, a black, brings Kentucky full circle from the days when it was known as a bastion of white basketball. For Pitino, his return to Boston trumpets a return to what he considers Celtic basketball, characterized by "offensive unselfishness, team defense, and fast-breaks."

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