It is not all that tough for Head Coach Bill Fitch, a former minor league catcher with more one-liners than Bob Hope, to field questions concerning the World Champion Boston Celtics, the last National Basketball Association team to win back-to-back titles in the 1967-68 and 1968-69 seasons.
''Everybody thinks it's going to be difficult for us to repeat as NBA champs because no team has done it in 12 years,'' Fitch grinned. ''Hey, that's just why we'll win again, because we've got the percentages working for us. In fact, the whole season should be a cakewalk. I don't see the Celtics having any problems at all.''
Whenever he has an audience, Fitch is an escape from all the law of probability that most coaches regard as unbreakable. He's a writer's delight because he's always saying witty things, such as:
''Most of us are umpires at heart because we like to call balls and strikes on other people.''
Or. . .''The best way to fight inflation is to knock some cents back into the dollar!''
To get the full, rich, crunchy goodness of Fitch, his words must be filtered, held up to the light, and inspected for loopholes. What Bill was saying a few paragraphs back is that Boston will again have one of the best teams in the NBA this season, including the playoffs.
The Celtics' starting cast is the same as last year - Robert Parish at center; Larry Bird and Cedric Maxwell at the forwards; Nate Archibald and Chris Ford at the guards.
The fact that Bird, an exceptional shooter, will probably be the only one of those five names to show up among the league's top 20 scorers should tell you a little something about Boston's unselfishness and team balance.
Much of this is due to the fact that General Manager Red Auerbach has never paid his personnel on the basis of their statistics. ''Statistics don't mean a thing,'' Red says. ''When they can measure 'heart,' when they can measure what a player does in the clutch, then I'll start believing in statistics. Otherwise they're just a bunch of numbers.''
Over the years Auerbach has generally preferred role-type players who do one or two things extremely well, are willing to dive on the floor for a loose ball, and are only concerned with winning. Not all are that way when they arrive in Boston. But once they've heard Red's little speech, they understand the alternative - a ticket to oblivion.
Somebody (guess who?) motivated Parish, the team's seven-foot center, after he came over in a trade from the Golden State Warriors. Last season, for the first time in his career, Parish played hard at both ends of the floor and blended in perfectly with his teammates.He also had his highest point total ever (18.9).
Bird, of course, is what every team needs - a leader on the court, who doesn't necessarily need the ball all the time to be effective. If Larry isn't the best passing forward in the NBA, he's close to it, and if you double-team him he'll get the ball to Maxwell, a 58 percent career shooter.
Archibald, who averaged only 13.8 points last year but was voted to the NBA's All-Second team because of his overall play, is a remarkable story. Four years ago, after being traded by New Jersey to Buffalo, Archibald sat out the entire season because of injuries, his career in jeopardy.
Always a big scorer until he came to Boston, Fitch got Nate to change his game and accept the role of playmaker. Now, like Bird, Archibald has become a catalyst the Celtics probably could not do without. Ford, often underrated became of his lack of speed, nevertheless plays good defense and blends in well.
Fitch also has a better-than-average bench in 6 ft. 10 in. forward Kevin McHale; center Rick Robey, and guards M. L. Carr and Gerald Henderson. McHale, a rookie who played in all 82 games last season, has the potential to someday be a rebounder in the 800-to-1,000-a-season class. The only new faces will belong to rookie guards Charles Bradley and Tracy Jackson.
Asked a second time why NBA championship teams have been unable to win back-to-back titles during the last dozen years, Fitch replied:
''Times have changed; the league keeps getting better; and instead of one team with the potential to dominate now you have several. You know it's a tremendous feat when a team can win 60 or more games during the regular season and I'm not sure the Celtics can do it again, even though we've upgraded our personnel.''