Boston Celtics Fans Mourn the Death of Beloved Former Coach Chris Ford
The Boston Celtics announced that Chris Ford died this week at the age of 74.
To many, he is a member of the franchise’s 1981 Championship team and the first player in the history of the NBA to hit a three-point shot in 1979.
But to New Englanders like me who came along at the tail end of the Larry Bird Celtics, Chris Ford will always be Coach. Hired in 1990, Ford consistently seemed to face – and somehow overcome – an unthinkable, uphill battle.
In fact, it can be argued that no coach in Celtics history faced as many cruel twists of fate as Ford. To start, he wasn’t the team’s first choice after the legendary K.C. Jones departed...or even their second.
AN AWKWARD BEGINNING
After Jimmy Rodgers failed to get the C’s out of the first round in two seasons, the Celtics publicly lusted for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, only turning to Ford when Coach K politely declined.
Heading into Ford’s first season in the fall of 1990, Bird’s Celtics were a drained and defeated bunch. They were washed up, over the hill ghosts that Rick Pitino would later shade.
But under Ford, the 1990-91 Celtics sprinted to an NBA-best 29-5 record. Robert Parish and Kevin McHale were All-Stars, and Reggie Lewis and Dee Brown seemed bound for stardom throughout the 90s.
But then Larry got hurt. And after an infamous blown call in the Playoffs, we never got to see the Celtics-Bulls showdown that was hyped all year on the NBA on NBC.
A TOUGH TRANSITION
In 1992, Ford was left to deal not only with Bird’s retirement, but also the rather open unhappiness of former teammate and close friend McHale. Nonetheless, Ford rallied his team and went from Lottery-bound to home court advantage in the Playoffs.
With McHale soon retired and free to make one last cameo with the Cheers gang, it seemed Ford would finally get to coach his Celtics his way. We’d get to see Ford and the “Zip Boys” (as coined by beloved broadcaster Tom Heinsohn) run the fast breaks they’d once demonstrated for families at the Fox Run Mall.
But then, tragedy struck.
DARK DAYS FOR THE GREEN
Months after collapsing during the Playoffs, Lewis suffered a fatal heart attack, setting off a flurry of finger-pointing and sadness that would seemingly derail the franchise indefinitely.
But as he always did, Ford rallied. And with a grousing band of misfits, the 1995 Celtics took Shaquille O’Neal and the young, favored Orlando Magic to the very end of Game 4 in the Playoffs – the final basketball game ever played in the old Boston Garden.
Other than the loss, I bet Red Auerbach wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Chris Ford is perhaps the most deserving Celtics coach not to have won an NBA title. His teams played hard and played well, but never had the Leprechaun on their side. But to many millennials, he’s still our Coach.
It’s fun to think about an alternate universe where Jones passed the torch to Ford, to preside over a young, athletic Celtics team featuring Lewis and the late Len Bias going head-to-head with Phil Jackson and the Michael Jordan Bulls.
But on a sad day for Celtics fans, we take some solace in realizing that now, that long-talked-about reunion may finally be a reality somewhere…