Think about how most “Ted Talks” begin: The speaker usually says something along the lines of: “the first step to success is attitude.” When it comes to Brad Stevens and his Boston Celtics, a winning attitude is just the beginning, because in the NBA, as is true in any other sport, the teams that hang the most banners, are the teams with a culture of expecting to win.
You will hard pressed to find a more cerebral head coach than Stevens. He thinks a lot. Maybe that’s why he’s become the real-lie version of Benjamin Button, and just keeps looking younger each year. Or perhaps, his mentality comes from his college days, where all he did was take a Mid-Major school from the Horizon League, Butler, and turn them into one of the toughest outs during March Madness.
In six years as coach of the Butler Bulldogs, Stevens went 166 up, and just 49 down, a .722 winning percentage. Now, the sledding is slightly more challenging in the NBA, a kingdom ruled by Cavaliers and Warriors. This young Celtics team goes into 2016 looking to usurp power from the kingdom, and shake up the established order in the league.
By now, you may have heard about this guy named Al Horford, the six foot ten inch center Danny Ainge went and acquired in the offseason. With regular season hoops set to tip off, Horford is meshing well with teammates like Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, and buys into his head coach’s blue collar, hard work philosophy.
At Celtics media day, Stevens emphasized growth, a topic he became a sensei of after painstakingly building and growing Butler into a national championship contender. In my previous article, the one about underdogs, I pointed out that teams with less than the lion’s share, have to work harder to attain close to or the same results as the guys sitting at the adult table. Patience is not the easiest sell in pro sports, to athletes or fans, but Brad Stevens’ affability, and vision for the team, make players want to buy in.
The Celtics will open the 2016 regular season with three games in four days. The first will come on Wednesday night versus the Nets in front of a full-throated TD Garden crowd. After that, Boston hits the road for dates with the new-look Chicago Bulls, and the Charlotte Hornets, a young, but unbalanced team. Despite a jumpstart out of the gate, the C’s start with three winnable games, but, a game is only winnable, if the whole team understands that each game starts 0-0. Whether you’re playing in late-October, or, with any luck, mid-June.
To know that winning is a culture, you don’t even have to ask Charlie Sheen. No, you just have to look for the guys with their sleeves rolled up, beads of sweat forming on their brow, and a steadfast foreman with an eye on the finished product. Brad Stevens is an architect with a very specific blueprint he must keep his team focused on in order to stay competitive, or create intrigue in a league dominated by stars and super-team rosters. If Boston is to emerge as one of the premiere, elite contenders in the NBA, it will start with great coaching. It will start with hard work. Stevens is a leader who gets that because he started with modest origins and then grabbed everyone’s attention. This year’s team looks willing to put in the time.
So, get ready, because there’s no clocking out early.