July 19, 2024

Wyc Grousbeck, Steve Pagliuca have been solid Celtics owners. Here’s hoping one stays


BOSTON — Wyc Grousbeck, who is planning to sell his majority stake in the Boston Celtics, was born in Worcester, raised in Weston and attended Noble and Greenough School in Dedham. He’s 63, which means he likely rooted for John Havlicek, Bobby Orr and Carl Yastrzemski growing up. And for all we know, he might have been on the old kiddie show “Rex Trailer’s Boomtown” when he was in the sixth grade but hasn’t gotten around to telling us about it yet.

So, yes, Grousbeck is a local guy. And fans are always attracted to the shiny bauble of local ownership, what with its message, often announced at the introductory news conference, that they “know how you feel,” that they “want to win as much as you do,” and so on.

In Grousbeck’s case, such talk almost does the man a disservice. In the end, all that really matters is that the owners of your team perform in accordance with that fiery old quote that’s been put into play at thousands of sports banquets over the years: “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

OK, so the other only thing, if you own a pro sports team, is making lots of money. Given that Boston Basketball Partners LLC paid $360 million for the Celtics and that the team will likely fetch upward of $5 billion, it won’t just be the Celtics mascot who gets to strut around saying, “I’m Lucky.”

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But Grousbeck has been a rah-rah owner who has always conducted his affairs as though he has that winning-is-the-only-thing party favor tattooed across his chest. The same applies to Steve Pagliuca, an ever-present co-owner of the Celtics, and he’s from New Jersey, even if he’s been living in Boston long enough to understand why Luis Tiant and Dwight Evans should be in the Hall of Fame.

To expand on that, Celtics fans would be wise to pray that Pagliuca steps up to take over as majority owner. And he’s already saying he wants to keep on keeping on as a Celtics owner.

Pagliuca is a known quantity, and fans should always fear the unknown when their team is sold, whether to a local person who knows the best pizza joints or a smiling blow-in who says all the right-sounding things after being handed the keys to the executive wing.

But let’s put aside the local litmus test and look at Grousbeck and Pagliuca’s stewardship of the Celtics solely through the lens of delivery on promises. And there’s really no other way to put it: From Grousbeck and Pagliuca on down through the masthead, these owners have been the kind of owners that fans crave.

The winning part is easily explained. Under this ownership, the Celtics have won two championships, and they’ve come close several other times, and during two distinct eras. During the days of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, there was a championship and there were two close-but-no-Red Auerbach-cigar finishes, once against Miami in the Eastern Conference finals, the other against the Lakers in the NBA Finals. And then there’s the Jaylen BrownJayson Tatum era, with so many poundings on the championship door that after a while the they’ll-never-win-with-these-guys chant became a daily ritual on the talk shows. Recent events have squashed such talk, with banner No. 18 being secured for a TD Garden rafter raising come the fall.

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What matters is that the Celtics have been in contention for a sizable chunk of this ownership’s tenure. That’s what fans expect. With the Celtics, given their history, it’s what fans demand.

Spending money helps. Being smart also helps. This is the ownership group that hired Danny Ainge, and it was Danny Ainge who hired Brad Stevens. These were solid hires, but we have the benefit of history to guide us to that 2-foot putt. But a lot of people believed Rick Pitino was a solid hire in 1997, back when the Gaston family owned the Celtics, and look how that turned out.

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While Pitino’s tenure predates the current ownership, it factors into an example of the understanding and respect Grousbeck and Pagliuca have always had for Celtics tradition. Shortly after buying the team, they traveled to Washington, D.C., to visit Auerbach and ask for the Celtics patriarch’s blessings. (Pagliuca told me he was floored when he observed that Red was still using a rotary telephone.)

If you think such a visit is a common-sense thing to do, consider that Auerbach’s title as president, albeit mostly emeritus, had been wrested from him when Pitino arrived. Grousbeck and Pagliuca gave it back, and for many years beyond that, they kept Red’s office at TD Garden as a shrine, with glass walls so that visitors could gaze upon the desk and other trappings that were in place when the greatest mind in NBA history did his wheeling and dealing.

Another good story: Grousbeck, shortly after he arrived, sought to return something he believed was missing. It was Celtic Pride — and not just the Celtic Pride that goes on bumper stickers. He wanted Celtic Pride back inside the building. One way to do that was to order up a carload of “Celtics Staff” T-shirts and ask all team employees to wear them.

I once asked Grousbeck about that, and this is what he told me he told his employees: “And you’re not eating lunch in the office. You’re going out to eat lunch every day, and people will ask you about your shirt, and you will tell them about the Celtics.”

That’s not why the Celtics knocked off the Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals or the Dallas Mavericks in the 2024 NBA Finals. But it set the mood, one that remains in place all these years.

These guys have been the goods. Never assume that’s going to be the case when there’s a change in ownership, whether it’s a grocery store, a bowling alley or the franchise that’s won the most championships in NBA history.

(Photo of majority owner Wyc Grousbeck holding up the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy: Elsa / Getty Images)





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