Celtics use celebrity guests to stay connected

In an attempt to stay connected during the NBA shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said the team has had an assortment of guest speakers talk to its players over the past few weeks.

“We’ve had Mark Wahlberg, who was great,” Ainge said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday. “He was a lot of fun, had some really good stories. LL Cool J, his story is pretty fascinating. [Film director] Jim Cash, who is always magnificent to listen to, had some great wisdom and knowledge for the players. And we had Dr. Myron Rolle, who has a fascinating story here at Mass General. So yeah, we’ve had some very inspirational speakers.”

That’s just one of the ways Ainge and Celtics coach Brad Stevens are trying to stay connected with their players as this shutdown moves well into its second month and with no signs of play resuming anytime soon.

Ainge said the Celtics are approaching the break with the mindset that they will return to play at some point. As a team with hopes of a deep playoff run, there is a heightened need to make sure players stay engaged.

“This is a time for the really self-motivated that are going to be able to take advantage of this opportunity in their career to get stronger, to get in greater condition,” Ainge said. “We’re approaching this like we’re going to return to play and we’re going to be playing playoff basketball. So we are staying in touch, we are having conference calls where we have guest speakers, motivational speakers who address all of our guys on Zoom. We are doing workouts with the coaches and with the strength coaches via Zoom and so forth. So we’re trying to do all we can.

“Some players are better than others at doing things on their own and doing extra work, and some players are more compliant than others, some are harder to reach than others, but for the most part, I’ve been impressed with how our players have bought in and the work that’s going on behind the scenes.”

Asked about Twitter videos of him and his family shooting on a hoop at his house, Ainge took the chance to make a joke at the expense of Jayson Tatum, who said on ESPN’s The Jump recently that he doesn’t have a hoop to shoot on, adding that the family dog, Lil’ Weezy Dog, is even free to play defense.

“That’s mostly directed toward Jayson, just to let him know that I had a hoop right there,” Ainge said with a laugh. “He can come use it any time he wants. It’s all his.”

The shutdown has also given Ainge a chance to spend time at home with his family, and they have been watching the many classic Celtics games that have aired in Boston.

He and the family also got together to watch the ESPN documentary “The Last Dance” on Sunday night. Ainge played a fairly prominent role during the first round of the 1986 playoffs, winning some money from Michael Jordan on the golf course only to be one of several players who attempted to guard him as he scored 63 points in an overtime loss to the eventual champion Celtics at Boston Garden in Game 2 of that series.

“I watched it with my family, with my two youngest boys and their wives, and it was fun because they didn’t have much recollection of it,” Ainge said of the documentary. “When I would chime in to add a comment on something that was going on, they pretty much gave me the hush, like, ‘We’re listening to this. We don’t care what you have to say. We want to listen to this documentary.’ So they were really, really into it.

“And that was kind of fun to see how excited and interested they were and how little they knew of that whole era and how little they knew about Michael. Not just how good of a player he was. They’d obviously heard that. But just intrigued by who he was.”

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