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Kevin Gamble: OSCAR TIME

The Kevin Gamble Interview
By:  Michael D. McClellan | Monday, May 9th, 205

 

He played for the Boston Celtics during a period of nervous change, joining the club just as the Big Three was beginning to break down, its parts worn from too many minutes and too little rest, the post-Bias funk settling in like a fog, thick, heavy and unrelenting.  He played valiantly through the Jimmy Rodgers and Chris Ford Eras, which is to say that he competed during the slow decay of basketball’s greatest franchise, his sizeable contributions spilled in fruitless pursuit of the NBA’s greatest prize.  He was there as Larry Bird lay prone in front of the Celtic bench, Bird’s back so creaky that his greatness, routinely on display for more than a decade, could only be coaxed out between bouts with pain.  He was there for Larry Legend’s inevitable retirement, as he was for Kevin McHale’s farewell one season later.  He grieved through the tragic loss of Reggie Lewis, and he played through final days of the historic Boston Garden.  That Kevin Gamble – nicknamed Oscar by former teammate Danny Ainge – was able to do any of these things is simply amazing, especially for a player cut by two NBA franchises, passed on by the rest, and then forced to toil overseas.  That Gamble could resurrect his career in the satellite world of the Continental Basketball Association and then, against all odds, play six integral seasons with the Boston Celtics, is as much a testament to his perseverance and work ethic as it is to his high basketball IQ.

 

We’ve all heard this one before.  The sports world has no shortage of these stories, of athletes who overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to fulfill a dream, of players who refuse to believe that they’re not big enough, or fast enough, or strong enough to succeed in their chosen field of competition.  What makes Gamble’s story so special is not that he was able to prove the naysayers wrong, but that he was able to excel for so long after being written off by so many.  Gamble’s NBA career could have just as easily ended nine games into the 1987-88 regular season when, as a rookie, he was cut by the Portland Trailblazers to make room for veteran backcourt talent.  Instead, Gamble resurfaced in Boston on December 18th, 1988, taking the circuitous route back to the NBA while breathing life into a career that would last for ten seasons.

 

Such resolve gets instilled at an early age, and Gamble was fortunate to have parents who preached the value of a strong work ethic.  They kept Gamble focused, both on the court and in the classroom, and he responded with the same steady, workmanlike dedication that would later serve him so well in the NBA.  He entered Springfield's Lanphier High just hoping to make the team, but by his senior season Gamble was the star, leading the Lions to the 1983 Illinois Class AA State Basketball Championship.  Gamble scored 67 points in those four tournament games, which culminated with a 57-53 win over Peoria High School.  Lanphier finished the ’83 season 30-3, with Gamble was the only Lanphier player selected to the All-Tournament team.

 

While few questioned Gamble's ability at the high school level, many college recruiters wondered whether he possessed legitimate Division I basketball potential.  Gamble believed otherwise.  He was 6’7” with a quick first step and decent range.  He was strong enough to compete beneath the basket, yet fast enough to play the wing.  He felt confident that he could play at the Division I level.  The major colleges, however, weren’t biting; there was tepid interest at best, courtesy inquiries for the most part, with little in the way of scholarship offers.  Undeterred, Gamble enrolled at Lincoln Junior College, where he played for two seasons under the guidance and tutelage of head coach Alan Pickering.  It was the first of many side-stops on his long journey to the NBA, but Gamble spent the time wisely.  He understood that his game needed work, especially on the defensive end of the court, and that Pickering had a reputation for tough, hard-nosed defense.  For his part, Pickering understood that Gamble’s game was only in need of refinement, and that the right amount of focus would put him on solid footing at the next level.

 

After two seasons under Lincoln’s sage coach, Gamble was indeed ready for primetime.  He transferred to the University of Iowa, where he ran into yet another obstacle on his road to the NBA:  Then-head coach George Raveling’s persistent lack of faith in Gamble as a defender.  Unconvinced that Gamble was prepared to fit his system, Raveling kept the junior college transfer pinned to the bench for much of the season.  Gamble questioned his coach but kept it largely to himself; he was young, yet mature enough to understand that such grousing would only make the situation worse.  And then, as if by divine intervention, Raveling bolted the Iowa program to take the head coaching job at USC.  On April 7, 1986, Iowa named Tom Davis as its new head coach.  A native of Ridgeway, Wisconsin, the 46-year-old Davis had coached at high schools in Wisconsin and Illinois from 1960-1966, and was an assistant coach at American University for two years before becoming the head coach at Lafayette.

 

Davis’ arrival breathed new life into Gamble’s collegiate career.  Given a clean slate, the Springfield product became a key starter for the Hawkeyes, as the team raced to a 17-0 start and the Number 1 ranking in the Associated Press poll.  Iowa finished 30-5 before falling in the NCAA Regional Finals, and Gamble’s play was at the center of it all.  From an NBA standpoint, it helped that he played bigger with the stakes the highest.  Scouts took notice of his tournament play, with the Portland Trailblazers selecting him in the third round of the 1987 NBA Draft.

 

Injuries gave Gamble an opportunity to show his stuff, but, after only nine games, players such as veteran John Paxson and first round pick Ronnie Murphy were working their way back into the equation.  Gamble suddenly found himself caught in a numbers game.  He was released, setting off a nomadic wandering from which few NBA castoffs return:  There was a full season spent toiling in the CBA, followed by an invitation to the Detroit Pistons’ rookie camp the following summer, followed by a training camp tryout with the Milwaukee Bucks later that fall.  Neither the Pistons nor the Bucks felt that Gamble fit.  Gamble then played in the Philippines for a month, before returning to start his second stint in the CBA.  It was beginning to look as if his NBA dream would end at nine game with the Trailblazers, if not for his dominating, 12-game stint with Quad Cities.  Scouts from several NBA teams took notice, including the Boston Celtics, a team loaded with All-Star talent and the one Gamble least expected to hear from.

 

Ironically, an injury to Larry Bird gave Gamble his big break.  The Celtics called and offered him a job, and this time Gamble was determined to stick.  Few expected him to last through the season, especially on a team populated with hall-of-fame talent such as Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, as well as players such as Dennis Johnson, Danny Ainge, Reggie Lewis and Brian Shaw.  Gamble played sparingly the first few months after signing his contract, and it looked like the Celtics would expose him to Orlando and Minnesota in the expansion draft at season’s end.  That all changed with a strong, seven minute performance in a road win over Philadelphia.  Gamble played tenacious D, and delivered several key plays down the stretch to secure the victory.

 

While that performance may have won the favor of his teammates, his play over the final six games of the regular season impressed the one who mattered most – head coach Jimmy Rodgers.  With starter Dennis Johnson out during that span, Rodgers trusted Gamble to step in and contribute.  Gamble played magnificently.  With Johnson back for the playoffs, Rodgers was able to bring the battle-tested Gamble off of the bench.  Gamble played well until going down with a groin injury, but the Celtics were swept in the first round by Dennis Rodman and the Bad Boys of Detroit.  It was a bitter disappointment, but Gamble get it all in perspective.  He understood that he could have been playing in Europe – or out of basketball altogether.  Instead, the player who appeared destined for the expansion draft was suddenly a big part of the Celtics’ future.  Kevin Gamble had arrived.

 

Gamble played in 71 games the following season, averaging 5.1 points in 13.9 minutes-per-game.  The Celtics entered the playoffs as an aging and injured team, but many of its fans refused to believe that its beloved Big Three – the heart and soul behind three championships during the 1980s – would suffer another early post-season exit.  Facing the New York Knicks in the opening round, Boston jumped to a quick 2-0 series lead.  The high-water mark was Game 2, a 157-128 pasting that positioned the Celtics for another playoff run.  Two tough losses in New York brought the series back to Boston for a winner-take-all battle.  Gamble, as well as everyone else on the team, fully expected to close out the Knicks in the Garden and move on to the second round.  A shocking Game 5 loss (121-114) doomed the Celtics in the first round for the second consecutive season.  Rodgers was fired, paving the way for Chris Ford.  The Celtics, so dominant for so long, found themselves slipping further toward mediocrity.  Gamble, for his part, entered the offseason determined to help reverse the team’s course.

 

1990-91 proved to be Gamble’s breakout year.  He played in all 82 games, averaged 15.6 points (fourth on the team, behind Bird, Lewis and McHale), and helped the Celtics to a 56-26 record and a return to first place in the Atlantic Division.  The Celtics were again faced with a Game 5 in the opening round, this time against Reggie Miller and Indiana Pacers.  It was a classic series, one in which Bird and Indiana’s Chuck Person went at each other with long-range bombs and biting verbal jabs.  It was also perhaps Bird’s last great moment, as he returned to the game after suffering a concussion, stoking the crowd and willing his team to victory.  Gamble, who had often watched Bird on TV, came away from that performance in awe.

“Larry wasn’t going out in the first round again,” he says, smiling at the recollection.  “We knew he was coming back out there, and that he was going to play big, but it was just an incredible moment to see him walk back out of that tunnel.  The place went crazy, and we were able to beat the Pacers and move on.  Unfortunately, we lost to the Pistons in the next round.”

 

Gamble played in all 82 games the next season, but the Celtics were eliminated by the Cavaliers in the second round of the playoffs.  Bird retired over the summer, and Boston entered the 1992-93 season with Parish and McHale playing well beyond their All-Star years.  Facing the upstart Charlotte Hornets in the opening round of the playoffs, the Celtics succumbed quietly, 3-1.  The series is best remembered for Reggie Lewis’ strange collapse in Game 2.  Replays showed Lewis clutching his chest, as if unable to catch his breath.  A team of cardiologists would later diagnose Lewis with a rare heart ailment, urging him to retire immediately from professional basketball.  Two months later Lewis was dead, collapsing while shooting baskets at Brandeis University.

 

“An unbelievable loss,” Gamble says.  “Devastating to the team, to the community, and to his family.  Reggie Lewis was just a tremendous person.”

 

Gamble would play one more season in a Celtic uniform, before stints with the Miami Heat and Sacramento Kings.  He would retire following the 1996-97 regular season, having played ten seasons in a league that didn’t want to give him a chance.  In beating the odds, Gamble proved that hard work and dedication can go a long way toward big time success.  He remains forever grateful to the Celtics for taking a chance on him, when everyone else had their doubts.

 

"I'll always be a Boston Celtic," Gamble says.  "There were so many great times.  So many great players.  It was just an honor to be a part of that great tradition – it’s something that I’ll never forget.”

 

CELTIC-NATION
You were born on November 13th, 1965 in Springfield, Illinois.  Take me back in time – what was your childhood like, and what sports did you like to play?

KEVIN GAMBLE
Basketball and baseball were the two main sports that I liked to play.  I liked to watch football, but it wasn’t one of the sports that I really competed in.  And as I got older, I focused more and more on basketball.

 

CELTIC-NATION
You have described yourself as the 'observer type', and your parents always encouraged you to build on your inner-resolve.  How did these two things help make you a better basketball player?

KEVIN GAMBLE
I don’t know if it made me a better basketball player – it’s really hard to say.  That’s just my personality, and that’s just what type of person I am.  I’m laid-back and observant, so I guess I was able to learn quite a bit by observing other players.  That might have had something to do with it.  It was also the hard work that I put in from a very early age, as a child coming up and playing basketball everyday.  And that might have had more to do with it than anything.

 

CELTIC-NATION
You played high school basketball at Springfield’s Lanphier High, leading the Lions to a state championship in 1983.  Please take me back to that championship season.  What stands out in your mind after all of these years?

KEVIN GAMBLE
Just the whole experience.  We knew we were going to have a pretty good ball club when we were seniors in high school, because the majority of us had been together since eighth or ninth grade.  It was just a very good nucleus of players that came from different grade schools and middle schools, so we knew we were going to have a special team that last year.  We thought that, with our talent and a little luck, we might be able to win a state championship.  So, that was something that was always in the back of our minds.  And we were fortunate enough to win it.  We had guys at every position, from point guard all the way to center – everybody knew their roles and everybody played their roles.  It was truly a team, and we were able to walk away with a state championship.

 

CELTIC-NATION
Following high school, you attended Lincoln Junior College for two seasons.  Head coach Alan Pickering was very important to you in many ways.  He stressed the value of defense, and also the value of a college education.  Please tell me a little about Coach Pickering, and the effect that he had on you as a person and as a basketball player.

KEVIN GAMBLE
The thing that stands out in my mind about Coach Pick is that he was probably my first adult role model in my transition from adolescence to a young man.  He was that person that took me to the next step in my life.  He molded me, and showed me what I had to do to make it at the college level.  He also helped me to transition from living at home to living on my own.  I’d never been alone and away from home like that before.  Coach Pick helped me with what seem like simple things now, such as managing my time and building strong study habits, but a the time it all seemed overwhelming.  He taught me to be a better basketball player, of course, but he taught me to be a better person.
 CELTIC-NATION
You transferred from Lincoln to Iowa for your junior season, but didn't play much under head coach George Raveling.  That all changed under Tom Davis – you led the Hawkeyes to a 30-5 record and the NCAA tournament regional finals.  Please take me back to your two seasons at Iowa.  What was this experience like for you?

KEVIN GAMBLE
It was a great experience to be a part of a great university like Iowa.  That first year was fun away from the court, but on the court it was very disappointing.  Not that we didn’t get along, but Coach Raveling and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye.  He didn’t see me as the player that Coach Pickering saw me as, or that my high school coaches saw me as.  I was primarily a guard/forward in high school.  I played guard at Lincoln College.  But once I got to Iowa, Coach Raveling saw fit to play me at power forward, with guys like Eddie Horton, Brad Lohaus, and Al Lorenzen.  Lohaus was a seven-footer.  Eddie Horton was 6’8”, and probably weighed 260 pounds at the time.  Al Lorenzen was 6’8”, 250.  And I was playing the same position at 6’6”, 205.  So it was very disappointing.  I wish I could have red-shirted that year.  I think I averaged a total of  six minutes per-game that year, so it was very disappointing in terms of athletics.

When Coach Davis came in, he met with us and said that we were starting with a brand new slate.  He said that nobody had positions, and that you had to go out and earn your playing time.  I ended up winning two positions on our ball club – the two guard spot, and the small forward position.  I primarily played the two – shooting guard – for Coach Davis, and he’s probably the main reason I had a chance to make it to the NBA.  I did have a pretty good senior season and a pretty good tournament, and because of that I ended up being drafted by Portland in the third round of the 1987 NBA Draft.

 

CELTIC-NATION
Perfect lead-in to my next question.  You were drafted by Portland in the third round, but waived after only nine games.  That set into motion stops in Detroit with the Pistons, the CBA, and even the Philippines.  Please tell me about this period in your life.

KEVIN GAMBLE
Early on I was just trying to define myself , to see where I fit in.  My stint with the Portland Trailblazers was a good one – I could tell that I could fit, that I could play in the NBA.  I gained a lot of confidence playing with Terry Porter, Clyde Drexler, Jerome Kersey, Kevin Duckworth and guys like that.  Being a rookie, I basically held my own.  They had a couple of guys injured to start the season.  John Paxson was out, and so was their first round pick, Ronnie Murphy.  So I made it through training camp and made the ball club.  I think the team knew that I was good enough to play NBA ball, but unfortunately for me, it turned out to be a numbers game.  They weren’t going to cut their first rounder, and they weren’t going to cut a veteran like John to keep a rookie like myself.  So it boiled down to a numbers game there in Portland.  Coach Adelman was there as an assistant to Mike Schuler, and those guys told me that I was good enough to play in the NBA.  They told me to not give up, to hang in there, and that sooner or later I would get my chance to show that I could play pro ball.  So even though I was released, it was a very good time for me.

From there, I ended going to Detroit that next summer.  They had drafted Fennis Dembo from Wyoming in the first round of the 1988 NBA Draft, and they had also brought in a couple of free agents.  I played well in that camp also, but again, they already had their players picked out.  They had Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman, Isiah Thomas, Adrian Dantley, Vinnie Johnson, Joe Dumars, Rick Mahorn and John Sally.  So I knew that it was going to be hard to make that ball club.  That same summer I went to the Milwaukee Bucks’ mini-camp.  I thought played well there, but for whatever reason I didn’t catch on.

It was disappointing not being able to stick in the NBA, but I just kept busy playing basketball.  I played a full season in the CBA after being cut by Portland – I think I averaged 20 points and 8 rebounds-per-game – and had a successful season.  Everyone that I talked to said the same thing:  In order to play NBA basketball, I had to learn to play great defense.  So that’s what I worked on while playing in the CBA.  I expected to get a mid-season call from an NBA team, but it didn’t work out that way.  That’s how I ended up in the Bucks’ camp in ’88.  Back then they had a small camp in Milwaukee, and then a bigger camp in Los Angeles if you made it through that one.  I wasn’t one of the guys selected to go out to L.A, so that’s when I went over to the Philippines.  I was there for a month.  It was a good experience – I was able to see a different part of the world – but it just wasn’t my cup of tea, so to speak.  I came back home, and that’s when I rejoined Quad Cities of the CBA.  I think I played twelve games for them, and I averaged close to 30 points-per-game during that stretch.  And that’s when I got the call from the Boston Celtics.


 

CELTIC-NATION
On December 15th, 1988, you were signed to a contract by the Boston Celtics.  Ironically, it was an injury to Larry Bird that led to you joining the team.  How did you find out the Celtics were interested, and what was it like joining the team for the first time?

KEVIN GAMBLE
Ron Grinker – my agent out of Cincinnati, Ohio, who is no longer with us – called me up, and said that I had two teams that were interested in me.  One was the Portland Trailblazers, who wanted me back, and the other was the Boston Celtics.  At the time I knew that I was going to be called up, but at the time the Celtics were the last team that I thought would ever call me.  There was no particular reason for that feeling, but with all the history and championships, and with the roster that they had at the time, I just didn’t think that they would want me.  Ron said that those were the two teams that wanted me, so we sat down and talked about it.  I finally decided against Portland because of the way things went there the first time around.  I just made up my mind and said, ‘Let’s go to Boston.’

I immediately got on a flight and went to Boston.  The first day of practice I walk out there, and the guys are already on the court.  I’m shaking in my boots a little bit, but it’s easy to understand why:  You look at the other end of the court, and you see Kevin McHale.  You see Larry Bird.  You see Dennis Johnson.  It’s like, ‘Wow.’  It didn’t feel like I had arrived; it was more a need to show these guys that I could play.  Practice proceeded, and those guys welcomed me with open arms.  I introduced myself.  Of course, you probably know some of the stories about McHale and Danny Ainge – the two jokesters on the team – and I think it was Danny who pointed out that the Celtics suddenly had two Kevins on the roster.  And when I told them that my last was Gamble, Danny’s eyes lit up.  Danny had played professional baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays, and one of his teammates had been a guy named Oscar Gamble, who had also played briefly for the New York Yankees.  So Danny started calling me Oscar.  The nickname stuck with me for the rest of my career with the Celtics.

CELTIC-NATION
During practice, you used to play some friendly one-on-one with Kevin McHale.  How did most of those games turn out?

KEVIN GAMBLE
I won some and I lost some.  Kevin had to guard perimeter guys – Larry wasn’t the quickest guy, but Kevin was long.  KC and Coach [Chris] Ford used to have Larry guard the bigger guys in practice, mostly fours [power forwards].  McHale used to guard the threes [small forwards], who were quicker.  He used to practice with me to work on his quickness.  Kevin had those long arms.  He wasn’t real quick, but he moved his feet well.  He would give you space, and then, when you went up for your jump shot, he would contest it with those long arms and his reach.  So I think that was one of the things that he wanted to work on, because he was going to be matched up against players my size, or even bigger, who could take the ball to the basket.  But we had fun.  Playing one-on-one with those guys taught me a lot of things.  I learned a lot about basketball being around them, observing them, and also playing against them in practice.

 

CELTIC-NATION
The Celtics are known for all the championships, but they are also known for their practical jokes.  During your rookie season, Dennis Johnson and the rest of the guys convinced you to lead them onto the Garden floor when the team was introduced?  What happened, and did you ever get even with them?

KEVIN GAMBLE
No I didn’t [laughs].  I had forgotten all about that, but now that you mention it I do remember.  Dennis came up to me and said that it was a tradition in Boston to have the new guy lead them out.  I can’t remember if it was my first game with the team, but I do remember that it was during Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s farewell tour.  We were playing the Lakers, of course, and I ran out of the tunnel and into the gym.  When I got on the court I turned around and looked back, and all of the guys were still back there in the tunnel, laughing at me.  It was funny because here I am, this young kid standing on the fabled parquet floor, who has watched this place on television for years-and-years, through all of those battles between the Celtics and the Lakers, and also against the Philadelphia 76ers.  That’s what made it so horrifying for me, and such a good joke for them.  I was so nervous, and I was also embarrassed.  For them to put me out there like that, I’m surprised that I didn’t faint [laughs].

 

CELTIC-NATION
You logged 17 "DNPs" that first year, and it looked like the team would make you available in the expansion draft to either Orlando or Minnesota.  But then you turned in seven strong minutes in a road win over Philadelphia, and started in place of an injured Dennis Johnson the final six games of the regular season.  What was it like for you to succeed on such a big stage?

KEVIN GAMBLE
It was exciting.  I remember when DJ rolled his ankle in Atlanta – it was really bad – and we’re flying back to Boston that night, knowing that he wasn’t going to be able to finish up the season.  We didn’t know if he was going to miss all six games, but we did know that he was going to miss a few.  Our next game was against Cleveland, and we’re in the locker room going through our normal pre-game stuff.  Coach [Jimmy] Rodgers comes into the locker room with the Cleveland’s starting lineup – Larry Nance, Brad Dougherty, Ron Harper, and so forth.  Jimmy looks at Brian Shaw, and he tells him that he will guard Mark Price.  Then he looks at me, and he says, ‘Oscar, you’re going to be starting, and you’ve got Ron Harper.’  That was the first time that I heard that I was going to starting in the NBA.  I’ll never forget that feeling.  Of course, everybody knew what Ron Harper could do – he was one of the best players in the NBA.  He was known as a very good all-around player, strong offensively and defensively, which made my first start exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time.  I think I had 20 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds.  From that point on I think everyone on the team knew that they could count on me.


 

CELTIC-NATION
The Celtics were swept from the 1989 NBA Playoffs by the Bad Boys from Detroit.  What do you remember most about your first playoff series?

KEVIN GAMBLE
I think we limped into the playoffs that year and had to play the Bad Boys.  The one thing that I do remember – and it wasn’t a good memory for me – was that I got hurt during the first game of that series.  I pulled my groin.  It was a severe pull, so it obviously wasn’t a good series for me.  I remember playing against Isiah, and Dumars, and the Microwave [Vinnie Johnson].  I think that might have been the first of their back-to-back championship seasons.  It was a great experience, but I just wish that I could have been healthy enough to contribute more.

CELTIC-NATION
By the following season you were firmly established as a member of the Boston Celtics.  What was it like to go through training camp with the rest of the team?

KEVIN GAMBLE
It was fun. It’s hard to remember now, but just going through a full training and getting ready for the regular season was a luxury.  It helped in terms of getting my timing down with my teammates, because Larry was coming back and we had some adjustments to make.  It was fun being around the guys, and getting the chance to play with some of the best basketball players in the world.  You learn something everyday.  You pick up so many little things about the game.  So it was an exciting time for me; going through the preseason games, going on the flights with the team...it was a lot of hard work, but I came away from it with a lot of great memories.  It also made me a better basketball player.


 

CELTIC-NATION
The '89-'90 season ended with heartbreak, as the Celtics were eliminated from the first round for the second consecutive season.  For a team and a city accustomed to playing in June, this was a bitter pill to swallow.  What happened in that series against New York, and how were the Knicks able to win that decisive game in the Boston Garden?

KEVIN GAMBLE
I didn’t play a lot that series – they were a bigger team, so they went big and we countered by going with a big rotation.  Patrick [Ewing] had a great series against us.  Gerald Wilkins had a great series.  The Knicks played good team basketball and had us on our heels.  If a team gets hot in a five game series, then it can definitely make things difficult for the opponent, and that’s basically what happened.  The Knicks tied the series in New York, and then came into Boston and won that deciding game in the Garden.  We had no one to blame but ourselves; if you don’t take care of homecourt, then you’re usually not going to win a playoff series.  The Knicks were a young team coming up, and Patrick was hungry.  They were able to do it.  You have to give them credit.


 

CELTIC-NATION
The '91 playoff series against the Indiana Pacers is a classic, in large part due to Game 5 in the Boston Garden.  Larry Bird returns from banging his head on the Garden floor, and leads the Celtics over Chuck Person and the Pacers.  Please take me back to the Garden on May 5th, 1991.  What was the energy like when Larry returned from his injury?

KEVIN GAMBLE
You just knew he was going to return, but you didn’t start getting excited until the fans saw him walk out of that locker room.  So we knew he was going to come back – he’d done so many amazing things during his career, and he’d hit so many big shots.  He was the master of taking over a game.  So it was one of those times when you’d just sit back and watch, and that you were just glad to be a part of it.


 

CELTIC-NATION
Larry Bird retired following the '91'92 season.  By then you were in integral part of the team, earning your reputation and playing time with solid defense.  With Larry gone and the rest of the Big Three in decline, did you assume more of a leadership role with the Celtics?

KEVIN GAMBLE
Yes and no – I just tried to go to work every day and put up my normal numbers.  I wasn’t a vocal leader.  I tried to lead by example, so I guess you could say that I was a lunch pail type of player.  I worked hard in practice every day, and gave my all on the court.  I tried to defend my man with maximum intensity.  I used to watch Chief [Robert Parish], and he always came to work.  And he worked hard.  I tried my best to emulate that, because I always felt that Robert set a good example of the younger players on the team.  To me, he was the consummate pro.  Whether it was in practice or in a game, you knew that Robert was going to give his best at all times.  So I tried to imitate the things that he tried to do.

CELTIC-NATION
Everyone who has played for the Celtics seems to have a favorite story about the great Red Auerbach.  What was it like to meet him for the first time, and do you have a story that stands out?

KEVIN GAMBLE
I remember when I held out for my contract.  The Celtics always have a dinner in the Quincy area for the media – the old Celtic players always come out.  It was around the time when the players started pulling down million dollar contracts, and stuff like that.  I was mainly a scorer who played solid, fundamental defense, and Red just couldn’t understand how a guy who didn’t rebound could make a million bucks [laughs].

Before games he would come in the locker room and talk about the days when he coached, and some of the guys that he coached.  Guys would be getting ready to get their ankles taped, and of course Red is on the taping table telling those old stories, and you couldn’t get your ankles taped [laughs].  So you’ve got to listen to the stories before the game, and time is clicking, and you have to wait for him to get those stories out.  But for him to come in and sit and talk, that means a lot.  Especially to some of the younger guys.  He would come in and give you encouragement – he’d tell you to relax and just shoot the ball, and that really made you feel like you were a part of something special – but most of the time he would come in to tell his stores and show off his rings [laughs].


 

CELTIC-NATION
Let's talk life after basketball.  What have you been up to in the years since retiring from the NBA?

KEVIN GAMBLE
I’ve gotten into different businesses.  Right now I own an Athlete’s Foot store, which is primarily an athletic shoe vendor.  We see basketball shoes – Nike’s Air Force One, the adidas line, pretty much all of the brands.  I’ve got some real estate; I’ve got a few buildings that I lease out to business people.  And I just finished up my third year as head coach of the University of Illinois at Springfield.  I’m just having a good time, and trying to get some experience in coaching.  We’re starting that program from scratch – they’ve never had a basketball team at the university, so we’re trying to build something from the ground up.




CELTIC-NATION
Final Question:  You’ve achieved great success in your life.  You are universally respected and admired by many people, both inside and outside of the NBA.  If you could offer one piece of advice on life to others, what would that be?

KEVIN GAMBLE
Work hard.  If you have a dream, don’t let anything get in your way.  Do it the right way, because there are no shortcuts to success.  It takes hard work and dedication – some people like the quick fix, but there is no quick fix out there.

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