By Marc D'Amico
January 5, 2012
WALTHAM, Mass. – What was the biggest acquisition of the Boston Celtics’ offseason?
Think long and hard about your answer and you may never come up with the response Doc Rivers might give on the subject.
Brandon Bass would be the typical answer, right? After all, he might be the early season favorite for Sixth Man of the Year.
But dig deeper into the Celtics’ offseason and find the acquisition that flies under the radar; the move that didn’t make a splash in the NBA, but is definitely making a splash within Boston’s locker room.
The Boston Celtics acquired Keyon Dooling from the Milwaukee Bucks on Dec. 9, 2011, but that move didn’t garner much attention from anywhere other than the team’s front office in Waltham, Mass.
Dooling is a journeyman who has played for six teams over his 12-year career. He has never averaged more than 9.7 PPG or 3.5 APG in a season during his time in the league.
No one would expect this man to come into Boston and take over the keys to the car, particularly with four perennial All-Stars running the show in front of him. But that’s the beauty of Keyon Dooling – he doesn’t expect that either.
This is a man proudly wearing number 51, which has only been worn by the likes of Charles Claxton, Todd Mundt and Kevin Pinkney in the history of Boston’s franchise. That number might be an indication of how much Dooling doesn’t want to stand out. He simply wants to blend in.
Dooling is doing exactly that in Boston, and he’s helping the rest of his team blend together at the same time.
Keyon Dooling is embracing a leadership role with Boston's second unit.Elsa/NBAE/Getty
The Celtics’ bench in 2011-12 is almost entirely new compared to that of last season. Boston’s second units in seasons past have been made up of former All-Stars searching for one final run at a title, but this season it is composed of veterans like Dooling who embrace the role of reserve. Doc Rivers sees that more and more every day, and Dooling is the ringleader in that regard.
“I will say this, it’s refreshing with this group – they don’t look at it as punishment,” Rivers says of the possibility of making the second unit practice on days that the starters have off. “With this group it’s, ‘What time?’ And Keyon is the leader of it, he really is. He’ll come to you and say, ‘Hey, how about 10 o’clock, or 11 o’clock?’ He’s been phenomenal with that.”
Dooling is as eager to practice now as he ever has been, no matter who is or isn’t on the floor with him. He’s in his 12th NBA season, yet this is the first time he has had a legitimate shot at adding a championship ring to his finger.
“This is really my first opportunity to be around a championship environment,” he told Celtics.com on Media Day. “From the day I walked in, you know what’s on the mind, and that’s bringing home a chip to Boston.”
He quickly learned that we don’t call them chips in Boston. We instead call them Banners, and we’re searching for an 18th come this June. Dooling is hell-bent on helping his team achieve that goal, and he’s going to do that by providing leadership and an optimistic aura each and every day.
“I really think Keyon, whether he’s playing well or not, his emotions do not change towards the team,” says Rivers. “That’s huge.”
That optimistic mindset has been apparent since Day 1 with the Celtics. In Dooling’s very first media appearance with the team, live on Celtics.com, he immediately took the time to say how grateful he was to Milwaukee GM John Hammond for giving him such a great opportunity here in Boston. He has treated interns and arena employees like best friends. He has joked around with workers at the scorer’s table during games in the midst of a brutal shooting night.
Like Rivers said, Dooling’s attitude doesn’t change through thick or thin, or from person to person. Dooling is in what he has called “basketball heaven” here in Boston. While he’s here, he’s simply trying to give as much of himself as possible to the people around him.
“I think anytime I can give a piece of me to a youngster I always do,” Dooling said. “I understand the challenges of the NBA. I understand the grind of it. I understand the hardships that you go through, and I have a lot of experience. I was a guy who was almost out of the league, so I kind of know what it takes to stay in our league.”
One thing that helps you to stay in this league for more than a decade is knowing what you’re doing while you’re out on the floor. According to Rivers, Dooling has as good a grasp of that as anyone on this Celtics team.
“Keyon’s a coach,” said Rivers. “He had something, late in a game – I can’t remember exactly what it was, but it was something on offense – he reminded me, or asked me, should he remind [the team about a specific detail]. He was on the bench, you know, and he ran out there and you could see him getting [the players] together. He definitely has it in him.”
The ‘it’ that Rivers believes Dooling has inside of him could be explained with an array of adjectives. All of those descriptors help Dooling to be the type of glue guy that hasn’t been in Boston to hold the Celtics, and particularly the bench, together in a while. He knows who he is, and he embraces his role at every opportunity.
Dooling said on Media Day that, “It really takes a village to make this thing go, and we have all of the pieces to make it successful on the court.”
Who would have thought that when the Celtics quietly acquired him on Dec. 9, he would wind up being one of the most important pieces of all?
Probably no one, but Dooling couldn’t care less. He’s too busy making the most of his time in basketball heaven.