Seventeen years ago on a splendid spring day in Milwaukee, Rick Carlisle enjoyed a special moment of greatness that has carried him to this very day.
Carlisle was a member of a small group of seven young men who had the privilege of watching one of the greatest basketball teams of all time play each and every day during a run to the NBA championship that was little more than a foregone conclusion: The Boston Celtics of 1986, featuring Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge.
As a reserve on that "Green Team" -- the dedicated group of substitutes who wore green shirts in practice every day -- Carlisle, along with the likes of Scott Wedman, Jerry Sichting, Greg Kite, Sam Vincent, David Thirdkill and me, had the opportunity to carry bags, get coffee, newspapers and muffins and act as valets for the stars who played literally the whole game each and every night.
K.C. Jones, our Hall of Fame coach and the leader most like coach John Wooden that I ever played for, did not substitute very much. Every game, Larry, The Chief, Kevin and the guards would log huge minutes. We would sit there, so ready, so pumped, to get our chance -- a chance that never really came because the starters simply would not allow Jones to take them out. Our chance did finally come, though, on April 8, 1986, at the old MECCA in Milwaukee against the Bucks.
For a sense of just how long ago this really was, you have to be aware that the Bucks were actually a good team in those days -- second-best in the Eastern Conference, believe it or not, behind the mighty Celtics. They were coached by the legend, Don Nelson, and were led by terrific stars like Sidney Moncrief and Terry Cummings. And what a home-court advantage they had in the old barn across from Major Goolsby's.
Prior to the game, which came in the closing week of the regular season, Jones explained to our squad that he was tired of seeing the Green Team riding the long coattails of the great Celtic legends of the day. On this particular evening, Jones was going to have us earn our salaries by actually playing in the game while he bought drinks and popcorn for Larry and the guys sitting on the bench during the contest.
We were so psyched. This was our chance to actually play in a game for the Boston Celtics. Milwaukee's home crowd was primed to take on their dreaded rival, the hated Celtics. The in-house band, Warren Wiegratz's Street Life, had the place rockin', but when Boston's second-string strode out for the opening tip the place went nuts. The Buck loyalists wanted Bird, D.J., The Chief, McHale and The Whiner -- Ainge. Instead, they got Wedman, Kite, Walton, Sichting and Carlisle. The uproarious response was vicious. The floor and Celtics bench was pelted with garbage. The stunned Bucks didn't know what to do.
The game started and the Green Team, fresh and razor sharp from practicing against the starters every day, was on its game. Everything was so perfect -- the flawless execution, crisp passing, pinpoint shooting and rugged board play. And with each possession, our lead steadily grew and the stunned fans could not tolerate it any longer, their frustration, anger and bitterness growing with each tick of the clock. Their beloved Bucks were getting humiliated by the second string of the demons from Boston.
The only thing that went wrong for the Celtics that unique night in Milwaukee was when Kite, scrambling fiercely for a loose ball late in the first quarter, ended up on the seat of his pants with the ball safely cradled in his powerful grasp. But referee Lee Jones had whistled Kite for an infraction for his overzealousness. Losing his mind, Kite, who had the chance of a lifetime to actually play and start for his Celtics, stared with disbelief at the official. And as Jones turned to the scorer's table to signal this crime against humanity, Kite, still sitting on the floor, rifled the ball as hard as he could, hitting Jones squarely on the side of his head. Kite sadly was ejected from the proudest moment of his life.
The Celtics trounced the Bucks that night as all of our dreams came true but for that one brief flashing loss of self-control. The devastated Bucks limped out into the darkness, dragging their tails behind them and not knowing what to say after losing to the Celtics' second string.
These days, Rick Carlisle is the head coach of the Eastern Conference finalist Detroit Pistons. This week, he was walking down the street when he was stopped by an elderly woman who tapped him on the leg with her cane. She thought she recognized him and wanted to know who he was and why he looked so familiar. Carlisle's proud and immediate response was perfect: "I was the starting guard on the 1986 world champion Boston Celtics."
And now you know the story of April 8, 1986. Boston at Milwaukee. The one and only game that Rick Carlisle ever started in his entire NBA career.
Bill Walton, who is a regular contributor to ESPN.com, is an NBA analyst for ESPN.