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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Sad times in Indianapolis. Brad Stevens, the famous coach of the Butler Bulldogs men's college basketball team announced this past week that he is leaving to coach the NBA's Boston Celtics.
And that means a new, big-league salary for Stevens. He is reportedly stepping into a six-year, $22 million contract.
Here to do the due diligence on that deal is NPR's Mike Pesca. Hey, Mike.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: How are you doing? Got my green eyeshades on.
MARTIN: Oh, good. In celebration of the Celtics and their new head coach. So, the Celtics are not the first team to come calling for Brad Stevens, as you might imagine. This 34-year-old wunderkind, he is very sought after. How come?
PESCA: Well, yes, you're right. Every time an opening came open, every team would come calling, and it seems he rejected all of them - great teams, good teams, UCLA, all the big teams in college basketball. He ain't going anywhere, and so it seemed. Brad Stevens took teams to two consecutive NCAA finals. And these were, you know, teams with not top-flight players. You know, they had a couple of very good players - Gordon Hayward's in the NBA. But in general, he did a lot with not too much talent. He did a lot with smarts and savvy. And it's just so clear by seeing how he coaches, by talking to his players and by talking to him that he's just an unadorned genius. And it was a little surprising maybe he went to the NBA except when you consider the fact that, you know, his salary's now reportedly six years, $22 million and Butler just couldn't match that.
MARTIN: OK. So, let's talk about the money. It's roughly about $4 million a year.
MARTIN: That's not the most you can make as an NBA coach but it's pretty darn good.
PESCA: Yeah, it's actually about average for an NBA coach. And the strange thing is that, I would say, that it's very hard to say that this or that college coach in football or basketball - and they get paid a lot - 37 states' highest paid employee is a college sports coach. It's very hard to say which ones are worth the money. In fact, it's kind of easy to say most of them aren't worth the money. But if anyone's worth the money, Brad Stevens in college was worth the money. When he took over Butler, they were a middling school. He brought them fame. He brought them merchandise. He brought them into the Big East Conference, where they're going to get paid $2.5 million a year just to air their basketball games on TV. It's clear that as a return on investment you can't beat Brad Stevens.
MARTIN: But at the end of the day, Butler just couldn't counteroffer.
PESCA: Right. Even though, I mean, I'm sure that they tried but, yes, nearly $4 million is more than they have sloshing around in their funds. Can't compete with the green of the Celtics.
MARTIN: So, it seems like there might be a lot of questions now as to whether or not Brad Stevens can translate his skills and success in college ball over to the NBA. Because there's not a great track record when it comes to college coaches moving over to the NBA, right?
PESCA: Right. That's right. And the knock is usually that in college you can be dictatorial, but in the NBA you have to kind of work with the players as equals. I don't think that's going on. What you said is true. Rick Pitino had some success in the NBA. Jerry Tarkanian had a terrible track record in the NBA. I think college coaches don't do well in the NBA is 'cause the reason they do well in college is they're able to recruit these top flight players. The players they have on their teams, the talent is so much better - the top-flight college coaches - than their competition. That's not true in the NBA. In the NBA, you have to do it with, you know, savvy and smarts and all these attributes that Brad Stevens has. So, I think he's going to make it.
MARTIN: OK. Really quick - curveball?
PESCA: Sure. Wimbledon - Novak Djokovic. He's playing in the finals in Wimbledon. My Twitter feed is full of all these English people saying he's a little slide-y, isn't he? Sorry for the worst English impression since Dick Van Dyke.
MARTIN: He's a little slide-y. What does that mean?
PESCA: Yeah, yeah. He's sliding all over the place. And most of the players don't want to slide. And in fact, the pimples or studs on their shoes are regulated, including the angle of slope between the base and top of the pimple a maximum 10 degrees, and the guidelines for pimple density per square inch. But what Djokovic does is he wears the same shoes and they get worn down until he's sliding all over the place. It's part of his game. It's part of his athleticism. You don't think he could get to these balls. He's showing that he can. Pimples be damned.
MARTIN: NPR's Mike Pesca speaking with us from Aspen Public Radio in Colorado. Thanks, Mike.
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