The two questions most frequently asked regarding the hobbled Celtics:
(1) Is Larry Bird coming back this season? (No official word yet, but the gut feeling here is, mark it down as a big NO.)(2) How did everyone else miss out on Kelvin Upshaw?
Upshaw is 26 years old, a player who was perilously close to being a Continental Basketball Association lifer. In fact, he nearly called it quits before the 1988-89 season.
"I was fed up," said Upshaw. "I was getting behind financially in my life. But my mom said I was too close to give up."
She was right. Upshaw has brought to Boston instant up-tempo offense along with tough, chest-to-chest defense against some of the league's best (Isiah Thomas, Mo Cheeks), as well as a certain sang froid in delivering the big jumper.
The temptation at first was to compare No. 7's quick start to that of former flash-in-the-pan guard Conner Henry. But the difference is that, when Henry had a bad shooting night, he had a bad night, period. Upshaw can go 3 for 8 and still contribute.
So how did he slip through the cracks? After averaging nearly 20 points a game his junior year at the University of Utah, Upshaw was replaced in the starting lineup by sophomore Gale Gondrezick, who had been promised the spot by Coach Lynn Archibald when he was recruited.
Upshaw averaged 11.7 points off the pine. In a game against San Diego State, he injured his knee, went to the hospital for X-rays, returned to the game with seconds to play, checked in at the scorer's table and nailed the winning basket.
The scouts never caught wind of the story. He was ignored in the NBA draft (you just don't pick backup point guards on mediocre teams), then spent two years in the CBA trying to pass as an off guard while more famous names (Quintin Dailey, for one) got time at the point, Upshaw's natural position. And Upshaw had no agent.
It has all finally turned around. Upshaw was traded to the Albany Patroons and introduced to former NBA renegade Coach George Karl, who put him back at the point and showed him how to run an NBA-style offense. Upshaw hooked up with agent Warren Legarie, who got on the phone and started promoting him.
In the meantime, the NBA changed, leaning more toward pressing and trapping and pushing the ball. Suddenly, the Celtics, who had made a living for decades out of pounding the ball inside, needed someone just like Kelvin Upshaw.
"I never have been the type of player that jumps out at you right away," said Upshaw. "You have to really sit down and watch me to appreciate what I can do. I will always be grateful the Celtics took the time to do that."
Evidently, the Miami Heat - who signed Upshaw to two 10-day contracts, then released him - didn't take the time.