Hoop Dream Come True
When the Boston Celtics meet the press,
Twiss is the man in the middle
photograph by Tracy Powell
buzz of lights far overhead is the loudest sound in the vast emptiness
of Bostons Fleet Center. With tip-off for tonights Celtics-Knicks
contest three hours away the arena may be near-silent, but Jeff Twiss
77, the Celtics vice president for media relations, is well into
the rhythm of his own game. Hes distributed a to-the-second, gate-opening-to-the-end-of-the-halftime-show
schedule far and wide; brokered an ESPN interview with the Celtics star
duo Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker; and juggled the myriad details that
go with a nationally televised game. Now, as he does so often but usually
not so literally, Twiss attempts to remove obstacles from a place where
professional basketball and professional journalism meet.
He is concerned that the long, electronically equipped press tables
that flank the basket are not leaving enough of an escape lane for players
crashing the hoop. God forbid an $8 million athlete trip and fall
over these wires, Twiss murmurs good naturedly. Up until now,
my function as reporter/writer/lifelong Celtics fan has been mainly
to gape starry-eyed at my backstage pass to the NBA. (Confession: Im
in awe of what Ive seen of Twisss life on the job
a world where you walk nonchalantly through the pre-game locker room,
not giving a second glance to Coach Jim OBriens plays diagrammed
on the blackboard, a world where Knicks color commentator, Walt Frazier,
shoots you a quick Hey, Jeff.) Now, with Twisss encouragement,
I actually make myself useful, putting my body into the offending tables
like a power forward clearing the lane.
has built a solid career during 22 years with the Celtics in a job that
would be the envy of many. Talk to colleagues about Twisss formula
for success and youll doubt that adage about where nice guys finish.
You cant miss his sincerity. It smacks you right in the
face, says Celtics great Tom Heinsohn, the former player, coach,
and current broadcaster.
What stands out is his sheer sincerity and warmth as a person,
concurs Bob Ryan, the Boston Globes basketball guru.
Jeff is the greatest guy in the building and the best in the 42
years Ive worked here, says Huzza Howard, chief steward
of the Fleet Centers service corps, through a thick South Boston
The overwhelming evidence says that Twiss is well liked because hes
genuine, considerate to a fault, and makes a habit of going far out
of his way for people. But when it comes to members of the Celtics family,
Twiss turns on the thoughtfulness afterburners.
Before one game during Walter McCartys first season with the team,
Twiss noticed that the friendly young forward and defensive specialist
was stocking his energy reserves with a Nestles Crunch, and singing
the praises of the candy bar. McCarty played well that night and the
Celtics won. Twiss has carefully placed a Crunch bar on the bench in
front of McCartys locker for every game since, more than 300.
From Bird and McHale to Pierce and Walker, Twiss has seen the evolution
of the franchise and the NBA. In the 30 years since the team was coached
by the legendary Red Auerbach, the National Basketball Association has
undergone a night and day transformation. Not surprisingly, the communications
function that Twiss manages also has been transformed.
When I was playing, Heinsohn says, it was a throwback
era. We would do anything the PR guy wanted because we were trying to
popularize the game. Since the Larry Bird era, these guys are at the
pinnacle of attention and weve ended up in the entertainment business.
Players are a little bit more temperamental about their PR commitments.
Auerbach is less circumspect about the challenges of dealing with contemporary
players. Picture that trademark cigar in Reds mouth when he says,
These guys have a lot of money guaranteed. They can tell you to
This, one suspects, is where the job gets tough. Being nice is nice,
but someone in Twisss shoes better have a lot more going for him.
He says persuading players to do what is right for them and the
organization is the most challenging part of his job. At its
most difficult, that means getting them to agree to appear on the ubiquitous,
content-starved, sports radio call-in shows.
The print guys go to practices and pretty much get what they need
there, Twiss says. The radio shows are generally on from
noon to three, before practice starts. They call in to the
Fleet Center and they always want the flagship players, which puts pressure
Twisss people skills are put to the ultimate test in these situations.
Ill tell a player, It will help you out, it will show
that youre more than a basketball player. Twiss also
reminds players that a radio appearance will give them an opportunity
to showcase their community projects.
People in Jeffs job tend to bug the players, Auerbach
says. They feel theyre going to be made to do something
an interview or a promotional appearance. But in all the
years hes been here, and all the players he been associated
with, not one has had a bad word to say about him.
Its a few minutes before the 7 p.m. gate opening, when I see my
opportunity to get, if not a bad word about Twiss, maybe something with
a little more spice to it. The press is relaxed at courtside, as a a
mellow hip-hop beat wafts from the sound system, and a few players warm-up.
With a wry sense of humor, The Boston Heralds Steve Bulpett presides
over a group of writers. I seize my chance, ask Bulpett if theres
anything behind the PR mans nickname: Twister.
Bulpett is enjoying the question, since there is so clearly no wild
side to Twiss, and the two are obviously good friends.
Lets see: Ozzie Nelson at home, Ozzie Osborne on the road?,
Bulpett suggests tentatively. He reformulates the question for himself,
What would a wild night on the road be for Jeff Twiss? After
a few moments he has it: Staying up until midnight and watching
the late news.
the Patrick Gym Microphone
Jeff Twisss fascination with the Boston Celtics began with watching
the era of Bill Russell and John Havlicek roadcast on a fuzzy black
and white signal to his home in Vermont. The son of a high school principal
and superintendent in Stowe and Vergennes, Twiss, like a lot of kids,
had hoop dreams of his own. But one day reality hits you in the
face and you realize you dont have the skill, Twiss says.
He began considering other ways he might have a life in professional
At UVM he worked at his studies and sought out extra-curriculars that
would serve his sports aspirations well. He wrote a hockey column for
the Cynic, called play-by-play on WRUV, and manned the PA during
mens basketball and hockey games.
Twiss was at the mike for what many consider to be the most memorable
game in UVM mens basketball history the Cats unthinkable
1977 upset of a highly ranked Ohio State team. Pulling himself away
from the post-game celebration Patrick Gym was bedlam,
he says Twiss seized the opportunity that had been handed him.
He contacted Wynn Elliot at CBS Radio and asked if the network would
like a story on the game. Using the studio of Burlingtons WJOY
radio, he put together a report. CBS broadcast the tape internationally
on its worldwide sports radio program.
Jean Condon was faculty advisor to PE majors in Twisss era and
remembers him well. In an advising session toward the end of his UVM
years, Condon asked Twiss a strategic question: What happens if
you dont get a teaching job? not so unreasonable
a query in a market glutted with male PE teachers.
Jeff would have gotten a job teaching tomorrow good people
always get jobs, she says, but there were so many other
interests burning in his gut she wanted him to consider.
To open him to new possibilities, she asked Twiss to write down his
dreams on one side of a sheet of paper and the reality of how to get
there on the other.
We had such a good talk about dreams, she says. He
thought in very small terms maybe working in a sports information
office at a small college. Condon knew he was a Celtics fan, so
she asked how hed like to work in the front office for the team.
He didnt think hed ever be able to do but he was willing
to listen to me.
Condon made a cold call to the Celtics and miraculously landed Twiss
an internship. He was so wide-eyed, sponging everything up, and
so excited, she says.
After graduating from UVM, Twiss got a teaching job at Randolph High
School in central Vermont. But after a few years, he again felt the
pull of a life in professional sports. A masters degree program
in sports management at the University of Massachussetts led to a second
internship with the Celtics.
It was fall of 1981 when Twiss was at the end of that internship. He
was driving Auerbach home from a preseason game in Providence when the
coach asked. Howd you like to work for the Celtics?
He was reliable, sincere, and direct, Auerbach, ever the
judge of basketball talent, recalls. I thought hed be a
good addition to the Celtics staff.
For the record, Vermont Quarterly rates a spot between the the
Brockton Enterprise and the Cape Cod Times at the Celtics
press table. Its a bizarre experience watching an NBA game at
floor level, the realm of Spike Lee, Jack Nicholson, and anyone else
with $500-and-some to spend on a ticket to a basketball game. The distance
and frame that a television camera provides puts the games grace
on display. Here its all exertion and squeaking sneakers, a five-on-five
game at the local Y with some faces you recognize and some moves
Knicks shooting guard Latrell Sprewell is torching the Celtics in the
early going, making every shot. Vin Baker jams it twice. Twiss has told
me he tries to maintain a professional demeanor during games, curtailing
it a bit, even when the hometown crowd goes wild. I turn and find
him standing stoically at the periphery of the court, true to form.
The Celtics end up winning easily, a far cry from the hard fought battles
of the Bird era. After the game, Twiss collects me and again transports
me to the NBAs backstage. I witness Coach OBriens
post-game press conference a surprisingly brief affair that features
remarks about Paul Pierces basketball mastery from the coach,
who wears an unsmiling warriors expression throughout. We pass
by the Celtics locker room, where two clumps of writers have sequestered
players hidden from view, presumably Pierce and Walker.
Cinderella had her midnight reality check; I have the 11:30 p.m. sharp
closing of the lot where Im parked two blocks from the Fleet.
Lost in my waning moments as a basketball insider, I dont remember
this until 11:25. Twiss insists on walking me to my car to be sure all
As we hustle toward St. James Street, all I can think of is Twisss
outsize thoughtfulness. If Im locked out of the lot, theres
a better than even chance Twiss will invite me to spend the night at
his home. As much as Ive enjoyed his company over the last seven-plus
hours, Im ready to say my good-byes and suspect he is,
To our joint relief, the lot is open. But while paying up, I fumble
my keys in the darkness
and snow. What should be a simple job of
finding them isnt, and the parking lot attendant, to no avail,
positions his SUV to shine his headlights on the area where they dropped.
Im again contemplating overstaying my welcome with a night at
Chez Twiss. Then, ever the problem-solver, Twiss rescues us both by
spotting the keys in a pile of slush, and he sends me on my way with
a friendly pat on the back and a drive safe.
Moments later, both exalted and addled from a long day, the highway
in my headlights, I begin to compose my story lead. The Greek
philosopher Diogenes, who spent his life looking for an honest man,
would have been well served by a trip to the Fleet Center. I know
its late, but Im thinking it could work.