SALT LAKE CITY — Matt Howard saw the footage in Germany, where the former Butler forward is playing professionally. It caught him by surprise.
“Never seen that before!!!” Howard wrote in an e-mail late Saturday night.
No one had, because Brad Stevens, who coached Howard at Butler University, never had been ejected in his life until hours earlier in the Celtics’ loss to the Kings in Sacramento.
NBA referee Marc Davis tossed the rookie Celtics coach with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter after Stevens criticized Davis’s officiating.
Stevens, whose Celtics face the Utah Jazz here Monday night, didn’t shout or say much to Davis. He was measured and direct. But Davis believed whatever Stevens said warranted an early exit.
And without arguing Davis’s call, Stevens calmly left the floor, pausing only to wave to the opposing coach and congratulate him on his team’s win.
“If you’re thinking ‘Brad Stevens ejection,’ that’s it, right there,” said Bill Fenlon, who coached Stevens on the basketball team at DePauw University. “He waves to the other coach and then walks off the floor.”
Howard agreed: “That’s the calmest ejection I’ve ever seen.”
Celtics forward Jeff Green and swingman Gerald Wallace both said they were “shocked” by Stevens’s ejection.
“Because he’s such a quiet guy,” Green added.
But while Stevens is known for his measured demeanor, those close to him say it isn’t that surprising that he would be ejected.
“He is extremely competitive and passionate, so it was bound to happen at some point,” said Matthew Graves, a former Butler assistant under Stevens and now the head men’s basketball coach at the University of South Alabama. “He’s just fighting for his team.”
That’s exactly how the Celtics’ players looked at it, too. “He’s standing up for his team,” said forward Brandon Bass. “That’s all you can do.”
Green agreed. “He fought for his team,” he said. “What he had to say, I guess it was right. I don’t know what he said, but whatever he said, it had to be said. He got tossed for it, but that’s him standing up for us.
“It’s very nice, because we’re out there battling and the refs, they make the calls. You can’t argue with them, but sometimes, they do get it wrong. It’s good to have our coach fight for us.”
Stevens said, “It’s nice guys would say that and recognize it, but I’d prefer to be recognized more for the moments behind the scenes and the extra effort that goes into trying to prepare for something good.”
Wallace took it a step farther, however, saying the impact of Stevens’s ejection proved a point about a coach whose emotions always seem to be under control.
And Wallace has a good perspective, too, as Stevens only came onto the court to argue with Davis after Davis had tagged Wallace with a second technical foul, resulting in Wallace being ejected from the game.
“It means a lot,” Wallace said of Stevens’s response. “It shows spirit. I think it has been in question whether he supports us or goes all out during the games. I think it just kind of boosts the guys’ confidence [in him] and in believing in him knowing that he’s willing to fight for us.”
Stevens understands where Wallace is coming from.
“These guys have been really good to me the whole time, but without question there’s a feeling-out process when you first get a new coach and there’s a new team,” he said. “There’s also a feeling-out process for me.”
Added Stevens, “I’m here to hopefully help us get to be the best we can be, but also to be very invested in the individuals that are in the building, whether they play or not.
“I think that’s the most enjoyable way to work. It makes for the most enjoyable workplace because then hopefully people feel empowered to perform. Again, I’m not perfect at it, but I believe in it.”
What of being fiery on the sideline?
“I don’t think how you react to what goes on in a game has anything to do with necessarily how much you care about somebody or how much effort you’re putting in to help them be successful,” Stevens said.
It doesn’t hurt to be ejected, Fenlon said.
“Every now and then when you come out of your personality a little bit, especially when you’re as even-keeled as Brad is, those things do have some significance,” Fenlon said.
“When you’re a pretty calm guy, when you’re pretty even-keeled, then that can be mistaken for maybe not being as competitive as guys screaming and yelling all the time. And obviously that’s not the case with this guy. He’s just got a different sort of demeanor.”
Wallace joked that Stevens’s ejection “didn’t really count” because “he didn’t really even show no fire, like the Syracuse coach did.”
Wallace was referencing Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim’s rant at the end of Saturday’s game vs. Duke.
But when Dave Sollman, who coached Stevens at Zionsville (Ind.) High School, heard that Stevens was ejected, “The first thing I did was smile,” Sollman said.
Why? Because it revealed a part of Stevens that only those close to him really know.
“He’s got a fire inside that you often don’t see,” said Josh Burch, Stevens’s close friend and former teammate at DePauw.
The Celtics saw a glimpse of that fire Saturday. And they loved it.Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.