PORTLAND, Maine — The Celtics acquired a new team Tuesday as they formally introduced themselves as owners of their G League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.
And while the news conference provided an opportunity for Lucky the Leprechaun and Crusher the Lobster to share a stage for the first time as corporate siblings, the prospect of a Tacko Fall sighting is the biggest draw for the Red Claws in the upcoming season.
The 7-foot-5-inch Senegalese sensation will spend most if not all of the next five months honing his raw talent in the NBA’s increasingly important and valuable developmental league. Fall, who recently signed a two-way contract with the Celtics, will winter in the state’s most populous city, his home court the old-fashioned and cavernous Portland Expo Center.
“Tacko Time up here is going to be incredible,” said Steve Pagliuca, Celtics managing partner and co-owner. “Tacko’s already been a big force down in Boston and the community, and he’ll do great things up here as well. And you have very high ceilings, which is fantastic for Tacko.”
The Red Claws were sold for an undisclosed price earlier this year by the Ryan family to the Celtics, the culmination of talks that began several years ago. The G League has become a priority of the NBA, which wants, when possible, teams to own their affiliated G League franchises.
The sale will make it easier for the Celtics to integrate their coaching and development philosophies with players it hopes will one day help the NBA team.
“The commitment’s there from the NBA,” said Celtics president Rich Gotham. “We felt that commitment and thought it would be a good time for us to get more involved and honestly take more control over our own destiny — particularly in integrating the on-the-court and the off-the-court functions.
“Whether it’s on-the-court development, strength and conditioning, rest and recovery, nutrition, sports science — all those things that go into the Celtics basketball operation, we’re looking to apply that here.”
The Red Claws have been the Celtics’ affiliate for more than a decade. Now that they take ownership, they do so with a “don’t fix it if it’s not broke” mentality. All of the Portland-based Red Claws staff members are staying, and the Expo Center, with its 2,300-seat capacity, is just the right size, as far as the Celtics are concerned.
Aside from what should be a Tacko Fall-focused marketing campaign, changes will be subtle.
“We’ve worked closely with the franchise for so many years,” said Pagliuca, “so this will be a seamless transition with the same great staff up here, and hopefully with our new [practice] facility [in Boston], hopefully we can integrate the two and make it an even better experience for the fans and everybody here.”
Just behind the Expo Center sits Hadlock Field, home of the Red Sox’ Double A franchise, the Portland Sea Dogs. Together, the teams provide minor-league entertainment almost 12 months a year to Portland, and the Celtics sound committed to maintaining a vibrant commodity for the community for a long time.
Rumors that the city of Worcester wanted to move the Red Claws there were squashed with Crusher-like force by Gotham.
“We’re committed to the state of Maine,” said Gotham. “I think someone in Worcester made some noise about Worcester wanting the team to move to Worcester but we’ve had no conversations like that at all — not a single conversation.
“Part of the attraction of the Red Claws is this market. When Bill Ryan and his dad bought the team initially, I spent time with the NBA and they did a big fan affinity study in terms of where the best minor league sports markets are, and particularly for basketball, and Portland in New England was the best city. And having spent time here the last year, it’s easy to see why.
“Walk around and talk to people, and people know the Red Claws, they’re into the Red Claws, they talk about the Expo and talk about how much they love bringing their kids here to games, so we don’t feel compelled to make any changes to that.
“I guess you can say ‘never say never,’ but this is what we bought, this is what we value. So looking forward to as many years at the Expo as they’ll have us in this place.”