LATE BOSTON CELTICS head coach Chris Ford watches the Celtics play against the Seattle SuperSonics in Seattle on Feb. 25, 1994. (AP Photo/File)
By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — Late Boston Celtics guard and head coach Chris Ford is being remembered for his contributions on and off the basketball court.
Ford passed away from a heart episode in a Philadelphia hospital on Jan. 17 at the age of 74. The former Wing Road and Melody Lane resident leaves behind his wife Kathy and their four children: Chris Jr., Katie, Anthony and Michael. Seven grandchildren and a number of close family and friends also survive him.
“Chris was beloved by his family, friends and teammates,” the Ford family wrote in a statement. “He had a great love for his family, the city of Boston, the fans and the entire Celtics family. He always showed humility and respect for all those that were fortunate enough to be a part of his life.”
The Celtics echoed the Ford family’s sentiment in a statement.
“As a player and coach, Chris Ford’s career spanned over a decade of Celtics basketball, and he made his mark every step of the way,” the Celtics wrote on the team’s website. “He was a member of three NBA World Championship Boston Celtics teams, one as a key player on the 1981 champions and subsequently as an assistant coach for the 1984 and 1986 champs. Ford went on to become the team’s 11th head coach, leading his former teammates Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish to multiple playoff appearances in the trio’s final days together. ‘Doc,’ as he was affectionately known by his teammates, was a fundamentally versatile all-around guard. The Boston Celtics sends their deepest sympathies to the Ford family and their many friends.”
An accomplished career
Ford was born and raised in Atlantic City, New Jersey. After starring at Holy Spirit High School in Absecon, New Jersey, he played college basketball at the University of Villanova. Ford helped the Wildcats advance to the 1970 NCAA Elite Eight and the 1971 Final Four. He scored 1,433 points over the course of three seasons suiting up for the Wildcats, and the 238 assists he tallied during the 1970-1971 season is Villanova’s single-season record. Villanova retired Ford’s number 42 on Feb. 4, 2006.
The Detroit Pistons drafted Ford in the second round of the 1972 NBA Draft. After suiting up for the Pistons for six seasons, Detroit traded Ford to Boston in October 1978. He and Kathy moved to Wing Road in December 1978.
Ford made an immediate impact after being traded to the Celtics. He averaged a career-high 15.6 points and 4.7 assists during the 1978-1979 season, and was named as the team’s MVP. During his second season with the Celtics, Ford sunk the first 3-point shot in NBA history on Oct. 12, 1979.
The 6’5” guard helped the Celtics win the 1981 NBA championship. After retiring at the conclusion of the 1981-1982 season, Ford served as an assistant coach for the Celtics from 1983-1990, where he helped Bird, McHale and Parish win two titles in 1984 and 1986 while serving under head coach K.C. Jones. He is one of four former Celtics to have won championships as both a player and coach, joining Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn and Jones.
“Chris was such an important part of our success, as a teammate, coach and friend,” said Bird in a statement. “My thoughts and condolences are with the Ford family.”
Ford succeeded Jimmy Rodgers as Celtics head coach, and led the team for five seasons from 1990-91 through 1994-95. He compiled a 222-188 record with four playoff appearances as Boston’s head coach. He also coached the Milwaukee Bucks from 1996-1998 and the Los Angeles Clippers from 1998-2000. He began the 2003-04 season as an assistant for the Philadelphia 76ers, and coached the final 30 games that season after Randy Ayers was fired.
Remembered by community
Former Select Board member Chris Barrett became close friends with the Fords’ oldest son Chris Jr. and daughter Katie.
“Mr. Ford had a lot of humility,” said Barrett. “He never forgot where he came from. He genuinely loved his family and friends. I thought sports journalist Bob Ryan spoke well to this when he said, ‘He was like your next-door neighbor who just happened to be going to work at the Garden.’”
Finance Committee member Julie Mitchell also became close friends with the Ford family.
“Chris Ford was a truly special individual whose personal impact extends deep beyond his incredible professional basketball career,” Mitchell stated in an email sent to the Villager. “Chris was loved by so many in our community because of his kindness to everyone and sincere fondness for his neighbors, friends, family and local community. After moving from Lynnfield back to his home state of New Jersey, Chris and his family would regularly come back to Lynnfield to visit friends and spend time in town. He would often be seen at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Post Office Square when he was in town, and would always take time to stop and connect with people he saw there. He enjoyed hearing updates on all of us Lynnfield kids who are now adults still living in town, and would often fondly recall many stories of when he lived in town and his happy memories from raising his family here. He was the kind of person that made you feel like you were a part of his family, and would always show special interest and caring for everyone around him.”
Ford generated headlines around town in the mid-1980s and early 1990s due to a basketball court he had built in the backyard of his Wing Road home in 1986. A Main Street neighbor filed a complaint with former Zoning Enforcement and Inspection Director Wilfred Rogers that claimed the basketball court violated the town’s Zoning Bylaw. After Rogers sided with Ford, the neighbor appealed the town’s decision to Land Court, which upheld it. The neighbor appealed the Land Court’s decision to the Appellate Court, which ruled that the basketball court was a structure.
The Zoning Board of Appeals approved Ford’s request for a variance in September 1991 that allowed the basketball court to remain on his property on the condition that it not be used after 9 p.m. Ford and the neighbor each filed citizens’ petitions for Fall Town Meeting that year. Ford’s petition sought to allow basketball courts as an accessory use while the neighbor’s petition was looking to prohibit them. Fall Town Meeting voted 298-87 to allow basketball courts as an accessory use and not designate them as a structure.
The Ford family moved to Melody Lane in 1992.
“We became friends with the Ford family when they lived on Wing Road, and then they built a house across the street from us,” said Melody Lane resident Jeff Polansky. “Our kids became very good friends with their kids. Chris was a great guy. He had a very busy schedule travel-wise, but he spent as much time as he could with his kids.”
Sue Polansky noted that their son Jared was the best man at Ford’s youngest son Michael’s wedding and their daughter Meg was the maid of honor for Michael’s wife Maura.
“Chris was a great, family-orientated guy,” said Sue. “He was just a regular guy. He never acted like a celebrity.”
Jeff also recalled that Ford coached Michael and Jared’s Peabody-Lynnfield Youth Basketball Association team when he was in between coaching jobs.
“The kids were blessed to have Chris as a coach,” said Jeff. “What was amazing to me was he gave each kid an equal amount of playing time and specialized instruction. He was the only coach to do that. He demonstrated to other coaches how they should treat young people.”
Former Selectman/Town Moderator Arthur Bourque said Ford was “a great guy who was always good to Lynnfield and its various sports charities.”
Retired Lynnfield High School boys’ basketball/cross-country head coach Joe DiBiase got to know Ford when he was coaching Michael in high school.
“Michael was a small forward who could really shoot the ball,” said DiBiase. “His dad was very helpful to me. We were coming off some great seasons when I moved from JV coach to varsity coach. We were the runner-up state champs and then state champs. Chris politely asked me if I wanted some help, and he invited me over his house. He ran through drills and explained the purpose of each drill. Even though I had great mentors as head coaches and worked many summer camps and attended clinics, his help was immeasurable. He was always supportive of the coaches, players and program. He was a real class act.”
Select Board member Dick Dalton recalled that he was a friend and neighbor of the Ford family.
“Chris was a very good guy,” said Dalton. “Even though he was a successful professional basketball player and coach, he was just one of the fathers at different town events. The Fords were great members of the community.”
After the Ford family moved from Lynnfield to New Jersey in 2005, Mitchell and her family would frequently go visit them.
“Our annual summer visit to see Katie’s family would always include a stop at Chris and Kathy’s house,” said Mitchell. “Chris would take all of the kids fishing on his boat, and treated my children like they were part of his family. We always loved spending time with the Fords talking about what’s new in Lynnfield, what things have changed and what haven’t. His loss is going to be felt very deeply by all of us who were lucky to have been a part of his extended family. Kathy, Chris Jr., Katie, Anthony and Michael embody his same special spirit, and we wish them all the comfort we can during this time as we all mourn his loss together.”
Barrett recalled that Kathy Ford was a piano teacher who “dedicated countless hours” to supporting the school system’s music program.
“Mr. and Mrs. Ford believed in public service and giving back to the community,” said Barrett. “Their kids continue to do that. They are a wonderful family. He genuinely cared about everyone. There will never be anyone like Mr. Ford.”
— Associated Press Sports Writer Kyle Hightower contributed to this report.