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Archive for Tuesday, April 13, 1999

MATT TARR COLUMN

April 13, 1999

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— I swear what you are about to read is true.

I hopped on my connecting flight from Chicago to Beantown on Saturday afternoon, located seat 16B, sat down, and glanced at the scholarly-looking chap sitting in seat 16A.

It was Michael Dukakis.

Yes, that Michael Dukakis. Kitty's Michael Dukakis. Massachusetts' most famous politician since Jack, er, Bobby ... Ted? ... OK, Massachusetts' most famous politician that isn't named Kennedy. Or Barney Frank.

Dukakis is doing fine, thank you. He seems to have recovered nicely from being waxed in the '88 presidential election by the guy who had trouble with the vision thing. He's teaching at Northeastern University part of the year, UCLA the other.

And before you start to wonder about how this newspaper is throwing its money around, no, I wasn't in first class.

Let me repeat this. Michael Dukakis sat next to me. In coach. Wearing a suit and tie on a Saturday afternoon. Noshed on a lukewarm "chicken" sandwich not unlike mine.

The question at that point became obvious: What sort of omen would this be?

The answer came Sunday night when I watched Celtics rookie Paul Pierce unleash his multitude of skills upon a surprisingly loud and boisterous crowd at the Fleet Center.

Pierce, who ditched his senior year at Kansas to sit on his butt for six months before the NBA and its players finally kissed and made up, displayed all the riveting skills that made him an All-American at KU and the early favorite for '99 rookie of the year honors.

Pierce impressed NBA observers early, scoring 20.4 points per game in the first month of the season en route to being named February's rookie of the month.

But being rookie of the month in February is a little like winning the Iowa primary. It's nice, but it doesn't necessarily mean a whole lot when the general election rolls around.

Just ask Michael Dukakis.

In March, Pierce injured an ankle and then admittedly rushed back too soon. His impatience sapped his confidence, zapped his numbers, and allowed Toronto's Vince Carter to usurp him as the league's rookie du jour.

Now, with his ankle healed and his confidence restored, Pierce is back to form and rookie voters will no doubt follow suit.

But Pierce hasn't hit the campaign trail ... yet.

"It's been a goal of mine since the beginning of the year," Pierce said. "It's something I set my sights on as soon as I was drafted.

"It's not my main focus, though. My thing is, I just want to keep getting better and help the team get better. That's my focus and that's the focus of this team.

"That's all I'm concerned about right now."

No matter what happens when the league unveils its postseason honors, however, Pierce can rest easy by following a lesson learned by Dukakis: Finishing second isn't necessarily all that bad.

And with what they're paying NBA players these days, Paul Pierce, unlike Michael Dukakis, will never, ever have to sit in coach again.

-- Matt Tarr's phone message number is 832-7147. His e-mail address is mtarr@ljworld.com

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