With the news coming out that Clifford Ray is leaving the Celtics,  I started to think about what a big loss that is (no pun intended).  Clifford Ray has been with the Celtics since 2006 and is responsible for the development of the Celtics' big men including Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins.  The fact that Perk has improved every season is in part due to his own exceptional work ethic, but also because he has had one of the best big men coaches in the league guiding him.  

But, it  isn't just the Celtics big men who have benefited from Clifford Ray's guidance.   When you watch Dwight Howard play and dominate on the boards, think Clifford Ray. Dwight and his dad credit Clifford Ray with his development when Cliff was an assistant with the Magic. When you watch classic Celtics games from the 80's and see Parish dominate in the middle, think Clifford Ray. Parish credited Cliff with helping him to develop his game when they were teammates on Golden State. When you see the emergence of Al Jefferson as one of the best young big men in the league, think Clifford Ray, who worked with Al as he was developing from a raw high school draftee into a legitimate NBA big man. Clifford Ray has succeeded everywhere he has been and one thing is agreed across the league - Clifford Ray is the best big man coach in the NBA.

Ray played his college basketball at the University of Oklahoma. In 1971 the Chicago Bulls selected him in the third round of the NBA draft. He spent three seasons with the Bulls, his best being 1973-74 during which he averaged 9.3 points and 12.2 rebounds per game. Ray is a man of many talents as he is also a musician with a degree in fine arts from Oklahoma and plays most woodwind instruments. He sees similarities between a well-played concert and a well-played basketball game.

After the 1973-74 season Ray was traded to Golden State for center Nate Thurmond. At 6'9", Clifford Ray was one of the shorter starting NBA centers to ever win a title. Without a lot of athleticism, and being under sized for a center, he manned the center as Golden State won a championship in 1975. Ray is one of a handful of players to have played at least ten seasons in the pros and to have recorded more rebounds (6953 over 784 games for an 8.9 average) than points (5821, for a 7.4 average) for his career.

After his playing career, Ray worked as an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks. He also coached in the Continental Basketball Association, where he landed his lone head coaching job with the Fort Wayne Fury. Later, he worked as a New Jersey Nets assistant before returning to Golden State as an assistant coach. He had also worked as an assistant coach with the Orlando Magic where he was credited with being responsible for the development of Dwight Howard.

As an assistant coach who specializes in teaching big men, he has had wonderful results wherever he has worked. If you follow his career, teams where he has been an assistant have been among the league's best in rebounding, in spite of being among the worst before he arrived. That's a huge fact since as the old adage goes "offense sells tickets, defense wins games and rebounding wins championships. . He has molded a long list of players including P.J. Brown, Adonal Foyle, Roy Tarpley, Erick Dampier, and Nazr Mohammed. In his first year as a part-time coach in Dallas, in 1987-88, the Mavericks led the league in rebounding. When Ray was an assistant in New Jersey in 1995-96, the Nets led the league in rebounding. In Ray's two years at Golden State (2000-01 and '01-02), the Warriors ranked first and second in rebounding. In Cleveland, Ray had the Cavs up to second in the league in rebounding. The Magic, which ranked 23rd in rebounding the season before Ray arrived, ranked second the following year.

Celtic legend Robert Parish has credited Clifford Ray for lifting his game to another level as well. For years Parish and Ray have held big men camps together in Florida.    Robert Parish has also been working for the Celtics as a consultant and has been a mentor to the Celtics big men.  With the departure of Ray, it might be a good move to promote Parish to the assistant coach position.   Having worked with Cliff all these years in developing big men around the league, Parish would be a natural replacement. 

Clifford Ray was also responsible for saving the life of a dolphin. In 1978, Mr. Spock, the dolphin at Marine World, had his tank repaired. The diver dropped a large stainless steel screw. They assumed that Mr. Spock had swallowed this screw. So, they took him to the local hospital for an x-ray. They couldn’t do surgery and could not get the screw. The doctor exclaimed, if only my arms were 9” longer, I could reach down his throat and pull it out. Mike Demetrius then remembered Clifford Ray whose arms are 3 feet and 9 inches long. Clifford Ray volunteered to try. He cut his fingernails, greased his arm and reached down through the dolphin’s mouth, grabbed the screw, and pulled it out."

Cliff was diagnosed with prostate cancer while coaching in the CBA and underwent chemotherapy while coaching with the Cavaliers. He still has his blood checked every 60 days and works hard to keep his energy level up. "One thing about cancer, though," Ray says. "It makes you realize you don't have time to sit around and feel sorry for yourself."

We know for certain that Clifford Ray hasn't been sitting around and feeling sorry for himself.   Ray has been a regular at the Celtics' practice facility working with the Celtics young bigs throughout his tenure with the team. He has a sense of urgency about him that is catchy to the players fortunate enough to be taught by him. On the sidelines, he is often heard yelling instructions to the players.   The Celtics will certainly miss Cliff and the intensity he has brought to working with the young bigs on the team.  As a Celtics fan, I want to say "Thank you" to Cliff for the years he has given the team and "Good Luck" in whatever his future holds.   He will be missed by players and fans alike. 

FLCeltsFan 9/10/2010 07:46:00 PM Edit
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18 Responses so far.

  1. Anonymous says:

    Ummm...why is he leaving?

  2. bballee says:

    Undoubtedly one of the most underappreciated, although not by me, coaching influences on the resurgent Celtics under Danny's guidance.

  3. bballee says:

    Great article by the way!!

  4. Mr Spock, the Dolphin says:

    I still thank Clifford to this day since he saved my life. Ort, ort! I still send him Christmas Cards and text message him birthday wishes. Ort, ort!

    Ort, ort, ort!!!!

  5. Anonymous, I haven't seen anything that indicates why he is leaving. No one seems to know, or at least they haven't said.

  6. tb727 says:

    Great post FL.

    Funny how you mention "At 6'9", Clifford Ray was one of the shorter starting NBA centers to ever win a title." Today that's about average height for centers with all the short guys in the league lol.

  7. JR says:

    Ray is one of those people you simply can't say a bad word about. If he's leaving it will be a loss for the Celtics no doubt. You can say all you want about KG being a coach on the floor, but young bigs need one on the bench as well. How about McHale, Parish or Cowens for the role? I doubt McHale would take it, but maybe one of the other two would.

  8. JR says:

    Oh and great column FL. You've been bringing the heat lately. :)

  9. Anonymous says:

    Clifford is leaving because Doc brought on Tyrone Lue as an assistant and the Celtics told him to cut salary. Rivers used the team's lack of rebounding as an excuse to cut Clifford loose. It's ugly. Think Muhammad Ali stabbing Malcolm X in the back bad. To think Rivers would shaft one of his most loyal assistants simply to save a hundred thousand bucks is despicable. It makes me really sad to see someone who contributed this much to our team's resurgence cut for essentially chump change. Also, he has no job in the NBA because the gutless Celtics didn't tell him until the first week in Sept. that they weren't bringing him back.

    Mark my words, this will come back to haunt us, but Rivers doesn't care he's already measuring the drapes in the Miami Heat coaches room.

    Choose not to believe me if you want.

  10. JR says:

    Where's your information coming from Anonymous? Sounds like slanderous Doc hate. Why do you hate Doc so much?

  11. Anonymous says:

    I had an opportunity to get to know Cliff personally a year ago as volunteer during 2 weeks of camps for disadvantaged kids in the Caribbean. Despite the fact that Cliff could barely walk (he postponed a foot surgery till after the camps), he was out there in sweltering heat 8 hrs a day busting his behind to make a difference in lives of 1,500 kids. One of the classiest & most inspirational people I ever met. I'm not a Celtics fan, but I hope that Celts fans realize what a great loss it is for their team.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for posting the truth !! It is indeed the truth. I thought Doc Rivers was a Class guy and a friend. Perhaps Tyronne Lue is a better friend at this time. It does not make sense . And to wait until September 1st after a summer spent having knee surgery is even more classless.
    I have known Clifford since he was a Chicago Bull. He is a True Warrior , no pun intended, and he will prevail. His phone will be busy after the games this up coming season.... "Coach ................

  13. Anonymous says:

    Hello Anonymous!
    Great post!
    The Christmas Elf that assigned you to
    "Chief Elf "in charge of dinner dishes!
    Go Magic!!!!

  14. If they did this to Cliff, that is inexcusable. He is a class act and very respected around the league. I'm really sorry to hear that the Celtics would make a classless move like this. I hope Cliff lands on his feet and finds another team to help very soon. Once word is out that he is available, a team will make room on their staff for him.

  15. Jenda says:

    Be a man - or a woman - put your name on it.
    btw. it's really catchy! Even more so after watching the music video from those quotes. Can't get that "Be a man - or a woman - put your name on it." with the muscly guy ripping his shirt of. And yes, even I find that deeply disturbing.
    Anyway, point is I don't believe a word the anonymous says (notice I'm using singular) because he (or she, for it could "Be a man - or a woman") doesn't have the stones to put his (or her,"a man - or a woman") name on it.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I'm not sure about class, at least off the court. His womanizing is notorious , while his only son lives in Dallas with a dedicated mother. He pays the minimum child support, and is usually late. This innocent child deserves more from such a " classy guy". Ray spends a fortune on women, but as little as possible on his child. Celtics have a history of this. Look it up.

  17. Anonymous says:

    While his only son and mom face foreclose on their home, Mr. Class buys his married girlfriend a big diamond, plans a cruise for Christmas. Wonder what the husband and her son feel?
    Real class takes care of the children ! Anyone agree? Speak out, other women!

    Did this have to do with his being fired? Are they're any codes of basic conduct for the Celtics?

  18. JR says:

    I call BS on the last two anonymous comments. Sounds like someone with an axe to grind. Just listened to a recent interview with Ray and he sounds like such a nice man. He constantly mentioned his children as well. No need to slander the man, but if you must at least "put your name on it."

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