Chris Forsberg

Brad Stevens' lone ejection still memorable for those closest to him

It's been exactly 10 years since Stevens got tossed for the first (and potentially last) time.

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INDIANAPOLIS — On the campus of Butler University, there is great reverence for what Brad Stevens accomplished both as coach of the Bulldogs and all of his successes with the Boston Celtics in the aftermath. Yet many of the favorite stories shared in and around Hinkle Fieldhouse tend to revolve around Stevens' unflappable demeanor.

His former players can count on one hand the number of times that Stevens’ choice of cuss words exceeded a PG-13 rating. They tell Bill Brasky-like stories of Stevens remaining calm under pressure, whether it was his stoic nature after heart-stopping game-winners, or his ho-hum approach to defusing the occasional practice skirmish.

Even the stories about Stevens’ rare emotional outbursts end politely. Like the time an exasperated Stevens smashed a clipboard against his side during a Butler game and a projectile rocketed off Gordon Hayward during a television timeout. Stevens had his players’ full attention in that moment -- and he quickly apologized for the outburst.

All of which makes February 22, 2014 all the more amusing to those that know Stevens best. Ten years ago today, Stevens earned the first and only ejection of his entire coaching career when NBA referee Marc Davis ejected him with 35 seconds remaining in a loss in Sacramento.

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"I'm trying to think if he even got a technical in my two years [as a Celtics video assistant],” said Alex Barlow, who played for Stevens at Butler then joined the Celtics’ staff in 2015. “I don't even remember him getting a technical.

"We joke with a lot of the Butler alumni, I think he might have said the F-word three times in two years.”

You don’t need to be a lip-reader to know Stevens grew a bit more comfortable in voicing displeasure to officials later in this NBA coaching career. But a decade removed from that Sacramento heave-ho, Stevens can admit now what we all kind of knew since that night.

"I can say it now: I should not have gotten ejected that game,” Stevens said during a recent sitdown with NBC Sports Boston. "Come on. No, all I did was — I think Marc was ready for me to be gone, just because I was probably whining a little bit. But Gerald Wallace gets a tech, and he gets thrown out of the game with 30 seconds to go, and I know what he said to Marc.

"And so I walked over, I put my clipboard down, and I made a small statement about how maybe Gerald shouldn't have gotten tossed and maybe one of [Sacramento’s] players could have gotten a tech earlier, and, boom, I'm gone, too. So Gerald and I walked off together in Sacramento.”

That rookie season on the Boston bench was filled with growing pains for Stevens and a Celtics team whose roster might leave you wondering how they even won 25 games. Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, and the eventually-dismissed Keith Bogans were the faces of the 2013 trade that delivered Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn right before Stevens was hired.

The picks obtained eventually would deliver Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. But during that 2013-14 season, Vitor Faverani was a starter in Boston’s home opener. Jordan Crawford, Courtney Lee, Jared Sullinger, and rookie Kelly Olynyk highlighted Boston’s bench crew during the game in Sacramento.

Stevens hadn’t really come close to earning a technical foul through Boston’s first 56 games. But the Celtics found themselves in a super physical battle in Sacramento and Humphries was basically engaging in hand-to-hand combat with DeMarcus Cousins for much of the night. It culminated with a frustrated Cousins shoving Humphries during one fourth-quarter sequence that almost certainly should have resulted in Cousins' second technical of the night and his own disqualification.

Instead, it was Stevens who eventually got the gate.

Before he did, Stevens politely placed his (not shattered) clipboard on the scorer’s table and offered some parting thoughts to Davis before getting shipped to the locker room early. The reverberations were felt from Sacramento to Boston, and everywhere in between — but especially on the Butler campus.

"Completely shocking to see that actually happen, right?” said Grant Leiendecker, who played for the Butler teams that advanced to NCAA title games under Stevens in 2010 and 2011.

"I don't remember the specific game, but it was rare that Brad lost his cool and lost his composure. So we're in a media timeout and it's probably the most frustrated I've ever seen him and he begins to go into his version of a tirade, which was still very tame in the grand scheme of things. And he slams the clipboard on his thigh and it shatters, and a piece of it flies and hits Gordon Hayward and we're all looking at each other like, ‘Did he just actually do that?’

"He didn't say any cuss words but he raised his voice and demonstrably slammed his clipboard, broke it, and a piece hit Gordon Hayward. He immediately paused and apologized to Gordon and totally diffused the whole impact of him raising his voice and trying to get our attention and just completely lost it all. But it was more important to him to apologize in that moment than to kind of just let it sit with us how upset he was.”

For the record, Butler won that game despite Stevens’ frustrations.

Butler head coach Brad Stevens and forward Gordon Hayward
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Stevens followed one of his rare sideline outbursts at Butler by apologizing to star Gordon Hayward.

Stevens’ impossibly cool demeanor undeniably aided Butler's success. Stevens often tells the story of a game at Wright State from his first season at Butler where he lost his cool while coaching a group of senior players and immediately saw how it negatively impacted them. The Bulldogs, ranked in the top 20 and undefeated to that point, dropped a one-point decision that night.

Stevens promised to never let his emotions impact his team again.

“He felt like he got too amped up, his emotions got the best of him, and he felt his team played like that,” said Barlow. “So he always told me that the reason he stayed calm — and you see we hit a game-winner here against Gonzaga, a game-winner in Maui, and he just watches it go in and goes in for the handshake. So he was always so calm because he wanted us to be calm and, to his credit, we were.”

So what did Barlow think watching from afar as Stevens got tossed in 2014?

"I would have never expected him to get ejected,” said Barlow. "I mean, he definitely wasn't trying to get ejected. I know some coaches try to get thrown out of certain games; he’s not like that.

"So I think it's something funny. I think [Stevens’ son] Brady gives him a hard time about it every time it gets brought up, or every time he sees a video of it, because Brady knows he's not like that, either.”

There’s a famous photo of Davis in mid-ejection pose with Stevens clearly resigned to his impending fate. Stevens’ son Brady, now a senior at Wellesley High School and committed to walk on at Notre Dame, has routinely texted his father that same image any time he yearns to display his own disapproval to a situation.

“To this day,” Stevens said to emphasize the frequency with which Brady still sends the image a decade later. "So I still get it in my text messages pretty regularly. I guess it's a good moment for Brady, so it was a good moment for us.”

Referee Marc Davis handed Brad Stevens his first (and last) career ejection late in a February 2014 game in Sacramento.

Given his surprising pivot from coach to general manager, Stevens admits it’s also probably good that he got at least one ejection during his coaching days. Even if his fellow coaches still wish he had got his money’s worth.

“He didn’t really earn it. Some people earn their ejections and I don't think he earned that the way you want to,” said former Celtics assistant Micah Shrewsberry, who was on the bench that night. "If you're getting ejected, it's gotta be a viral moment. It's gotta be a court storm, security's gotta come out.

“It isn't just like, drop the clipboard, wave to the [opposing] coach, and walk off. So that's probably the one thing is they just took a little extra money out of his pocketbook right there.”

Stevens can laugh now recalling how it was Wallace’s foul on then-Kings guard and eventual Celtics superstar Isaiah Thomas that precipitated the ejection sequence. Yes, the player who helped launch the Celtics early in the Stevens’ era is also partially responsible for one of his lowest moments.

"Isaiah probably chirped at [Wallace], which probably made me a little bit more [upset],” said Stevens. "But that's how this all works. What a moment.”

Wallace endeared himself to Stevens during that 2013-14 season, particularly by being an excellent veteran presence for a team in transition. And so, as the duo made their joint early exit that night, Wallace offered some emotionless advice to his coach.

Said Wallace: “Welcome to the NBA, Coach.”

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