‘He had it in his blood’

Mazzulla becomes youngest coach since ‘68 to win NBA title

Posted 6/19/24

Johnston’s own Joe Mazzulla made history on Monday night as he led the Boston Celtics to their league-leading 18th championship when they beat the Dallas Mavericks in Game 5 of the NBA Finals …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

‘He had it in his blood’

Mazzulla becomes youngest coach since ‘68 to win NBA title


Johnston’s own Joe Mazzulla made history on Monday night as he led the Boston Celtics to their league-leading 18th championship when they beat the Dallas Mavericks in Game 5 of the NBA Finals in Boston. Mazzulla, 35, became the youngest coach to win a championship since Bill Russell won at 34 in 1968.

After a successful playing career at Bishop Hendricken, one that would include state championships and Gatorade Player of the Year honors, Mazzulla would go on to play for Division I West Virginia. He would work his way up through the coaching ranks, including stops at Fairmont State and the Maine Red Claws, before being named the Celtics’ interim head coach prior to the 2022-23 season. He was elevated as permanent head coach during that campaign.

The Celtics enjoyed one of their best seasons in franchise history in 2023-24, winning 64 games and finishing by going on a dominant postseason run, boasting a 16-3 record and winning it all in Monday’s 106-88 title clincher.

Watching closely was family friend and former Hendricken teammate David DelFino, who was thrilled to see another local make a big splash on the national stage.

“For him to take the biggest coaching job in basketball history, for a 35-year-old kid from Johnston, from the Rainone Gym, to see him make that kind of difference. It’s really spectacular,” DelFino said. “We’re a small state, but we do pretty well on the national stage. With Rhode Island athletics, a lot of the success stories come from Johnston. It’s huge to see Johnston and Hendricken get put on the map.”

As a young coach, Mazzulla experienced some growing pains during his first season, but would take a noticeable step forward in terms of his control of the game and strategies off the floor to maximize Boston’s talented roster. The Celtics spent most of the season as the odds makers’ favorite to win the championship, but those high expectations never got in the way.

“It was his ability to adjust, he out coached a bunch of legendary coaches this season. You also saw that he never let the moment take him out. That’s another echelon of coaching, someone that can stay calm in those moments,” DelFino said.

Mazzulla’s success further adds to the family name, as his father, Dan, was a local legend as a coach at Johnston High School and a hall of famer at Bryant during his playing days.

Johnston boys basketball coach Mike Bedrosian, another friend of the Mazzulla’s, was thinking about Dan as the Celtics wrapped up the title and celebrated on the court shortly after.

“Danny was on our minds last night, wishing he was there to see that. It means a lot to our community,” said Bedrosian, who was also impressed by the presence that Joe already has in the organization. “To see the respect that he has from the coaching staff, front office, the players, that’s what’s crazy to see. The respect that he has.”

DelFino added: “A lot of people are drawn to the Mazzulla name. They want to attach themselves to that. What Joey has done, this is not normal. Winning is not normal. There was always something special about him, he’s a leader, he had it in his blood. Danny did it the way he wanted it done and he didn’t budge from that, and you’re seeing Joey do it.”

Bedrosian feels that Joe’s story should provide a model for other local youngsters that are chasing their dreams.

“It just gives the younger generation confidence, it can be done. If you work hard and are determined, it can be done,” said Bedrosian. “It’s a huge deal what Joe is doing, it’s the pinnacle.”

Hendricken basketball coach and athletic director Jamal Gomes still remembers the early days of Mazzulla’s playing days for the Hawks and was moved to see his former player reach the mountaintop.

“I remember sitting in my office with his dad, and talking with Dan about the goals he had for his son, Joe. Thinking about that, seeing where he is now and what he’s doing. It’s my heart. I was blessed that he chose to come here, and I’m proud to have been able to mold him in away way I may have. For me, it’s full circle,” said Gomes.

Gomes saw Mazzulla’s potential early on, and applauded his ascension after being named interim head coach just days before the start of the preseason.

“He was intelligent, determined, hard working, was a leader to everyone around him. That doesn’t go away. He built such powerful relationships with his players, you hear what they say about him,” Gomes said. “The winning comes after the relationships are built. Sometimes you learn best when you get thrown into the fire. Sometimes you sink or swim, and he swam big time.”

Hendricken brass was also excited to celebrate another alum making waves on the national scale.

“He deserves every bit of the credit he’s getting right now. He coached an amazing group of men to an NBA championship. He’s a man of faith and is a family man, and there’s no replacing that. It shows how much priorities matter,” said Hendricken principal Mark DeCiccio.

“Coach Mazzulla is a true Hendricken man on and off the court. He makes us proud to count him among our alumni; a man who leads his life as a proud Catholic and credits his success to God. Our Bishop Hendricken family salutes him, thanks him, and congratulates him and the entire Boston Celtics Organization,” said Fr. Robert Marciano, Hendricken president.

The Celtics will now flip the page toward the offseason and will set their sights on defending their title with seven players already set to return.

Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena Jr. congratulated Mazzulla on Facebook, and hinted at a possible event to celebrate his championship run.

“A huge congrats to the Celtics, but especially to Johnston’s own Joe Mazzulla. A Johnstonian just won a championship for one of the biggest franchises in all of professional sports. And I would be remiss not to mention we all know Danny is looking down at Joe smiling from ear to ear. The Mazzulla family is Johnston. And I know what everyone is thinking, we are working on it.”

Mazzulla, basketball, championship


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here