Lowell’s basketball legend Tracy Mitchell reflects on his career and enjoys Celtics star status

LOWELL – Being cut from a basketball team was a new experience.

But Tracy Mitchell does not harbor any malice towards the team for two reasons. First, it happened almost 37 years ago. Second, he was one of the last cuts in the Boston Celtics 1985-86, among the greatest NBA teams ever assembled.

“When you think about it, you realize how long ago it was,” said Mitchell, who turned 62 on Thursday but who looks much younger. “Nothing but fond memories. How can you not have fond memories?”

The Lowell legend still lives in the city. He had the experience of a lifetime during his short Celtics career. He played in four preseason games. In practice, he was surrounded by players who could form a separate wing of the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield.

He was teammates of Hall of Famers Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson, Robert Parish and Bill Walton. His coach, KC Jones, is also in the Hall of Fame. Parish even gave Mitchell a nickname.

1985-86 The Celtics went 40-1 at Boston Garden in the regular season, 67-15 overall. They steamrolled to the NBA title by going 15-3 in the playoffs.

Wearing No. 42, Mitchell got a first-hand look at what would become one of basketball’s true great teams. He said that playing with Bird & Co. was a “surreal” experience.

“It was just a tough team, a championship team,” he said. “It was not like a team rebuilding. I loved the competition with that team. You would have loved to have made that team. You are just grateful to have the opportunity. I felt pretty comfortable.”

Mitchell was in Boston Garden to watch the Celtics win a couple of playoff games that spring, including the famous victory when a young Michael Jordan scored 63 points for the Chicago Bulls.

He still follows the team and is encouraged by the team’s playoff chances this spring.

“I grew up as a Celtics fan, and having an opportunity to play on the pitch and get an opportunity to get on the team just made me more of a Celtics fan,” he said.

The Celtics had 12 players in the 1985-86 season. Mitchell believes he was the penultimate cut. Jones gave him the bad news that he was cut after a preseason game in Portland, Maine.

“The team was just solid,” he said.

Mitchell has never played in a regular NBA game. He advanced as far as the Continental Basketball Association, the former top-flight league in the NBA.

Today, the Celtics practice in a state-of-the-art facility. In 1985, the team practiced at a run-down Hellenic College facility, hardly a lavish place for the best team in the world to train.

Mitchell, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound guard, was in excellent shape. He did not show his conditioning much in practice.

“We did not run much. We did a lot of shooting drills. It was not like (Jones) would run you until your tongue hung on the ground. It was a veteran team. He trusted the guys were in shape,” he said.

Operations on both shoulders ended his playing career about a decade ago. But Mitchell still sprints up and down tracks all over New England. Mitchell has been a judge for about 25 years and works collegiate and high school. He realizes that today’s players have no idea about his playing career.

“If it’s taken up, yes, but I do not talk so much about it. I do not want people to think I just (brag). I have never been like that,” he said.

He worked on a preparatory school championship game at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, NH, last season. A man approached another referee and said, “Is that Tracy Mitchell? He’s probably the best player in the gym today.”

He trained at Greater Lowell Tech before turning to referee. Despite turning 62, Mitchell was recently selected to play some Northeast-10 (Division 2) matches. Had he become more serious about being a referee in the past, he might have reached Division 1 level now.

One thing is certain. Mitchell, who weighs only 10 pounds more than he did in 1985, can still keep up with today’s players.

“I have been lucky not to have leg injuries. I feel good. I feel healthy. I have good genes. Hopefully they can carry me a few more years,” he said.

Mitchell was a playground legend in Lowell. Utilizations of his dunking exhibits resonated throughout the city’s neighborhoods in the 1970s. It did not matter what part of Lowell a person was from. Athletes knew Tracy Mitchell.

He went on to star in Lowell High, averaging 19.1 points per game as a senior in the 1978-79 season. Other Red Raiders have scored more points. Maybe no one has played with more flair. He was called “Father of the Slam Dunk” at LHS.

After a post-graduate year at the Maine Central Institute and a season at Saddleback Junior College in Mission Viejo, California, Mitchell took his talents to Texas Christian University.

He totaled 151 rebounds, 252 assists and 68 steals in two seasons at TCU, averaging 11.4 and 9.3 points per game in his two years.

Disappointed at not being drafted, Mitchell was thrilled to receive an invitation to Boston’s rookie camp. He turned heads enough to be invited to veteran camp.

Mitchell came up with some thoughts about the five Hall of Fame players he briefly teamed up with.

About Bird: “Larry Bird was an incredible player for his size and speed. Very smart. Very knowledgeable in the game. Talked a lot of slaps, I’ll tell you, but he could back it up. He saw the game on a different level than anybody else.”

About McHale: “Kevin McHale was a practical joker. Him and Danny Ainge were the two practical jokers. Especially facing each other. Very good player. He had long arms.”

About Johnson: “Dennis Johnson was a good guy for me to be around. He was a funny guy. Defensively he was very good. He was very fast with his feet.”

About Parish: “A good guy. He came up with my nickname: Eat ‘Em Up. I was on the bus on the way back from Providence and I’m sitting there with a bag of popcorn on my lap. He looked serious all the time, but it was He not.”

Walton: “Bill Walton was quiet. Bill Walton is great. He was a very skilled player. Very knowledgeable about the game. Smart. He’s also a joker. They all wanted to take a stab at each other.”

Bird earned $ 1.8 million that season. Rookie guard Sam Vincent, the team’s first-round draft pick in 1985 and the primary reason Mitchell did not join the team, was the short man on the payroll. He earned $ 87,500.

“It’s a big change from what they’re doing now,” Mitchell said.

When Mitchell was a Lowell High student, he lived in the Highlands portion of Lowell. Today, Mitchell, a father of three, lives on the other side of the Merrimack River in Centralville with his wife, Carmen. He works in the shipping department at Edwards Vacuum Systems in Chelmsford when he’s not whistling in the referee’s whistle.

Long ago, Mitchell wrote a story for The Sun about his Celtics experience in the 1985-86 season.

He wrote: “I came home after I was cut and I said to myself that I do not want people here in Lowell to feel sorry for me in any way. I just want people to stay behind me. “

He has no regrets. He gave everything he had to get to the Celtics. He fell short. The fact that the team went on to win the 1986 World Cup is comforting.

“It did not quite hurt,” Mitchell said.

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