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 BOSTON (AP) -After one of his many losses as coach of the Boston Celtics, an angry Rick Pitino admonished those who wanted instant success.
``Larry Bird is not walking through that door, fans,'' he said. ``Kevin McHale is not walking through that door, and Robert Parish is not walking through that door.''
But last summer Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen did walk through that door - and fans, sponsors and plenty of revenue followed them in.
``Last year it was about us creating demand for the Celtics,'' team president Rich Gotham said Tuesday before Boston took a 3-2 lead into Game 6 of the NBA finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, ``and this year there is excess demand.''
There were plenty of tough times: March 1, 2000 when Pitino vented after Boston's loss to Toronto on Vince Carter's 3-pointer at the buzzer; last season's 24-58 record; and most of the seasons in between.
Then the Celtics traded for the two All-Stars and, suddenly, potential sponsors who had to think twice before signing on eagerly hopped on the bandwagon, hoping to capitalize on the popularity and success of the team whose winning tradition had been dormant for more than 20 years.
``We had no shortage of sponsors (last season) where they said, `We're interested,' got close, but didn't necessarily end up in a partnership,'' Gotham said. ``This year they're signed on board, so you can never underestimate the positive halo that winning provides.''
The Celtics missed the playoffs the past two seasons and lost in the first round in the two before those. They were Gotham's first four seasons with the team, but it still managed to increase sponsorships and television ratings even when losing.
That helped the club increase player payroll by about 30 percent this season, Gotham said. And that ability to spend - on valuable backups like James Posey and Eddie House as well as stars like Garnett and Allen - finally built a team that could contend for the championship.
But there was no guarantee that spending so much on players would lead to a 17th championship banner.
``Until you've gone out there and won the games, it's a risk,'' he said, ``and our owners were willing to take that risk and invest in the team.''
The club set aside 65 percent of its capacity for season tickets and all were sold. Gotham said that number is expected to increase by about 1,500 next season.
All those people will see ads plastered throughout the arena. The team also has sponsorship deals with an airline, a real estate company, a bottled water firm, the state lottery, a doughnut company - and many, many others.
Gotham knows that not every team that goes from the bottom to the top can have such success with its brand. The Celtics - with a rich tradition featuring Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, Larry Bird and John Havlicek - were a marketing gold mine ready to be revived.
``The Celtics have such a great brand,'' said Gotham, who joined the team after Wyc Grousbeck's group bought it on Dec. 31, 2002. ``One of the things when we all came into this, the first thing was, don't mess up what's great about it.
``Tradition, pride, championship banners, mystique. Those are all great things, but we had to take the brand in different directions as a result of the fact that we really hadn't won anything in 20 years. ... People didn't stop being loyal to the Celtics, but, honestly, we needed to give them a better product.''
Their 66-16 record this season was the best in the NBA. They had the league's best defense. And they were on the brink of their first championship in 22 years Tuesday night.
Gotham said the keys to the success of the Celtics business are a consistent plan that works whether the team is winning or losing and an aggressive approach even if the team is a champion.
But getting Garnett certainly helped. His jersey is the top seller in the NBA.
``It certainly reinvigorated the hopes and aspirations of our fan base with that deal on the heels of the Ray Allen deal,'' Gotham said. ``At that point, it just became about harnessing the wave of demand because we didn't have to go out in the market and do it with sweat equity. We now had a product that people could say, `I'm buying in because I feel this team's going to win.'
``There's no better marketing than winning.''

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