Game 112: Maryland-Eastern Shore 59, at Brown 57 Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Pizzitola Sports Center - Providence, RI
It's the kind of portrait that haunts you before you even look at it. The subject seems so familiar, so eerily familiar. Unadorned and untitled, the portrait has a Dorian Gray effect, the eyes following you as you make your way through the simple concourse towards the doors to the basketball court.
You might even feel compelled to ask the kindly old usher in the hallway about it. "Excuse me, who's that?"
He chuckles. "Who do you think it looks like?"
You know exactly who it looks like. It's a spitting image, an uncanny resemblance. You're convinced that the portrait is a tribute to a legendary basketball hero who once plied his trade just one hour's drive north.
"Kevin McHale," you answer.
I mean, it's obvious. Those eyes, those hard Midwestern facial features, that Hall of Fame
smile that the 6-10 post behemoth flashed all through a career that featured seven All-Star appearances, a berth on the NBA's 50th Anniversary Team, and a Mr. Basketball Honor in Minnesota.
"That's what everybody says," responds the usher. He calls over his colleague, the security officer guarding the doors. "Hey, do you know who this picture's of?"
"I think it's Pizzitola," the guard says. "But we always say McHale. Spittin' image."
The Pizzitola Sports Center is named in memory of Paul Bailey Pizzitola, a Brown
graduate in 1981. Paul was the son of a man who donated $2 million towards the building's construction in the late Eighties, while McHale was still patrolling the paint for the Boston Celtics. But not much else is known about Paul's life or death - there's no easily-located plaque, or informational marker near the portrait. A quick and informal survey of five Brown employees, staff members and fans yielded no results - everybody knows the name of the building, and some are aware of the problems that plagued its construction
, but few know the arena's namesake.
"It's kind of a ritual when we come to games," says a woman who's not quite young enough to be a Brown student, but who's either old enough to remember Old Bird-Chest's career... or is just a big enough basketball fan to follow McHale's second career as a Minnesota Timberwolves executive. "I always make sure to say hi to Kevin on the way in."
Now, I'm sure there's a very touching story somewhere in here. Undoubtedly, it's a tragic tale - there's an untimely death involved. Perhaps it's a story of love, of a grieving father making peace with his son's passing by donating gobs of cash to permanently honor his memory in architectural form. But either way, it's a story that hardly anyone knows. Maybe it's a story that's private, not intended for public consumption - but if someone's trying to get the word out about the legacy of Paul Bailey Pizzitola, it's not working. I tried Google, there's nothing there.
So the Pizzitola Sports Center remains a mystery - to outsiders, anyway. And as is human custom, when history is not clearly spelled out, it's redefined, reimagined and reengineered by those with beholder's eyes. Or just made up from scratch. For our purposes, this has to be the story of a life cut short before its prime, a young man who looked a lot like Kevin McHale.
"That guy was wicked good," the usher says wistfully. "Celtics could really use him these days."