The Boston Celtics have reportedly parted ways with long-time employee Leo Papile, a “senior director of basketball operations” who the Boston Herald reports operated mostly as a talent evaluator during his 14 years with the team.
The Celtics and Leo Papile have parted ways after more than 14 years.
The team has made no official announcement, but sources confirmed he is no longer with the club. …
“Rick wanted Leo because Leo knows where the bodies are buried,” one source said. “He knows all about these kids from when most of them are in junior high. It helps to know everything about a kid before you guarantee him millions of dollars.
“I think Danny (Ainge, the Celtics president) liked that part, too, but it may have made some people in the organization uncomfortable that Leo had his way of doing things.”
Growing up a basketball player in Massachusetts, Leo Papile was some sort of mythical figure. He was a Boston Celtics employee, but he also led AAU teams, damn good ones, teams that at different times featured Patrick Ewing, Dana Barros, Chris Herren, Jeff Adrien, Shabazz Napier and a host of other professional and Division 1 talents.
Nobody in my circle of friends — and I know people who have played in Papile’s organization (BABC) and know him well — really knows exactly what Papile did for the Celtics, but it seems that his knowledge of the AAU circuit made him a valuable resource for the Boston brass. Papile is around so many AAU tournaments that he knows which kids party too hard, which kids are easy to coach. He knows which kids work hard. Which kids coast on athletic talent. That knowledge of high school players paid off when Papile (at least reportedly) convinced the Celtics to draft Leon Powe, who Papile had first seen in high school. Maybe Papile also worked in other capacities besides scouting high schoolers. I just don’t know. He is always visible, often at local AAU tournaments watching his BABC teams. But an air of mystery surrounds him.
Reports do nothing to settle the mystery. They just add layers of mysterious contradictions and anecdotes to the kaleidoscope surrounding his life. For example, Papile once almost died in Doc Rivers’ kitchen. Another time, Papile saved the life of Quincy Pondexter’s father. Pondexter’s father felt strongly enough about Papile to name his son, who plays for the New Orleans Hornets now, after Papile — Quincy, for the town where Papile lived.
One day in the 1990s Papile arrived at a dog track in a blue Cadillac to meet a coaching candidate. Twenty minutes after meeting Papile, the 18-year old coaching candidate was driving the Cadillac to pick up BABC players. Seventeen years after that, the coaching candidate, Mike Procopio, is a trainer who works closely with Kobe Bryant.
A 2006 Boston Globe investigative report cites one AAU handler who said, “When I die, I want it to say on my tombstone: ‘TJ Gassnola, The Guy Who Put Leo Papile Out Of Business.’” It also quotes a Boston-based coach who said, “If I feel my kids need to be at the next level, I deal with Leo only.”
As you can probably tell, many questions surround Papile. What does he get for running BABC? Is he part of AAU’s seedy underbelly, or some shining beacon of light that’s above all the nonsense many AAU handlers partake in? Somewhere in between? Does he help kids, or exploit them?
In the 2006 Boston Globe investigative report cited earlier, Papile was said to “wield enormous influence with young players, helping them land lucrative scholarships to private secondary schools, fielding inquiries from college coaches, and advising them on their college choices.” The report cites one AAU coach who called it “absolutely absurd” that Papile could simultaneously work for the Celtics and run an AAU organization. “Isn’t that a conflict of interest?” the coach asked.
The report also discusses how Papile became an assistant coach at Cleveland State University in the 1980s… after five of his BABC players signed to play there. Asked to address allegations that he sold his players for an assistant coaching position during a 1997 interview with the Globe, Papile became a little feisty.
“Anybody who has the courage to confront me with that, I would go into a steel cage with them and pound them to smithereens, because that’s how untrue it is,” he said.
Papile’s players succeed. BABC has housed dozens of Division 1 stars and NBA stars. His coaches go places: former BABC coach Mike Jarvis currently coaches at Florida Atlantic and has made stops at Boston University, George Washington and St. John’s, not to mention his time spent working as an ESPN analyst. Mike Procopio is the aforementioned Cadillac driver who now works as a trainer at ATTACK, mentoring the likes of Kobe Bryant. BABC recently hired — or maybe didn’t hire, since I’m not sure anyone on the staff actually gets paid — former Boston College head coach Al Skinner as an assistant. The BABC program is powerful, having won more than ten national championships, including the 15-and-under title just last year. But why has Papile run it for so long? What’s in it for him?
The same 2006 Boston Globe report said “Papile generally has maintained a favorable reputation while reigning as New England’s dominant force in summer youth basketball.” He was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004. He has run BABC since 1977, yet he said he gets paid nothing to do so.
I know people who have played for Papile’s teams. They regard him favorably. I know another person who was taken under Papile’s wing as a boxer in his mid-20s. Boxing is one of Papile’s passions, and BABC also sponsors an amateur, sanctioned boxing program. Papile treated this person well. Gave him Celtics tickets occasionally. Offered him a chance to learn from some legitimate boxing trainers. May or may not have given him a little spending money. If this person had invested more energy into boxing, the opportunity Papile gave him might have been life-changing.
But why did Papile help him? Out of the goodness of his heart? Or because Papile thought this person I know — who is 6-3, 235 pounds with a long reach, ultra-quick hands, and can dunk a basketball through his legs without warming up, while wearing Timberland boots and jeans — might develop into a boxing talent who would put BABC on the map? Or is it a combination of all that, some mixture of motives to help and nurture others, yet to gain individually from the same acts?
Through 34 years (and counting) with BABC, from Patrick Ewing to Chris Herren to Shabazz Napier, during 14 years with the Boston Celtics, from Antoine Walker to Paul Pierce to Kevin Garnett, Leo Papile is woven into so many layers of Boston basketball. I don’t know much about the man. Never met him once. Everything I do know is blurry and learned either second- or third-hand. Yet there’s a story out there. His story. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I can guarantee it’s worth hearing.