Only now have I discovered what Billy Knight was doing that June night in 2006. Only now have I grasped the brilliance of his grand design. He drafted Shelden Williams not to bolster the Hawks but, years down the road, to sink the Boston Celtics.
Those of us who read spy novels — and I once took a college class in the history of the spy novel — know all about “moles” and “sleepers,” agents recruited young to infiltrate the enemy’s intelligence service and wreak havoc from within. But only now have I applied my college learnin’ to basketball. And now (and only now) it makes perfect sense.
The Landlord is a mole.
Knight took him with the fifth overall pick in Round 1 not because he’d turn out to be a good player but because the mysterious GM saw the big board and sensed, years ahead of time, that the barrier to the 2010 Eastern Conference finals would run through Boston. So he trained the Landlord, which is Williams’ code name, in the dark art of counterespionage. And then in February 2008 he gave him a cover story so convincing that even the late Red Auerbach wouldn’t have smelled a rat/mole.
“Landlord, we’re trading you to Sacramento,” Knight said, “and we want you to spend the next couple of years working your way back East. Try to wind up in Minnesota in 2009, and then we’ll fix it — Doc Rivers is an old Hawk, and we brainwashed him back in the ’80s — so you land with the Celtics. And then you’ll be in place.”
It will work like this: Game 7, Eastern semis, TD Banknorth Garden. Big Baby Davis pulls a hamstring and Rasheed Wallace gets ejected for griping and Kevin Garnett gets ejected for screaming and Kendrick Perkins fouls out and Paul Pierce has been suspended for more “menacing gestures,” and the C’s have nowhere to turn but to the Landlord.
Who, on cue, trots on the floor, yields the deciding three-point play to Al Horford — Agent Horfy was Part 2 of Knight’s grand scheme — and then slips away on the first train to Alewife. And the NBA has no cause to suspect anything because everybody knows the Landlord isn’t an NBA player. And the Hawks are in the Eastern Conference finals, where they’ve never been, and Billy Knight stands revealed as the greatest spymaster since George Smiley unhorsed Karla.
I know, I know. It’s far-fetched. That’s the beauty therein. And sometimes sleeper schemes even outlast their creators. (Knight, as we know, was so secretive he chose to resign last summer rather than reveal the rationale behind Operation Landlord.) But how else to explain this stunning news item?
From Frank Dell’Apa of the Boston Globe: “[Celtics GM Danny] spoke yesterday after announcing the signings of forwards Glen Davis and Shelden Williams.”
And somewhere Billy Knight took a sip of brandy, stroked the Persian cat on his lap and chortled, “Soon the world will be mine. All mine.“