Back in 2009, Ron Adams was closing out his first season as a Thunder assistant coach with an exit interview in Sam Presti's office.
One last conversation with the boss to evaluate his performance.
“I'm getting ready to go and he says, ‘No, you're not done yet,'” Adams recalls. “He said, ‘Now I want you to evaluate my performance.' Which is unheard of and so special and so unique about Sam.”
It's an ability to take and utilize criticism. And it's something Adams identified in both his old boss and his new one, Celtics first-year coach Brad Stevens, who Adams now works under as an assistant.
But the similarities between Presti and Stevens don't stop there.
Both come from small college backgrounds, Presti playing basketball at Division III Emerson College in Boston, Stevens at Division III DePauw University in Indiana.
And they both have seen a meteoric rise in the hoops world. Presti went from volunteer assistant in San Antonio to general manager of one of the NBA's best teams. Stevens coached Butler from a relative unknown to multiple Final Four appearances, before taking a job in the NBA.
Presti is 36. Stevens is 37.
“The thing that defines both Sam and Brad is, regardless of the success they have had or will have in the future, these two people are who they will be when they are 75-years-old,” Adams said. “They're just solid, grounded, grateful, humble people. Both very smart. Both very analytical.”
And because Adams so easily identified the characteristics that strung these two together, he figured he'd introduce the pair: “I'm a good matchmaker,” Adams joked.
Once they met, back in Stevens' early years at Butler, the two basketball minds immediately clicked. Presti attended a number of Stevens' practices and games, and the two had numerous conversations.
“We had a lot of things in common,” Stevens said. “I remember our first conversation was … about being young guys and trying to do the best we could knowing we had some youth to us. But it was a great conversation, an interesting conversation, because he is such a bright, smart guy.”
And almost anyone who knows him will say the same about Stevens, who was handed the keys to the Celtics' franchise this offseason.
Despite a 15-29 record, the initial reports have been good. Stevens has impressed folks with his innovation, basketball intelligence and ability to relate to people.
Boston is rebuilding, gutting its roster much like the Thunder did in its first two seasons under Presti's front office guidance.
And because of that, Adams has served as a perfect assistant, using some of his experiences with Presti in OKC as a guiding hand to what Stevens is going through now.
“Brad and I have a great dialogue along those lines, and I think he's doing very well,” Adams said.
Can Stevens resurrect the Celtics, a storied franchise in Presti's hometown? Only time will tell.
But consider Presti among those outsiders who believe the hire will turn out positive.
“(I'm) happy that he has this opportunity with the Celtics,” Presti said of his friend. “He has a tremendous dedication to the game and is constantly seeking ways to hone his craft. I am sure the Celtics will benefit from his approach.”
Just like the Thunder benefitted from Presti's.