At Home with Jim O’Brien:
When he was 8 years old and living in Philadelphia, Jim O’Brien’s basketball coaches could have predicted he would coach one day.
“They called me ‘coach’ because I was a precocious little punk who always needed the basketball in my hands,” says O’Brien, now head coach of the Boston Celtics. Being a ‘76ers fan, he says, he “grew up hating the Celtics.”
Today, O’Brien, 49, who is married to his college sweetheart, the former Sharon Ramsey, still often has only basketball and coaching on his mind—oh, and family. Sure, there are other interests, such as loving the ocean and the East Coast, and running or biking with Sharon, who is training for her first marathon. Mostly, though, he acknowledges being either in a basketball or family mode, and rarely both at once.
“During the season, I’m in a mental cocoon,” he says. “I have a very difficult time doing anything other than basketball. I have to really concentrate when it comes to doing something else.”
His family—Sharon, 47; son, Jack, 21; and daughters Shannon, 23, and Caitlyn, 18—accept him as he is.
“I feel secure in his love for me,” says Sharon. “It’s just part of his career. You make certain sacrifices.”
“We ask him a question and you kind of have to shake him,” says Jack, a junior at Georgetown University in Washington. “We just kind of laugh at him.”
Caitlyn says she tries to get her father’s attention her own way. “I give him the puppy look,” she says, and she curls her mouth downward in demonstration.
“The fact that Sharon grew up in this environment, she understands the time and mental commitment that’s needed to do this at a high level,” says O’Brien. Sharon is the daughter of National Basketball Association Hall of Fame Coach Jack Ramsey.
Despite his obsession with basketball, O'Brien also acknowledges getting "homesick when I'm five minutes from the house." To counter that, Sharon and Caitlyn sometimes travel with the Celtics. "On long West Coast trips, they might come for a portion of it," he says.
Sharon and Caitlyn also attend each home game. Jack goes to as many as he can in Washington, and when he's home over the holidays.
The couple has lived in 10 homes in several states since they were married 25 years ago. (Shannon, an artist, works in Web design in Kentucky, where the family lived while O'Brien was associate coach at the University of Kentucky.)
The longest stays have been five years in West Virginia and five in Ohio. With four years behind them here, and with Jim's long-term commitment to the Celtics, the family is happy to stay put.
"I really love it here," says Sharon. "I love this area, I love our house, and it's been great for the family. And the Celtics organization is great. They're wonderful people."
Sharon, a former reading and English teacher, will volunteer this year with the NBA's "Read to Achieve" initiative, where she and a dozen others will visit schools, read to children, and make presentations. She also participates in the Celtic's Home Court program, where Celtics' wives raise funds for charity.
As for the coach, he likes it best here because he and Sharon prefer the East Coast to the West, and because, "I'd rather coach the pros than college."
Also, his children's education "has been one of the reasons this is a special place." Jack graduated from Milton Academy in Milton and Caitlyn attends a well-regarded special-needs program at Bedford High School, where she can stay until she turns 22.
Sharon says she chose this house for its proximity to Caitlyn's school and Jim's work, and for its inviting "farmer's porch," where they put four cozy rocking chairs. Inside, they decorated mostly with favorite pieces transplanted from their other homes, but Sharon recently bought two new living room sofas. In a corner of the living room sits a large, wooden ship model, and around the room are images of lighthouses and water scenes.
"An ocean theme," says O'Brien, emphasizing their love of the ocean, where they often vacation.
Many of the couple's friends are in the same business. Jim singles out his father-in-law, Jack Ramsey, for being "as close a friend as I have." He also points to a picture of Rick Pitino, the Celtics' coach he replaced in mid-season last year. "Rick is a big part of our lives and a great, great friend," he says.
The photo of Pitino is framed onto a huge collage of basketball memorabilia from 1996, the year the University of Kentucky won the NCAA Championship with Pitino and O'Brien as head and associate coaches. "It's probably my favorite sports memorabilia," he says about the gift from his wife for Father's Day that year.
Another special item is a bound book of photos, images, and words their children created for their 25th wedding anniversary this summer. O'Brien looks lovingly at his wife, snaps his fingers and says, "It seems like it went by like that. We have a great relationship."
"I was very honored" to get the Celtics head coach job, O'Brien says. "For the whole family it was a culmination of a lot of sacrifices. I couldn't do it without their support. Well, I could, but I wouldn't be very happy."