Had it not been for Rick Pitino’s name being attached to the marquee, the FBI’s bombshell investigation into college basketball corruption wouldn’t be stop-the-presses stuff around New England.

Let’s be honest: Given the way we slather over the Boston area’s four big league franchises, there’s not much room for college sports in the region. Only twice in the last half-century have we gone truly nuts over a college sports program: In 1984, when Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie was passing Boston College into the Cotton Bowl, and 1996, when Marcus Camby led UMass to the Final Four.

Besides, “college basketball” and “corruption” aren’t going to drive Boston sports fans into a ditch. The only question is why it took the feds to clean up the NCAA’s house.

But then there’s Rick Pitino. That’s the game-changer.

We don’t have all the details yet, other than that Pitino no longer is the Louisville coach. Many more heads will roll as the FBI’s investigation continues and various bag men go Flip City, but it’s the Pitino angle that resonates in Boston.

Pitino played basketball at UMass and ran the Boston University program in the early 1980s, but it was his 31/2-year run as president/general manager/coach of the Celtics that seems to keep him on the radar. He arrived a little over 20 years ago, on May 8, 1997. A coronation is what it was, held on the parquet at what was then known as the FleetCenter, with the Celtics’ championship banners lowered from the rafters to provide a dramatic backdrop.

It wasn’t just titles won that were added to the occasion. It was titles given, as in bestowing presidential status on Pitino. That the legendary Red Auerbach was already in possession of the title of president, even if in an emeritus role, was beside the point. Pitino wanted the title and the Celtics gave it to him.

The problem with attaching yourself to a team’s glorious history, a history to which you played absolutely no part, is you force yourself to live up to it. I’ll be honest with you: As someone who covered the coronation, er, press conference that day, I was more amused than outraged. It looked silly.

But after the bad optics came the bad coaching. In his three-plus seasons running the Celtics, they went 102-146 and never made the playoffs. But it’s what happened on the night of March 1, 2000 – following a 96-94 loss to the Toronto Raptors at the FleetCenter, dropping the Celtics’ record to 23-34 – that Pitino earned a permanent place in Boston sports infamy.

Surely you know the quote. For those new in town, here it is: “Larry Bird is not walking through that door, fans. Kevin McHale is not walking through that door, and Robert Parish is not walking through that door. And if you expect them to walk through that door, they’re going to be gray and old.”

According to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald, who covered the game, “Pitino’s ire was sparked by a confrontation with a fan as the teams exited the floor. It carried over, moments later, with Pitino defending his team’s effort and questioning the public’s perception.”

Here was an exasperated, frustrated Pitino, tired of all the losing, sure, but also tired of all the complaining. Here he was, telling Celtics fans to cut it out, to stop living in the past, to embrace his young team.

And here he was, doing the one thing a person in sports should never do: Tell fans not to boo.

“All the negativity that’s in this town (stinks),” he said. “I’ve been around when Jim Rice was booed. I’ve been around when (Carl) Yastrzemski was booed. And it stinks. It makes the greatest town, greatest city in the world, lousy.”

So one leather lung got in his yap and Pitino reacted by crushing the whole town. And he again wrapped himself in other people’s history by referencing Rice and Yastrzemski, who were indeed booed at times during their Hall of Fame careers, then cheered uproariously, and ever on.

By standing in front of banners that day in 1997, Pitino was using Celtics history because, at the time, it worked for him. It was, if you will, his own version of “Make America Great Again.”

Yet when times were tough, history became an unwanted burden for Pitino.

Here’s the thing about Boston sports history: There’s everything that has happened since February 2002 … and there’s everything else. What’s happened since February 2002 is the 10 championships – five by the Patriots, three by the Red Sox, one each by the Celtics and Bruins. We’re talking Belichick and Brady … Pedro and Big Papi … the New Big Three … all those great saves by Tim Thomas in the spring of 2011.

Tuck Rule. Bloody Sock. Ubuntu. Nathan Horton’s TD Garden holy water on the Vancouver ice. Boston Strong. 28-3.

As for everything that happened pre-2002, some memories are fading. We do cherish the great seasons and the great players – Larry Bird, Bill Russell, the Impossible Dream Red Sox, Bobby Orr and the Big, Bad Bruins, et al – but people also remember events that really, really ticked them off.

Rick Pitino really, really ticked them off. With apologies to the FBI, the NCAA and the good people of Louisville, that’s why Boston sports fans were talking about him once again.