Thursday, June 05, 2008

Celtics-Lakers ... Not Quite The Old Days, But It Will Do

An indulgence is asked of you today.

The NBA Finals kick-off this evening, pitting the leagues two most-storied franchises, and one of professional sports' greatest rivalries, against each other.

The Los Angles Lakers versus the Boston Celtics.

I spent a better part of my youth at the old Boston Garden, attending my first Celtic game on December 12, 1964 (they played the Baltimore Bullets, on what was also "JFK Night", a tribute to the fallen, local President).

Each game we attended was like magic.

I knew the entire Celtic history, and every player in the league (there were only 9 teams back then).

By the 1966 season, my older sister and I had season tickets, and we sat through many a Celtic-Laker game, always gleeful that the Lakers went home losers, be it in-season, or the playoffs (including one, regular season game, when Laker guard Walt Hazzard either forgot or lost his uniform, and had to play the game wearing a Celtic away uniform (green), with the jersey turned inside-out).

The favorite, though, was 1969

The Celtics were supposed to be "dead", getting old and coming in fourth place that year, just making the playoffs.

The year before, 1968, they were the first team in professional sports to come from a 3-1 deficit to win a series (Eastern Division Finals, versus the Wilt Chamberlain-led Philadelphia 76ers; Later that summer, baseballs' Detroit Tigers would also accomplish the feat).

However, in the off-season, between the '68' and '69' seasons, Chamberlain had been traded to the Lakers.

The Celtics dusted off the 76ers (without Wilt-the-Stilt) and the New York Knicks, setting up the titanic match with the Lakers, who now had Chamberlain, to go along with Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, and were the definitive favorites to dethrone the Celts.

The Lakers had the best record, therefore, home court advantage and they wiped the Celtics out in Games 1 and 2 (with West going for 53 and 41) and it looking very gloomy for the Celtics.

Back home, they took Game 3 and, in Game 4, with 7-seconds left they were down by a point, and, just got the ball back via a steal by Emmette Bryant.

The legendary Bill Russell, in his second season as player coach (first black professional sports coach in the country) asked his players for help.

John Havlicek and Larry Siegfried offered up an old Ohio State play, that would end up setting a pick near the foul line for a clean jumper.

They ran the play, with Sam Jones firing up an off-balance jumper from around the foul line, with about 2-seconds left.

Swish, Celtics win 89-88, and the following day, the Boston Globe ran two photos, from the vantage point of under the basket.

In Photo #1, you had a mass of bodies and you could see the ball leaving Jones' hand.

In Photo #2, you had Wilt Chamberlain catching the ball, just as it was coming through the net, with a grimace on his face.

It came down to Game 7, in Los Angeles and owner Jack Kent Cooke had stuffed the Forum's ceiling with balloons, and had the USC band on hand, fully expecting to celebrate a championship.

Good, tough game, what you would expect in a Game 7, but the Celtics knew they were going to win (Bill Russell, running back up court, gave a shout-out to courtside celebrity fan, actress Doris Day and told her, "Not tonight, Baby").

Wilt took himself out of the game with about five-minutes left, claiming a knee injury (it also coincided with Wilt picking up his 5th foul, and, another record Chamberlain owns is never fouling out of a game - you decide), and it took a shot by Don Nelson (who the Celtics picked up from the Lakers, on waivers, three-year earlier), that hit the rim, bounced straight up, and then came straight down, through the net, to secure the win, 108-106.

The Sports Illustrated issue that came out following the series started off with;

"The band never played, the balloons never fell ..."

It was the Boston Celtics 11th championship in 13-years

The 1980's version of Bird, Magic, et. all was good, heated, but not quite the same.

And, unheard of, and completely unacceptable, they lost to the Lakers in the finals, twice.

I was older, in my mid-to-late 20's, so it didn't have that same, awe-inspiring, mystical quality the Bill Russell-led Celtics had.

So, all you 9-12-years-olds watching this revival of the Celtics and Lakers, suck it all in, it's big time!

Go Celts!

Oh yeah, as to predictions ... Celts in six!

Bonus Links

Celtics-Lakers Finals history

Bob Ryan's Top 10 games from the Celtics-Lakers rivalry

A Personal Note: The End For A True, True, Icon - Red Auerbach

No comments: