Memory will be everything. Memory will be all.
Trademark black sneakers ran across a trademark parquet floor. That was what happened at the Boston Garden. The men inside the sneakers were pretty much invincible. Every fall for the longest time there was a ceremony, a ritual, as a banner was raised to the dusty beams at the ceiling of the old building signifying another championship that had been won during the preceding spring. Sixteen banners was the final total, nine of them from the '60s, domination for an entire decade. The black sneakers and the floor and the building were magic. Or was it the men who were the magic?
"There was one game where we wore white sneakers," Bob Brannum (Celtics 1951-55) says. "Walter Brown, the owner [Celtics 1946-64], tried it as an experiment. The same game, he turned the court sideways. He figured that more seats were in the end zones, so this way there would be more seats on the sides of the court. I don't remember the year. He let us wear the white sneakers because we all hated the black ones. No one else was wearing them. We played the game, lost, the court was turned back the original way, and we went back to the black sneakers. We never changed again."
The seats hung over the court, two balconies creating a vertical intimacy that architects of modern arenas somehow cannot seem to find. The sellout attendance figure for the longest time was 13,909, a number any Boston schoolchild knew as well as any date of any historical happening. A progression of stars came along, from Bill Russell (Celtics 1956-69) to Dave Cowens (Celtics 1970-80) to Larry Bird (Celtics 1979-92), each starting a new era of success when hope seemed lost. The constants were the building and the presence of Arnold (Red) Auerbach (Celtics 1950-??), who was coach and general manager and, since 1970, has been president of the team. As coach and G.M. he was wily and profane, shrewd and outrageous, a picture to see as he argued a point with the veins popping out of his neck or as he lit a cigar when victory was at hand.
"Red was paranoid," Bob Cousy (Celtics 1950-63 and now one of the team's broadcasters) says. "He always thought everyone was out to get us. Especially the referees. He would start screaming at the referees at the first call, sometimes even if it went for us. He always wanted that edge. He always talked about those s.o.b.'s in New York. That was his thing, that the league wanted New York to win and us to lose. I look at it now, it sounds so silly, but the thing was that when Red was screaming about New York and the referees, we all believed him. Which I suppose is all that mattered."
"I saw him have a fight in the lobby with Sid Borgia, the referee," says Tom Heinsohn (Celtics 1956-65 as a player, 1969-78 as the coach and now Cousy's partner on game telecasts). "They started talking back and forth, and Sid said, 'Yeah, yeah, you can talk. You don't have to worry. Your wife has a lot of money.' Red said, 'My wife doesn't have any money,' and punched him. They started fighting, right there in the lobby."
The building was as familiar and comfortable for the home team as could be. The Boston Bruins, the hockey team, were the landlords and, in most years, the more beloved local team, but the Celtics were the team that had magic on its side. No visiting hockey teams complained about the excess heat in their dressing room on hot days and the lack of heat on cold days. Plots abounded in basketball. The floor was supposed to have dead spots where an opposing dribbler would discover that the ball would die as surely as if he had bounced it in a mud puddle. The timekeepers were supposed to have slow fingers when the Celtics needed a few more seconds. The referees were supposed to be intimidated by the fans. A leprechaun supposedly came down from the ceiling at opportune times to knock away important shots.
"Again, all this was important only because other teams believed it," Cousy says. "Think about it, the dead spots. You're telling me that in a game as fast as basketball I could have the presence of mind to push someone over to the fifth board from the right because that's supposed to be a dead spot? Maybe in a slower game like baseball you could use that kind of local knowledge, but basketball? Come on. And the heat in the locker room? We had the same bad heat that they did."