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GREEN GHOSTS
Leigh Montville
April 17, 1995
Saying goodbye to beloved Boston Garden, old Celtics relive a half century of otherworldly memories
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April 17, 1995

Green Ghosts

Saying goodbye to beloved Boston Garden, old Celtics relive a half century of otherworldly memories

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"The heat came from outside the building in a 12-inch pipe," Havlicek says. "I checked this out. The farther along the pipe you were, the less heat you got as it was dispersed. I suppose, because we were about 25 feet closer to the source, we had 25 feet worth of better heat [than the visitors], but that was it. What I think helped us as much as anything was the clock. Not the clock now, the one before it. It had a black minute hand and a red second hand, and it was a hockey clock. Our periods would end at 12-minute marks on the clock, but the big designations were at 15, 30 and 45. I don't think anybody in the league knew how to read that clock except Red and us. I'd see guys staring at it. Or startled when the buzzer went off at 12 minutes."

"My father did control the water for the referees' locker room," admits Frankie Randall, son of longtime equipment manager Walter Randall. "He loved the Celtics. He started out sitting on the bench, but in 1959 Sid Borgia threatened him with a technical foul, and he left the bench and never again returned. He would sit in the locker room, watching the game on TV. When the referees made some bad calls, well, the knobs for the water in their dressing room were in the Celtics' room. A lot of referees had a lot of cold showers in Boston Garden."

Memory.

The games and the championships were mostly a 49-year blur. Basketball is like that. The action seems to be written on phosphorous paper. Once exposed to the air, there is an exciting flash of fire, and then it is gone. Russell beats Wilt again! Cousy makes big pass! Bird drops three-pointer from heavens to win game! Celtics win! The Cousy one-hander and the Russell block seemed to evolve in an unbroken line into the Cowens dive on the floor and the Robert Parish (Celtics 1980-1994) turnaround jumper and the Kevin McHale (Celtics 1980-93) rebound layup. The little oddities seemed to remain longer than the most spectacular moments. The bumps in the line.

"After one of the championships, I'm not sure which one, the crowd ran onto the floor, and a couple of individuals tried to take off my uniform," Tom (Satch) Sanders (Celtics 1960-73 as a player, 1978 as the coach) says. "I was intent on getting off the floor, and the individuals seemed intent on getting a souvenir right there. They were pulling at my shorts, which were kind of loose. My shorts were coming down to my knees, and I was fighting my way off the floor."

"In 1984, the final game against the Lakers"—the first of three '80s Finals pitting Bird's Celtics against the Magic Johnson/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar L.A. squads—"we had the game won, and my big idea was that I was going to get the ball at the end of the game," Gerald Henderson (Celtics 1979-84) says. "What I didn't know was that Danny Ainge [Celtics 1981-89] had the same idea. Kareem, I think, took the final shot at the buzzer. The ball went off the rim and straight up in the air. Danny got there first. He just about had the rebound. And I pushed him. The ball came back between his legs and right to me. I still don't think he knows who pushed him. He went down, and the crowd just rolled over him. I still have that ball."

Memory.

The game most often attached to the Garden occurred on April 15, 1965, when Havlicek stole an inbounds pass from the Philadelphia 76ers' Hal Greer to Chet Walker and preserved a 110-109 win in the seventh game of the Eastern finals. While exciting, this game is far from the most significant and not necessarily the most dramatic in the long list of games. The reason it endures is the radio description by announcer Johnny Most, who died in 1993. An unrepentant Celtic booster, with a distinctive croak to his voice that was tuned by four packs of English Ovals cigarettes and countless cups of coffee per day, Most screamed the words, "Havlicek stole the ball!" with an urgency that suggested Martians had landed in the living room.

"Johnny must have had some good coffee that day because he was really excited," Havlicek says. "We had the game won by a point with five seconds left, but Bill Russell's inbounds pass hit the guide wire that went then from the balcony to the basket. Under the rules Philadelphia got the ball back. Russell said, 'Somebody has to help me out,' in the huddle during the timeout. They tried to in-bounds the ball. I was playing defense, counting to myself, 'One-thousand-one, one-thousand-two,' and when I got to 'one-thousand-three,' I knew I could sneak a peek. I saw Greer pass the ball, and I got my hands on it, and that was the game. I didn't know until a few days later about Johnny's call.

"Since then, it's never left. Just a few days ago I was at the Final Four and [CBS sportscaster] Pat O'Brien was doing his Johnny impression: 'Havlicek stole the ball! Havlicek stole the ball!' Everyone seems to have a Johnny impression. He was the one who made that play different."

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