"My favorite Johnny Most story is when his pants caught on fire," current radio announcer Glenn Ordway says. "I was doing color, and I'm sitting next to him, and I smelled something burning. I said, 'Johnny, do you smell smoke?' He said, 'My pants are on fire.' He was always smoking, and he'd had a stroke, paralyzing him on one side, so it was hard for him to do some things, and his cigarette had dropped onto his polyester pants, and they'd caught on fire. He always wore that polyester. The fire was right at his crotch, and he poured coffee on it and I helped beat the flame out. It was funny, really. We came back on the air, and neither of us could stop laughing for maybe 45 seconds. We couldn't talk. The first promo I had to read turned out to be, 'Our guest today at halftime will receive a gift certificate from Eastern Coat of Watertown.' Johnny said, 'Not today he won't. I need new pants.' We started howling again. The whole thing is on some underground blooper tapes now."
The building was filled with characters. Howie McHugh, the Celtics' publicity man with the restrained look of a parish priest, sat on a folding chair at the edge of the parquet floor, center court, and quietly pronounced a string of the most vile curses imaginable on all referees. John Kiley, the organist, the one man who could make Eleanor Rigby sound no different than The Stars and Stripes Forever, hated basketball. He played with his back to the action and never cared what happened. He quit one day when his parking pass was revoked. The members of the bull gang—responsible for putting the court over the ice surface—were characters. The ball boys. The original owner, Brown, the founder of the team, was seen as a lovable plantation owner but was followed after his death by a string of venture capitalists and eccentrics, all the way to the present owner, who was given the team by his father and is known in the local newspapers as Paul (Thanks, Dad) Gaston. Characters. Buddy LeRoux, the trainer for eight early championship teams, parlayed his playoff shares into a string of investments that included hospitals, apartment houses, hotels and substantial pieces of the Boston Red Sox and Suffolk Downs racetrack.
"There were so many people around the building, if I saw them 20 years from now, I'd recognize them," McHale says. "I'd say, 'Fella, I don't know your name, but for an important stretch of my life I know I saw you every day.' "
"Marvin Kratter was a guy who owned the team for a year in the '60s," Havlicek says. "He had gone to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and come back with a stone that he found there. He said it was the lucky stone. Before games he would stand under the basket and hold out the stone so each of us could touch it for luck as we went past after layups. The first time I touched it, we lost, so I refused to touch it again. He would hold out the stone, and everyone would touch it, but when I came by, he would drop his hand because he knew I wouldn't touch it. He always sat next to our bench. After he owned the team a month or two, I would hear him saying, 'Run the 2 play.' "
The greatest game in NBA history was played in the building. The only problem is picking the game. The general choice is the Celtics' 128-126 triple-overtime victory over the Phoenix Suns in the fifth game of the Finals, on June 4,1976. The highlight was a 22-foot heave by the Suns' Garfield Heard to tie the score at 112 at the end of the second overtime. Havlicek had scored on a running bank shot to give Boston a one-point lead with one second remaining. Phoenix's Paul Westphal (Celtics 1972-75) called timeout, even though the Suns did not have any timeouts left. This gave the Celtics a technical foul shot, which Jo Jo White (Celtics 1969-79) converted but which also allowed the Suns the chance to throw the ball inbounds from center court, which set up Heard's shot. Boston rolled away in the third overtime.
"The league changed the rule after that game," Havlicek says. (Indeed, today the ball would go to the Celtics.) "We had all run into the locker room after my shot, thinking the game was over. If the play happened now, Phoenix would have won because that would have been a three-point shot by Heard. Then again, we had hit some long shots too during the game that would have been three-pointers."
The win gave Boston a three-games-to-two lead. "After we won, the series was finished," Havlicek says. "We went out to Phoenix for the sixth game, but right away you could see those guys were done. That game took everything out of them."
"I was the coach and everyone says that was the greatest game, but I don't think so," Heinsohn says. "To me, the greatest game ever was when we won our first title, in 1957, against [the] St. Louis [Hawks]. That was the seventh game, the Finals, and we won by two points [125-123] in two overtimes. I saw the two greatest plays I've ever seen in basketball in that game. The first was when Bill Russell ran the length of the floor faster—faster!—than it took for St. Louis to pass the ball the length of the floor and for a guy to take one dribble and a layup. Russell was there to block the shot. The second play was at the end of the game. [Hawk] Alex Hannum threw the ball inbounds off the backboard from half-court. It was a designed play with one second left. He threw the ball off the backboard, straight to Bob Pettit. Pettit, I think, was so amazed the play worked he missed the shot. If that game had been played today, with television and all the replays, it would be called the best game ever. Now, nobody even knows about it."