There were other grand nights, of course, dozens of them in 49 years. Besides Havlicek's, there were other grand steals: Henderson's against James Worthy and the Lakers in '84, Bird's against Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons in '87. In the '80s there was Bird's succession of mano a mano duels in playoff matchups with the Sixers' Julius Erving and the Knicks' Bernard King and the Atlanta Hawks' Dominique Wilkins (now a Celtic). There was Russell versus Wilt. Forever. There was Frank Selvy's shot that missed for the Lakers in the 1962 Finals. There was Michael Jordan's coming-out party when he scored 63 in 1986 in double overtime.
Tree Rollins of Atlanta bit Ainge's finger in 1983. ("Thirty seconds after it happened the story became that I had bitten his finger," Ainge says. "And that's the way it's stayed.") Bird returned from the locker room after taking a face-first tumble and led a first-round, series-clinching win over the Indiana Pacers in '91. Sam Jones made last-second jumpers, against the Warriors in '62 and against the Lakers in '69. Russell had 35 rebounds in one title game, 34 in another and was a player for nine titles, a player-coach for two. There was the hot (100-plus degrees in the building) night in the '84 Finals, Game 5, when the Lakers were informed that the air conditioners they had brought for their dressing room were not compatible with the Garden's electricity. The next year Jack Nicholson, the actor and fan, mooned the crowd from a skybox when the Lakers finally won a title in Boston. There was the suspended game against the Hawks in 1990, when condensation from the ice seeped through the floor.
Cousy retired in '63 and Russell retired in '69 and Hondo Havlicek retired in 78 and other standouts retired, and ceremonies were held for all of them except Russell, who hated that stuff and quietly pulled the banner with his number 6 to the ceiling before the paying customers were admitted. A fan yelled, "We love ya, Cooz," at Cousy's retirement ceremony. Havlicek planned his own event, bowing to all four corners of the building and ordering that the organ be abandoned for the afternoon, replaced by recorded rock-and-roll music. Bird's night, in '93, was not even the night of a game, but instead a special evening of videotaped highlights and visits from former teammates and opponents. There was the saddest night of all, when Reggie Lewis fell down against the Charlotte Hornets in 1993 and never returned, dead within three months.
The soul of the building remained its old-time quirkiness, its unpreserved preservation, nobody ever caring enough to really fix it up, but also no one ever caring enough to tear it down. The best seats were the best in basketball, closer than anywhere else. The worst seats were behind poles, the absolute worst. The smell was different from the new arenas, a combination of all the popcorn and hot dogs and spilled beer and smoke and perspiration and circus visits. The lack of air conditioning did not hurt the smell at all. There were stories of rats that roamed the building, large as house pets. There were stories of things that happened long ago matched against stories that happened yesterday. Stories were the soul of the building.
"We played doubleheaders a lot," Heinsohn says. "We played doubleheaders with the Globetrotters, with the ice shows.... We played doubleheaders with the rodeo. The dirt would be spread on the cement for the rodeo, and they would brush it all back and lay down the floor. You'd go running off the court and go straight into this big mound of dirt."
"One day I was recovering from a knee injury, running the stairs all alone," Sanders says. "I guess no one knew I was there, because they released the guard dogs. I wound up staring at this German shepherd at the top of the stairs, him staring at me and me staring at him and neither of us moving for a long time. Finally the guard came."
"I saw a rat that was so large, I should have shot it and stuffed it," McHale says. "I was walking across the court, and I saw this thing at the stairs that went to the exit. He was standing on his hind legs. I said, What's a rabbit doing in here? That's how large he was. I thought he was a rabbit.
"There were only two stalls in the bathroom in our locker room," McHale continues. "No matter how early I got there, someone else always would have been there before me. I finally found an answer. I got a ball boy to let me into the officials' locker room before they got there. I did that every night. It was perfect. Quiet. I could read the paper. It was my little secret. Somehow I thought it was justice. I was making a statement."