The night perhaps becomes darker. The rain becomes a little harder. The streetlights forever are a washed-out yellow, playing against the thick pillars of the elevated trains of the MBTA's Orange Line above Causeway Street, the metal-on-metal screech of the trains becoming louder and louder. The characters become caricatures.
Memory is the editor. Memory is in control.
"Here was the first look I ever had at the Boston Garden," John Havlicek (Boston Celtics 1962-78) says. "I came to Boston straight from the [college] East-West All-Star Game in Kansas City. I was the Celtics' first-round draft choice, and I was traveling with Jack [the Shot] Foley, who was the second choice, from Holy Cross. We got into Boston around 11 o'clock on one of those dank, dark, dreary New England nights. We went through the tunnel from the airport into the city, and we arrived outside the Garden, with all the trains and the rain and everything. We checked into the hotel next door, the Manger...."
There is no hesitation in the words. Thirty-three years have passed in the 49-year history of the Celtics at the Garden since this particular March 31 night, in 1962. Thirty-three years and counting. There has been time to polish the story, to buff away the blemishes, to get everything right. There is almost a script.
"I was hungry, so I went back out to get something to eat," Havlicek continues. "The only place open was the Hayes Bickford cafeteria across the street. I went in, and a couple of guys were sitting by themselves, drinking coffee. Another guy was at a table, his head down, sleeping. Everyone was in there to get out from the rain. The counterman had an apron covered with stains from the day. I ordered a couple of eggs that came back filled with all the cholesterol in the world. I sat by myself and said, What have I gotten myself into?"
The particulars are important. The dirt on the apron. The cholesterol in the eggs. Jack (the Shot) was already in bed. The story has been told so many times now to friends and Rotary Clubs and to sponsors and sportscasters and anyone else that it has become as perfect as a parable, measured out for pauses and appropriate reactions at appropriate places.
"The next day I went to the game," Havlicek says. "They took me to the Celtics' locker room. I was devastated. It was this little room, tucked underneath a stairway. There were no lockers, just nails hammered into these furring strips around the room. The steps cascaded down, so one end of the room had a normal 15-foot ceiling, but the other end was as low as six feet. The shorter guys dressed at that end. The nails for the clothes, it seemed, were based on seniority. If you were a rookie, you were a one-nail guy. I had just finished my four years at Ohio State, which had the best facilities, and to come to this.... We went from the locker room to watch the game.
"It was the playoffs. The Celtics were playing [the] Philadelphia [Warriors]. This was the game where Wilt Chamberlain came after Sam Jones, and Sam picked up a wooden stool and said, 'Wilt, I'm not going to fight you fair.' Jim Loscutoff chased Guy Rodgers right into the stands, right into the promenade. I sat there and said, again, What have I gotten myself into?"
Thirty-three years and counting. There are last chances to check out some of the specifics—to walk across from the site of the Hayes Bickford, now a bank, and to enter the 66-year-old arena on top of the train station, to find that little locker room the Celtics once used, to stand at the absolute spot where Jones held that chair above his head—but the story pretty much travels by itself now. Soon there will be nothing to check.
The Celtics will play their final regular-season game at the Garden on Friday night, April 21, against the New York Knicks, ending a tenancy that has included 16 world championships and some of the most significant moments in NBA history. There is the possibility of one or two more playoff games as this season's team struggles to earn a postseason spot and an overmatched meeting with the Orlando Magic. A final exhibition game will probably be played in the old building next fall before the opening of the $160 million Fleet Center, which already stands next door. But certainly by October or November the wrecking crews will have begun work, and that will be that. The home of the NBA's most successful franchise, home from the moment the league was formed, will be gone.