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The real floor—the rookie was looking at the real floor—is chipped, scarred and smudged here and there with odd dashes of paint. Again, no museum curator stands guard. The 264 pieces to the puzzle, each five feet by five feet, are lifted on or off little jitney trucks by four-man crews an average of 120 times per season. Lifted, slammed, lifted again, slammed again.
"The floor was built in 1946," Anthony DiNatale, once of Brook-line, Mass., now of Orlando, Fla., says. "My father's company built it. The Celtics had been using another floor—called the Cousy floor—which they had to bring back and forth to the Boston Arena, where they played a lot of their games. This floor was built for the Garden."
Hardwood was in short supply in 1946. Much of it had been used to build barracks during World War II and now it was being used to build houses for servicemen returning home to start families and new lives. The wood for the floor is from a forest in Tennessee. Oak. These were scraps that had been left behind in the building boom, but they were special scraps.
"This was oak cut across the grain, hard and durable," DiNatale says. "My dad had been saving this specially for the Garden floor. These boards are heavier and thicker than the boards normally used. An inch and a quarter thick. That's why the floor is still the heaviest per panel in the country. No other floor has ever been made this way."
The idea to make the floor in a parquet, checkerboard fashion was someone's unrecorded whim. The standard basketball floor panel is four feet by eight feet, which would make a bizarre parquet pattern.
"To make a floor like this today would cost two or three times as much as a normal basketball floor," DiNatale says. "That's one reason why you don't see parquet floors around the country."
The floor was built to be placed on an uneven cement floor. The trains at one time came directly into North Station. Hockey players can remember standing for the national anthem and feeling the floor vibrate as trains arrived. The vibrations caused cracks in the cement under the ice. The cracks resulted in an ice surface that would be an inch thick in some spots, a quarter of an inch thick in others. Turn one way and glide. Turn another way and your skate would find cement.
The vibrations and cracks and uneven ice were corrected long ago, but the basketball floor remains as an uneven reminder. Bounce the ball in one spot, and it springs back to your hand, an imaginary yo-yo. Bounce the ball in another spot and it sort of flops against the wood and you have to bend to pick it up before someone else does. The floor is a map of dead spots and live spots. Home-court advantage? You bet.
"I knew where the dead spots were because you bounce the ball so much it just becomes automatic," Jones says. "You'd think the air went out of the ball—that's why you'd get called for carrying the ball or bouncing it too high or whatever—but a lot of times we'd try to force the guy dribbling the ball over to an area we knew was dead.
"Besides using the fundamentals of defense—you know, moving the feet, standing between the man and the basket, forcing him to go right if he likes left, the whole thing—all the time your machine is ticking upstairs. You're thinking the guy is getting closer to a dead spot, and it was automatic—you'd try to move him closer."