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"There's a lot of tradition, a lot of nostalgia," Auerbach says. "You'd hate to give that up, but...when you get down to it, it's impossible to make this building what it should be. You can air-condition, put in escalators, do all of that, but you can't change the seating. The seating's still cockeyed."
The debate sometimes seems as old as the building. The Garden and the Bruins on one side. The Celtics on the other side. Upstairs vs. downstairs. The owners vs. the renters.
The Celtics might be the more well-known team around the country by a large margin, but at the Garden they mostly have been in-laws living in somebody else's house. The Bruins occupied the building first and they have maintained squatters' priorities—the team has always been partially owned by the building's owners—while the Celtics have gone through a list of different owners.
"There was a time when it was terrible, just terrible," Auerbach says. "They'd fight you on this, fight you on that, always fight. A customer would come up to the window to buy a ticket to one of our games, and the ticket seller would say to him, 'Why do you want to see those guys? Basketball?' "
He says there were so many troubles he can't remember all of them. The Bruins always had first choice of practice, the Celtics went on most days to local gyms. The Garden wouldn't buy new freestanding baskets for the longest time, claiming they wouldn't fit through the door. Says Auerbach, "That's why the wire was strung to the basket, creating the play where Havlicek stole the ball from Philadelphia in 1965. The Garden wouldn't let us get the new ones." And how about this? The Garden even charged the Celtics for raising and lowering their championship flags.
"Wasn't that ridiculous?" Auerbach says. "They'd keep the Bruins' flags there for all the games, ours and theirs, but they'd make us take ours up for the Bruins games. I think they didn't want to be embarrassed because we had so many. Ridiculous. They'd make us take 'em up and then they'd charge us for doing it."
For the longest time, the upstairs-downstairs situation even extended to the attendance figures: The Celtics won the championships; the Bruins filled the building. As recently as 1971—after all of the Bill Russell championship years—the Celtics still had only 850 season-ticket holders.
"People would come into the office to buy a season ticket and we'd take them by the hand, walk them into the building to show them where their seats were," Auerbach says. "I'd walk them. That's how small we were."
The situation has changed. The relationship between the Celtics and the Garden management is better now than it has been in years. The building is better. The Celtics are the darlings of the city and are no longer charged for raising and lowering their banners. The team has sold out 265 straight games. The season-ticket base is 12,500 and the announced waiting time for season tickets is seven years, but even that figure might be an understatement.
The Celtics still want to leave. "The building simply is not built for basketball," Auerbach says. "Hockey people don't seem to care where they sit, but basketball people want to sit between the baskets. There are very few seats here between the baskets. We'd like a place with at least 9,000 seats between the baskets."