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THEY WANT AT EACH OTHER—BAD
It was one hour before the Boston Celtics were to play the Los Angeles Lakers in the first of two important National Basketball Association games last week when Bob Cousy walked into the Celtic dressing room at Detroit's modernistic Cobo Arena. He was carrying a suitcase in his left hand and a copy of the Boston Traveler in his right. He took off his black wool coat with the alpaca collar and the Kelly-green team blazer that bears the gold Celtic emblem on its breast pocket. Then he sat down, almost savoring the attention that his very silence had drawn to him, opened the Traveler and looked at a headline that said: L.A FEELS CELTS ARE WASHED UP. Cousy leaned forward and began to read. Three other Celtics, Bill Russell, Frank Ramsey and Tom Sanders, came to Cousy's side, and they too looked at the story. No one spoke, until finally Sanders nudged Russell and whispered, "Oh, great and noble bearded one, we have a job to do tonight."
Cousy said nothing at all, but as he put on his uniform he began to blow nervously into his fists. For 13 years Cousy has been the leader of the Celtics, and for 13 years when he has wanted to summon that reserve of talent that seems to be his alone he has blown into those fists. "I've worked hard to build the image of Bob Cousy," he said. "It has gotten terribly difficult for me to get myself up for every game, to keep the image. But for a few specific games, I still can." Any game against the Lakers puts Cousy to blowing on his fists.
Fifty yards from where Cousy was dressing, the Los Angeles Lakers were walking into Cobo Arena, swinging their baby-blue gym bags at their sides. There is a touch of Sunset and Vine about this team. Its players come from places like Brooklyn, Gary, Ind. and Cabin Creek, W. Va., but they have all developed a distinctive, exuberant flair, the kind of thing Bostonians by nature don't like. Elgin Baylor, the Laker star, looked out on the court and saw three Celtics—Sam Jones, Clyde Lovellette and Dan Swartz—starting to practice. Baylor unbuttoned his magnificent raglan overcoat with the red lining, took a penny from his pocket and tossed it at the Celtics—the gesture that bored customers once used to drive bad vaudeville acts off the stage. Baylor then turned and walked to his dressing room with a confident smile on his face.
Field of unfriendly strife
Thus the scene was set for still another round in as fierce a grudge match as pro basketball has ever known. The Celtics, old, experienced, unbeatable for years, just don't like the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers, young, brash and good enough to challenge anybody, just don't like the Boston Celtics. And that is what both the talk and the action demonstrated on successive nights in Detroit and Boston last week when the Celtics beat the Lakers, the Lakers beat the Celtics and pro basketball showed everybody that it is a game that is played for real.
The two games were important to both teams, though each has all but clinched its division title. First, there was the NBA rule that gives the team with the best over-all season record $2,000 and an advantageous schedule for the playoffs. The Lakers' record was 46-14, the Celtics' 43-18. There was also the matter of the Lakers' attempt to break the NBA record of 60 wins in a season, a mark set just a year ago by, naturally, the Celtics. Finally, and most important, there was the unalloyed pleasure each team would get from beating the other.
The last time the teams met, the pleasure had been the Celtics'. That night a stray Los Angeles elbow caught Bill Russell on the business end of his beard and laid him out like a seven-foot throw rug on the floor of the green and gloomy Boston Garden. This made the Celtics so angry that they vowed on the spot to win this one for poor Bill. Poor Bill, meanwhile, was back on his feet in no time winning it on his own. So the Celtics charged from behind to a 133-121 victory and broke an 11-game Los Angeles winning streak as well.
"The Lakers," says Red Auerbach, the volatile Celtic coach, "are a tremendous team but they, and too many other people in Los Angeles, have a feeling that the Lakers are better than we are. There are a lot of people who are already saying that the Lakers can beat the Celtics for the championship. [Last year the Celtics beat the Lakers out of the title in an overtime period of the seventh and final playoff game.] So far the Lakers aren't the champions of anything. The Celtics have great pride and great talent and we don't lie down and die for anyone. The Laker organization has said that ' Los Angeles is the Basketball Capital of the World.' Los Angeles has been in this league for two years and it's the basketball capital of the world!" To this summary Auerbach adds a short, heartfelt obscenity.
Nor is Fred Schaus, the coach of the Lakers, lost for words on the subject of Boston and Auerbach. "The Celtics have a great basketball team and Red Auerbach has done a great job of coaching them for years," he says. "I respect Auerbach as a coach. But I don't like him. I just plain don't like him. And he knows it." Fred Schaus and Red Auerbach do not speak. Though they are often drawn together in arenas, airports and hotels, they turn away from each other or sit in distant seats. At one point last week they were side by side for over an hour, yet they refused to say hello.