"What the hell," Siegfried said. "You make a shot like that, you're entitled to blow some smoke about arc and backspin and things like that."
The Boston Garden had been bedlam. The scene four days later when Sam Jones, who would retire as a player after Monday's final, began his last game in Boston, was noisy, too, but different. In a tender outpouring of affection the fans stood up and cheered Jones while he stood alone on the floor and wavered "halfway between a smile and a tear." It was sincere but hardly a representative show by the Boston fans, who have never understood—much less appreciated—the Celtics. They think of the team as something of a tie-in with Lent, to be ignored during the season and admired ferociously at selected important playoff games. The politicians finally come out from behind the historic markers on warm days in May to issue proclamations and pose for pictures.
This year, almost 1,000 of the Boston faithless turned in their third-game tickets when the Celtics came home down 0-2—this at a time when NBA attendance is at a record high and when NBA TV ratings more than double the NHL, top the AFL comfortably and are zeroing in on baseball ratings. The Lakers had to turn down hundreds of their fans who were anxious to shell out $282.50 for a charter flight deal to see the first two games in Boston. Thousands went to theaters to see closed-circuit TV of the sellout home games.
Save for a falling off in affection early this season when the team was not working together, Los Angeles has, in fact, remained fairly steadfast in its support of the Lakers ever since their first playoffs in 1960 when the fans first heard an announcer named Chick Hearn describe the wonder of Elgin Baylor "shooting from out of the popcorn machine" in St. Louis.
Through the years it always has been Baylor and West, in that order, and Baylor had their hearts, too. West, the neat craftsman, was only admired, like a very reliable dentist. Yet of all the great stars in any sport, he is the most human, Zeke from Cabin Creek. He is certainly no country bumpkin—indeed, he is analytical and articulate—but he can say things like " Elgin always treated me as an equal" and "I think I must be the luckiest guy in the world" and the effect is real and never cloying.
He is one superstar who is also a sports fan, just like the other people on his block, where he has lived ever since he moved to LA in 1960. He talks of the junkets he takes with other celebrated athletes to make clothes advertisements, not as though they were something he had earned, but as if he had won them in a supermarket contest. In the first game, when Russell was describing West's play as the "greatest clutch performance ever against the Celtics," West only wanted to talk about what a marvelous game it must have been to see.
Utterly unaffected, he has become at last the finest all-round player in basketball, and yet he still shows up at a game dripping wet from worry. "I've reached a point," he says, "where nothing will satisfy me but the very best. I can only settle for that from myself. I used to think so much about scoring, but I'm just no longer interested in points. I scored a lot against Boston because that happened to be the way to win. I really don't think they have anyone to guard me. But I've always wanted to be appreciated for being more than a shooter."
West's career is marred only by injury—to his legs, hands, nose and what all. It frustrates him to have to work his way back into shape two or three times a year, and the laughs were only forced as he lay on the training table before the sixth game and tried to be a good sport about it one more time.
Near the end of the second game he had taken a chop on his right thumb, but rather than prepare an alibi he kept it secret so that the Celtics would not know. After the third game, when everyone had figured he had had an off night because he had scored only 24 points, he stood under the el outside the Boston Garden and only reluctantly withdrew his hand from his pocket. The swelling was noticeable. "The other players know, and you're satisfied with that," he had said earlier. "You can be satisfied with what they think of you."
The hand had healed sufficiently by the next game, but then he pulled a hamstring on an insignificant play late in the fifth game, and surely he had to be thinking that it was going to be the Celtics again, champions one more time, when the Lakers lost the sixth game with him making only 26 points on one leg.