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Leigh Montville
June 25, 2008
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June 25, 2008

Green Ghosts


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Cousy retired in '63 and Russell retired in '69 and Hondo Havlicek retired in '78 and other standouts retired, and ceremonies were held for all of them except Russell, who hated that stuff and quietly pulled the banner with his number 6 to the ceiling before the paying customers were admitted.


The soul of the building remained—its old-time quirkiness, its unpreserved preservation, nobody ever caring enough to really fix it up, but also no one ever caring enough to tear it down. The best seats were the best in basketball, closer than anywhere else. The worst seats were behind poles, the absolute worst. The smell was different from the new arenas, a combination of all the popcorn and hot dogs and spilled beer and smoke and perspiration and circus visits. There were stories of rats that roamed the building, large as house pets. There were stories of things that happened long ago matched against stories that happened yesterday. Stories were the soul of the building.

"We played doubleheaders a lot," Heinsohn says. "We played doubleheaders with the Globetrotters, with the ice shows.... We played doubleheaders with the rodeo. The dirt would be spread on the cement for the rodeo, and they would brush it all back and lay down the floor. You'd go running off the court and go straight into this big mound of dirt."

"I saw a rat that was so large, I should have shot it and stuffed it," McHale says. "I was walking across the court, and I saw this thing at the stairs that went to the exit. He was standing on his hind legs. I said, What's a rabbit doing in here? That's how large he was. I thought he was a rabbit."

THE FUTURE WILL BE ALL MIND. THERE WILL be pictures of the Garden and the events, of course, better pictures from each succeeding year, but cameras cannot capture day-to-day existence. Cameras cannot record smells and all sounds. There will be numbers, records, the Celtics with 1,287 wins in 1,709 home games (a handful in the smaller Boston Arena) as of Sunday, but numbers are not descriptions of people and places and situations and emotions. The building and the things that happened in it will exist primarily in the minds of the people who were there. Truth will be carried in a fragile envelope.

"Memory is a strange thing," Cousy says. "I went out to dinner with Tommy Heinsohn the other night with some advertising clients. We sat there for two hours, 2� hours, telling all the old stories. Tommy was going on and on, telling these stories, and half of them I'd never heard before. Or didn't remember. I mean I was there when these things happened, and I didn't remember any of them the same way. Time passes, you know, and you can say anything, and it can sound right.

"The Celtics' mystique. The Garden. I hear so many things that are ridiculous, yet they have been repeated so often they sound true."

There will be a ceremony to mark the final regular-season Garden game. A last ceremony. The plan is for 28 Celtics heroes to return, as many as possible. At halftime they will pass a ball back and forth.

Bird will stand in the corner. Three-point territory. He will take a pass and raise the ball as if to shoot. Suddenly, visitors from all of NBA history will come flying in an imaginary pack, all of them, Wilt and Kareem and Magic and Dr. J and Senator Bill Bradley and World B. Free and Walter (Big Bells) Bellamy and Moses and Oscar and Jerry West and Isiah and Elgin and Air Jordan, himself. All of them. Bird will pull the ball back down.

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