By Brian Taylor
Today, in honor of the grandfather of modern basketball, I wanted to switch it up a bit.
Arnold “Red” Auerbach (a guy I share my birthday with) was arguably the most important figure in the sport of basketball, and he helped build the most storied franchise in the sport, maybe in all of pro sports, the Boston Celtics. Red was one of the last links to the Celtics glory years. There was always a mystique that went with Boston, the “luck of the Irish”, the banners, etc. But one of the most important pieces to the Boston franchise was their home, the Boston Garden.
The Celtics started out in the Boston Garden at the league’s inception in 1946. The arena was originally made for boxing, which made sight lines (blocked by huge slabs of concrete) closer than in other arenas. Everyone who’s ever seen the Celtics on TV knows about the infamous parquet floor, a design so revered that two other NBA teams copied it (T’Wolves and Magic). The legend has it that the reason Boston would win year after year, was because they knew where every bolt, crack and dead spot on that floor was, which gave them an advantage over visiting teams. As a kid getting into the game, Larry and Magic gave me my first lessons on CBS sports about basketball. I’ll never forget the Finals matchups at the Garden, that huge green and white leprechaun at center court (which was designed by Red’s brother). B-Ball at Recess was about either being at the Forum or the Garden back in the day.
I guess the reason I miss the Garden was that it (besides MSG) was one of basketball’s shrines. Every arena and stadium today is “FleetVerizonToyotaPriceWaterContinentalCenterGarden” and the cookie cutter feel of these places is what the NFL JUST got rid of, yet it goes on in basketball. Back in the day, you had the Spectrum, the Mecca, Chicago Stadium, HemisFair, the Summit, and the Omni. Names that made players step their game up, and the Garden was no exception.
Some of my favorite moments, actually all of them, came in the late 80’s, early 90’s, when the Celtics were in their heyday, but also passing the torch. I’ll never forget Magic’s baby hook shot to surprise Kevin McHale and Parish for the victory in Game 4 of the 87’ Finals. Who can ever forget His Airness lighting up Boston for 49 and 63 points respectively in the 86’ playoffs, or Johnny Most screaming his head off that there “was a steal by Bird”? Pistons fans remember the game where Adrian Dantley laid out unconscious on the parquet, after banging heads with Vinnie Johnson while diving for a loose ball. I remember the Bullets getting trounced there on a regular basis, and the Hoyas taking on Boston College on the Celtics’ floor. The Garden had no air conditioning, so June Finals games where hell, or at least it felt like it, and their visitors’ locker room was the inspiration for claustrophobia, with Magic and Co. enjoying it the least.
I remember Tommy Heinshon recounting a story about the luck that the leprechaun at center court brought them. His team was on a roll, storming through the playoffs, and after each home game, Tommy would leave a beer and a hot dog for the leprechaun on the parquet floor. Lo and behold, both were always gone by the time he came back out to go home, (of course it was probably the “Bull Gang” the guys that would break down the floor, but still, you gotta believe!).
When the Garden was demolished, the old floor was brought to FleetCenter along with it, until it became too old to play on.
Red may have passed, but the legacy he left, the mystique and the memories of the Garden live on today. For this season, the Celtics will wear black shamrocks on their jerseys in honor of the grandfather of basketball.
Thank you Red!