It used to be called “the luck of the Irish.” They even have a little smug looking character with clovers all over his vest, bow tie and derby representing the franchise as its logo. While his smoke of choice is a pipe, Red (no last name needed) always had his ample supply of cigars - and kept them on the bench! Ah, the good old days, when you (fans and coaches) could smoke during the game, eventually causing a cloud cover, hovering just above the playing surface.
Back then, not only was smoking not outlawed in public buildings, it was, more or less, encouraged! Uh oh, here comes another story from my book, Life’s A Joke. Since I was one of the biggest Dodger fans in history (when I was a pre-teen and the Bums were still playing in Brooklyn), I’d listen to the games on radio religiously. What I write in the book, is how I distinctly remember: following a Dodger home run, or if they turned a double play in the field, the announcer would say, “There’s another 20,000 Luckies” (yeah, the little unfiltered ones – which gained the nickname, “cancer sticks” as the research intensified), to the Veterans Hospital.” Huh, and our guys thought the enemy was the Germans! Today, the only place a fan can go to see a cloud cover like that is Los Angeles – and the haze isn’t above the playing area, but over the entire building – and widening as I type and you read!
All those championships and all those great players – Russ, Couz, the Jones’ Boys, Hondo, Satch, Lusky, Nellie, “Please don’t squeeze the Sharman” (that’s it, all that kind of nonsense will be, in the future, left to Chris Berman). Then, Red outfoxed them all again, plucking a Bird and waiting a year for him. Can you imagine waiting for someone in this day and age – especially for a guy who’s supposed to be a savior?
Well, it was light up another one! Or more than one – if the number stood for championships. Red did it again – this time from the front office. And not only Bird, but adding the Chief and McHale too, to form, arguably, the best frontline of all time. Certainly one of the most cohesive.
1978-79, the last Bird-less for the Celts, the team went 29-53. Add Bird and the following season the team’s record became 61-21, a pretty good ROI for waiting that extra year. Oh yeah, the Celts were back! Red was about to pull off another coup, drafting “the new and improved version” of Larry Bird – Len Bias – with the second pick of the 1986 NBA draft.
Bias was ahead of his time, doing things at his size, we had only seen a handful of other players do – a perfect tonic for an aging, and often injured (with bad back problems) Larry Legend. But, less than 48 hours after he was selected in the draft, the great Len Bias was gone. It seems as though he was also ahead of many of the rest of the NBA players, as he was about to enter the league having done blow, and on more than one occasion. “It’s the cruelest thing I’ve ever heard,” lamented Bird.
Did the Celtics ever recover? Hope sprung eternal from local-boy-made-good, when Northeastern’s Reggie Lewis started to emerge from being a good player (who averaged over 17 for his career), to a more reliable one who had just put two back-to-back seasons of 20+ points/game. During an off-season practice, Lewis collapsed – and, due to a strucural heart defect, never was to be seen again – not in Celtic green, not ever.
The franchise remained high in popularity, but as their success on the court dwindled, so did their number of intense fans. A once proud franchise needed a shot in the arm – or a kick in the butt. Since most of the things Red did (that worked), were unconventional, they tried to work the same magic and hired a flamboyant and great basketball man, Rick Pitino.
Personality issues and the bad bounce of a single ping pong ball destined to the Celts to the third pick in the NBA draft and even more mediocrity, and occasionally less than mediocre, until a former Celt, a fiery guard during the Bird era became the man with the complete control. Danny Ainge worked his friends as well as those he didn’t know particularly well for a trade that would bring much needed help for superstar Paul Pierce. Pierce, who could have opted out, stayed the course and, somehow (call it Auerbach’s aura), Ainge pulled off deals for Kevin Garnett, possibly the best overall player, inch for inch, in the league – when all the factors of being a great one: O, D, special situations and leadership – especially through hard work – are considered, and Ray Allen, maybe the best shooter ever, but definitely the one with the prettiest shot, in the NBA to Beantown. Result: return of the Larry O’Brien Trophy to the team whose address is near the banks of the River Charles.
Lo and behold, snakebite returns – not as badly as before, thank the Lord – but with the overall #2 best record in the Eastern Conference (the Cleveland Cavs were #1), bad enough to seriously derail their chances of getting out of the East, much less repeating as NBA Champs. KG, their best player, shut down defender, most inspirational leader and hardest worker got hurt and missed all or most of the final 20-25 games, obviously, as much as a precautionary move as anything else.
Now it’s come out that this megastar, who got his first championship last year and was preparing for another this season looks like he’ll miss – possibly all – of the playoffs this year. Just to keep the casuality going, GM Danny Ainge, in a display of complete loyaly, went down with a heart attack yesterday – at the age of 50! His short, and long term prognosis is better than that of his employer because they have several players who are getting closer to Father Time than to the stork.
Peter Drucker knew what he was talking about when he said (even though the management can’t be blamed one iota for these mishaps):
“A crisis must never be experienced a second time.”