Celtics-Lakers 3

This is Part 3 of our The Worst of Celtics-Lakers series. And just like Return of the Jedi, this third championship meeting between the two teams was ruined by the presence of hundreds of Ewoks. Seriously.

1965 NBA Finals

The Grim Reaper: Walter A. Brown, the original owner of the Boston Celtics, died on September 7, 1964 at the relatively young age of 59. This meant that Brown missed out on watching his team set a franchise record for victories (62) and win their seventh consecutive league championship. He also missed Red Auerbach's first (and only) Coach of the Year award.

Regarding Brown, Tommy Heinsohn said: "Everybody loved Walt Brown. He was like your father. He didn't make any money. He savored life at the Garden. You went in to talk contract with Walter Brown. You'd walk into the men's room, and he's say, 'What do you want?' And you'd say, 'What do you want to give me?' And it would be back and forth, and by the time you zipped up, you had a deal."

By all accounts, Brown was one of the best and most generous owners the league has ever known. He sacrificed a lot to keep the Celtics going during some very difficult years. It's a damn shame he had to die when he did. Or ever, for that matter.

Fun fact: The NBA championship trophy was renamed in Brown's honor after his death. It remained the Walter A. Brown Trophy until the mid-80s. The trophy was similar to the Stanley Cup in that it was a bowl placed above engraved panels listing the previous championship teams. Furthermore, the trophy was kept by the winning team for one year and then given to the next championship team after the following finals.

The trophy was redesigned for the 1977 NBA Finals -- adopting it's current ball-on-a-cup form -- after which it was given permanently to the winning team. It retained the Walter A. Brown title until the 1984 NBA Finals, when the hardware was renamed to honor former NBA commissioner Larry O'Brien.

The big letdown: Just like in 1963, the Celtics had to survive a seven-game scare from Wilt Chamberlain -- now a member of the Philadelphia 76ers -- in order to make it to the NBA Finals. Game 7 of that divisional series was the famous "Havlicek stole the ball!" game, which of course has been immortalized in league history. With that classic series as the buildup, the 5-game Finals was sort of a disappointment. It was kind of like going to Olive Garden and filling up on breadsticks and then not really being able to enjoy your fettuccini alfredo. And seriously, that stuff is not good heated up.

Fun fact: Go back and watch the film. John Havlicek only tipped the ball; Sam Jones retrieved it and dribbled out the clock. So, technically speaking, Sam -- and not John -- stole it. But Johnny Most didn't scream "Sam stole the ball," so people still think Havlicek stole it in the same way some people think Christopher Columbus discovered the atomic bomb.

Injuries: Part of the reason that the Finals were so lopsided was that the Lakers didn't have Elgin Baylor. Poor Elg severely injured his knee in Game 1 of the Western Division Finals against the Baltimore Bullets. As Baylor put it: "I went up for a shot and my knee exploded. I could hear a crack and a pop and everything else." It was a devastating injury, and it left L.A. badly undermanned. Bummer, huh? Baylor rehabbed the hell out of his knee and -- against all odds -- was back in purple and gold the very next season...but he was never the same player.

The original Bruce Bowen: The Celtics obliterated the Lakers in Game 1, 142-110. And for the most part, that was because K.C. Jones put the clamps on Jerry West. K.C. held Mr. Clutch to one basket in the first quarter and stole the ball from him five times in the first half. West finished with a mortal 26 points. But Lakers coach Fred Shaus thought Jones' defense was a little too touchy-feely, and he was still crying foul years later. Said Shaus: "K.C. Jones used to tackle West rather than let him get off a jump shot." (Of course, West went off for 45 in Game 2 and 43 in Game 3, so I'm going to go out on a limb and say the officials protected The Logo from K.C.'s football tactics.)

Lakers fans: In a show of true Hollywood class and style, the L.A. crowd bombed Red Auerbach with cigars after the Lakers pulled off a 126-105 victory in Game 3. But it was better the cigars than what they really wanted to use: Bricks.

Oh, the humanity: The Celtics finished off the Lakers in a Game 5 mercy killing. Only without the "mercy" part. At one point, Boston went on a 20-0 run and eventually won 129-96. And it left William Felton Russell feeling strangely depressed. "We were not just beating this team. We were destroying it. It was my worst moment in sports. There was the horror of destruction, not the joy of winning. We knew -- and did not know -- we sensed, and did not completely comprehend, that we had taken sports out of the realm of the game." Uhm, okay, Mr. Russell. Whatever you say.

Satch Sanders, quote machine: Satch said it best when he said, simply that: "We were just kickin' ass and takin' names."

Red Auerbach: Tommy "Gun" Heinsohn had announced that he would retire after the 1964-65 season, his ninth in the league, in order to take a full-time position at the insurance company for which he worked during the offseason (Heinsohn claimed later that he made more money selling insurance than he did playing basketball.) For reasons known only to himself, Auerbach barely played Heinsohn in the final game, even though the Celtics were in control the entire way. Near the end of the game, he casually asked Heinsohn if he wanted back in -- as if he was doing the guy a favor -- and Tommy said "no." The incident stung Heinsohn's pride (and I'm guessing Red didn't get any Tommy Points that night), but it also epitomized Auerbach's philosophy as a coach and as a person: Winning is everything; sentiment is nothing.

Sources: NBA.com, Wikipedia, Basketball-reference.com, Ever Green by Dan Shaughnessy, and The Rivalry by John Taylor.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...
What a kind of a world is this where Red Auerbach has one (1) COY award... As many as Byron Scott... And Rick Carlisle... And Don Nelson has THREE (3)?

Also: that...

"There was the horror of destruction, not the joy of winning. We knew -- and did not know -- we sensed, and did not completely comprehend, that we had taken sports out of the realm of the game."

...quote is the most beautiful thing I've ever read written by a basketball player. No lie. That shit is thoughtful.

Blogger Wild Yams said...
Phil Jackson, Larry Brown and Greg Popovich also have just one COY award apiece. Almost as bad as the Oscars' treatment of Hitchcock, Welles and Kubrick. The best of the worst as far as COY stretches goes is from 1997 - 2000 when Larry Bird, Mike Dunleavy and Doc Rivers won it in consecutive seasons. Yikes.

Anyway, back to this entry, left out of the "Havlicek stole the ball!" game is that the Celtics actually had the ball to inbound originally but Russell threw the inbounds ball off of a guard wire which was helping support the backboard, thus giving the ball to Philly for a potential game-winning play. Back then, even when things went wrong for Boston, they quickly reversed course.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might as well start working your book, because your blog only appears to get more popular.

I only ask that there is a semi-transparent Greg Ostertag somewhere on the cover and perhaps some Greg facts sprinkled throughout it.