Tales From The Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics are the most storied franchise in NBA History. They own the most championships (17) and have been around since the NBA’s inception. Obviously with over 70 years of history there have been a lot of funny stories to come down the pipe and its time to tell a few of them here. Before I get started, some of them may get a bit raunchy so if you’re easily offended….shaddup and listen.

Fans today know how former Celtics star and current general manager Danny Ainge swindled the Philadelphia 76ers to get Jayson Tatum and a future draft pick. Well, have you heard about how NBA Hall of Famer “Pistol” Pete Maravich joined the Celtics? With regards to certain writers who literally tweeted that Steph Curry was the greatest shooter to ever live, (seriously?) the REAL greatest shooter was Maravich. If you think Lonzo Ball has it rough having a clown for a father, Maravich had it worse. Press Maravich came out of the military service and played one year for the BAA (Basketball Association of America, the precursor to the NBA) Pittsburgh team before becoming a basketball coach. When his son Pete was born he decreed that Pete would be the greatest basketball player to ever live. Obviously impossible expectations factored into Pete’s childhood as he could never really please his father. He averaged 40 points a game at LSU and graduated as the NCAA’s all time leading scorer but mostly due to his father coaching. Remember the Hey Arnold episode “pass the ball to Tucker”? Same thing only at LSU. When Maravich was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks, the rest of the NBA was gunning for him after his father had boasted he was going to be the best of all time. It was sad because Pete never wanted any of that or ever thought like that. He was great for the Hawks before being traded to the New Orleans Jazz. For a brief time he really was the best player in the league but he destroyed one of his knees and was never the same. By 1980 the Jazz moved to Utah and Pete was a shell of himself but had just enough gas left in the tank to help a contending team. The two best teams in the Eastern Conference both wanted him and they were the Sixers and the Celtics. Pete wanted to go to Philly first and he met with general manager Pat Williams and head coach Billy Cunningham. Pete was all set to sign when the story goes that all of a sudden the Philly team doctor barged into the room and overly demanded to give Pete a rectal exam. At first Pete thought it was a joke but Williams and Cunningham weren’t laughing. Pete realized this was no joke and bluntly refused something that ridiculous but the doctor was overzealous about it. Williams and Cunningham relented and ordered Pete to take the rectal exam, much to the little too overjoyed doctor’s delight. Pete got up and left and found the nearest payphone to call Celtics general manager Red Auerbach to meet with him. When Auerbach and head coach Bill Fitch met with Pete, Maravich told them that story and both men burst out loud laughing. They re-assured Pete that there wold be no invasive procedures and Maravich ended up signing with the Celtics. Nice going Philly, you weirdos.

Speaking of goofy contract negotiations, did you know the late Hall of Famer Jo Jo White‘s agent Carl Scheer was paranoid? In 1968 a rival basketball league formed called the American Basketball Association which introduced a red, white and blue ball and the three point shot. One of the things the owners did was try to raid the NBA of talent by holding their own drafts and luring guys away with huge money offers. They were able to pry Rick Barry away from the NBA and disgraced college star Connie Hawkins was given new life in the new league. In 1969 the Celtics drafted Jo-Jo while other ABA teams “drafted” him as well. While Scheer and Jo-Jo were negotiating with Auerbach, a guy walked into Red’s office with a paint can and a brush ready to repaint the wall. Scheer grabbed Jo-Jo and ended the negotiations so abruptly he nearly tore Jo-Jo’s suit while leaving a confused Auerbach in the process. Apparently Scheer thought the painter was a secret agent working for the ABA. There were black op missions going on in Vietnam at the time and this guy thinks the maintenance crew at the the Celtics office was working for the ABA. Did Scheer expect him to go “awww, ya got me!” and dive out the nearest window?

Speaking of the ABA, the late Marvin Barnes was on the 1979 Celtics but 3 years earlier he was on the St. Louis Spirits. One time he took a look at a team departure flight from New York that was leaving at 8:58 AM and arriving in St. Louis at 8:57 AM. He called over Spirits broadcaster Bob Costas over and said “I don’t know about you, but I ain’t gettin on no time machine.”

Have you heard about the time the Celtics almost got away with 6 men on the court? During the 1983 season the Celtics were in Atlanta against the Hawks and Danny Ainge was ready to check in for Gerald Henderson with Larry Bird, Cedric Maxwell, Robert Parish and Quinn Buckner already on the floor. Ainge checked into the scorer’s table and walked on the court pointing at Henderson. The only problem was Gerald didn’t see him and never moved. The whistle blew and Ainge suddenly realized Henderson didn’t leave. Ainge ran around the court on the defensive end trying to find someone to guard but they were all covered. Danny then put his arms up and started running in a circle hoping no one would notice. It worked, neither the Hawks or the refs figured out. Celtics coach Bill Fitch roared with laughter and so did the Celtics bench. Finally Ainge tried to sneak off the court but only then did he get hit with the T. Fitch went over to radio broadcaster Johnny Most and told him to remind him never to sign any of the Hawks because they were too dumb to notice the Celtics had 6 guys on the floor.

Speaking of 1983, the team’s first round draft pick heading into the season was Darren Tillis out of Cleveland State. The big man was supposed to provide big man depth but just didn’t have an NBA ready game.  Early in the season Darren was a victim of a pickpocket and lost his wallet. Coach Fitch chastised the rookie for it but a month or so later Fitch himself was a victim and had gotten his wallet stolen. His response “Thank god for per diem money or else Darren and I would be eating at McDonalds the rest of the month.” Imagine being at McDonalds and seeing Celtics rookie Darren Tillis and head coach Bill Fitch standing in line for some fries.

Johnny Most was trying to watch his health by the early 80’s when his doctor told him to seriously consider quitting smoking. At the same time Celtics brass suggested Larry Bird needed to tone down his partying. Most and Bird made a gentlemen’s agreement that Most wouldn’t smoke in the bar if Larry kept his drinks to a minimum. Naturally both found ways to cheat as Johnny would sneak off into the men’s room for a few drags and Larry would put his empty beer cans in front of backup center Rick Robey sitting next to him. One time Robey had so many empties in front of him, Bill Fitch walked in a bar, noticed all the empties and called a cab to take Rick home thinking he was completely plastered. The cabbie arrived and a relatively sober Rick was like “What are you doing? Get the hell out of here!”

Speaking of big men, want to hear the lowest moment of Kevin McHale‘s career? One of the downfalls of the Bird Era Celtics that’s already been covered, was drafting BYU’s Michael Smith in 1989 over Shawn Kemp and Clifford Robinson. Smith was a big white stiff that contributed mostly nothing although he did provide McHale with one headache. During the 1990-91 season McHale and Smith were visiting a Children’s Hospital to cheer up the kids. They walked in one particular kid’s room and he recognized Smith but not McHale. Kevin shook his fists at the ceiling and proclaimed that he’s survived through the two missed free throws in 84, the Ditch Fitch campaign of 83, getting stepped on by Larry Nance and Jimmy Rodgers but THIS was the low point of his career.

Speaking of big white stiffs, remember Stojko Vrankovic? Of course you don’t, so let me tell you. He was a big Croatian center that was playing in Greece when the Celtics signed him as a free agent prior to the 1991 season. To help him work on his game, Hall of Fame center Dave Cowens was brought in to teach him a few things. One of the quirky things about Stojko was he called Larry Bird “Lazlo”, yes the same name as the DJ in Grand Theft Auto. Anyway at one point someone told Stojko about the rumor that when Cowens took a vacation from the Celtics in 1977, he was spotted driving a cab. A month or so later the Celtics were outside a hotel waiting for the team bus when Larry felt a tap on his shoulder. It was Vrankovic who pointed and said “Lazlo, is that Dave?” as a cab drove by, cracking Larry up.

Actually, if they were in New York, chances are that was Johnny Ezersky. We’re going WAY back on this one so bear with me. Before Red was hired as coach/gm in 1951, the 1949 Celtics were coached by Alvin “Doggie” Julian. Julian had led Holy Cross to the NCAA Championship in 1947 featuring a freshman benchwarmer named Bob Cousy. As is the case with most college coaches, the pro game was too much for Doggie. During a tirade, he lit into the team saying if they didn’t shape up and make something of themselves, they were going to be driving cabs pretty soon. Two of the members of that team was Joe Mullaney and Johnny Ezersky. Mullaney eventually became head coach of the LA Lakers and one day he was in New York when a cab started honking at him. He turned and it was Ezersky who yelled out “Tell that bastard Julian that he was right!”

Rookie hazing is part of the game but did you hear what the Celtics did to Sam Jones when he was a rookie? Sam went to small North Carolina Central University and was so unknown that when Red Auerbach cheerfully told Bill Russell that the Celtics drafted Sam Jones in the first round of the 1957 draft, Russell replied “Who the hell is Sam Jones?” It was well known that Auerbach as coach only ran six plays in the “playbook”.  He had many variations on those plays, but just six. During one particular practice reserve guard and future Hall of Famer Andy Phillip decided to have some fun with Sam. Andy was bringing the ball up and shouted “SEVEN PLAY!” Jones had no idea what the seventh play was so he ran around in a circle as the veterans hooted and hollered. Other teams may have had physical hazing, but watching Sam Jones run around not knowing what’s going on was good enough for them.

One big misconception that’s gained steamed over the years was that Auerbach was on the same level as legendary a-hole coaches Vince Lombardi and Bobby Knight because all you see is grainy footage of him shouting and looking mad. Actually Red very, VERY rarely yelled at his own team and he even explained why in one of his books. He couldn’t yell at Cousy or Russell because they were the stars. He couldn’t yell at Sam because he would brood. He couldn’t yell at KC Jones because it would break his heart. He couldn’t yell at Sharman because he’d flip out and he couldn’t yell at Frank Ramsey because he most likely would have punched Red out. Red also explained coaches that yell all the time like a Hubie Brown or Bill Fitch himself don’t last very long with a veteran team because eventually they get tired of it. The players actually loved Red and would actually play pranks on him. Frank Ramsey once admitted that he was the culprit behind one of them. He used to switch the shorts sizes of Auerbach before practice. One day Red would try to squeeze into a pair of shorts that would be too tight for a runway model and the next day he’d be wearing shorts big enough to fit an elephant. Red’s response? “Knock it off guys!”

One time before Russell joined the team, center Ed Macauley assisted in getting Red a birthday present but decided to have some fun with him first. Red had bought himself a red fedora hat early in the 1954 season and wore it every single day. By training camp of the 1955 season the hat had begun to get a little crummy. One day when Red was in the shower Cousy swiped the hat and waited. Red got out and asked where his hat was. Bob tossed it to Macauley who ran into the shower with it on. Red screamed and ran after Ed only for Macauley to toss it to Bill Sharman who proceeded to cut it up with scissors. Red got dressed and stormed out cursing at his guys as he went to his car. He stopped dead in his tracks and started laughing because right there in the front seat with a bow on it was a brand new fedora hat with a birthday card signed by everyone.

One of the not so funny things that happened in the 1983 season was Johnny Most suffering a stroke. It took him almost a full year to get back to normal and he made his triumphant return to the radio booth late in the 1984 season. Most was nervous that he couldn’t do his job because he could barely move his left arm due to the stroke. On the team bus during his first game back Larry Bird stood up and said “Alright guys, its time to play Simon Says. The loser has to buy the rounds at the bar tonight. Simon Says raise your left arm…oh sorry Johnny you lose, drinks are on you!” The bus cracked up and so did Most because it made him feel like one of the boys again.

Another potentially tragic situation was turned into a positive during the 1991 season. First round draft pick Dee Brown was harassed and humiliated by Wellesley police. Dee and his fiancee were coming out of the Wellesley Post Office when he was surrounded by 9 cops and they told him to lay on the ground. Apparently someone “matching his description” robbed a nearby bank. The guy was 6’4 and dark skinned, Dee was 6’1 and light skinned. I’m sure Red gave Wellesley police hell for that one. During the next practice Kevin McHale called everyone over and said “Ok guys, we’re gonna do a new stretch today. This is called the Dee Brown.” Kevin proceeded to lie down with his arms outstretched as everyone laughed including Dee.

One of the best stories in Celtics history has been told countless times but I’ll try to make it brief to keep the humor portion valid. The 1969 NBA Finals were coming down to a deciding seventh game against the Lakers and the game was in LA. Russell at that point wasn’t only a player but the coach as well after Red retired in 1966. Russell and the troops walked into the Forum and noticed a bunch of purple and gold balloons hanging in the rafters. Sam Jones found a press release nearby and looked at it. This is what it said; “When (not if) the Lakers win the championship, the balloons will be released from the rafters. The USC marching band will play ‘Happy Days Are Here Again”, the champagne cases will be distributed in the locker room and radio announcer Chick Hearn will interview in order Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain.” Jones took this to Russell and asked what he was going to do. Russell rallied the troops before the game and said “There are things in life out of our control that’s going to happen. One thing that CAN’T happen is the Lakers winning this game, its not happening.” It didn’t happen, the Celtics won the game and the championship. When Sam Jones was giving his farewell speech since he already announced his retirement, Red interrupted and said “What are they gonna do with all those balloons? They’re gonna eat em!” Johnny Most went to one of the security guards guarding the champagne and said “Hey can I take a case of that, you won’t be needing it!” For all the Laker fans that like to brag about winning in 2010, yeah, you still had to eat balloons in 1969.

Bill Walton needs no introduction, he was the classic case of injuries robbing what should have been a long, productive hall of fame career. He was so grateful that Red traded for him for the 1986 season that every time they lost that year, he took all the blame. On opening night the New Jersey Jets shocked the future champs, winning on a buzzer beater by Michael Ray Richardson. After the game Walton addressed the team and said he was a disgrace to professional basketball, the loss was entirely on him and he apologizes to anyone that ever wore a uniform. Larry Bird shook his head and said “Boy I hope we play better because I don’t want to listen to this (expletive) every time we lose. Someone toss me a beer.” Luckily they only lost SEVENTEEN more games that year including the playoffs on their way to the championship.

Another addition to the Celtics roster for the 1986 season was Jerry Sichting, a reserve guard from Indiana. Larry Bird decided to have some fun with him to welcome him to the team with the help of Rick Carlisle. Larry said he’d meet him for a few drinks at a bar named Buddies at 7 PM one night. At 7 PM Jerry got there and sat at the bar for a few minutes. Then he asked the bartender if Larry Bird had got there yet and the bartender looked at him like he had three heads. 20 minutes went by and still no Larry so Jerry found a payphone and called his roomate which happened to be Carlisle. Rick told him to sit tight and wait, Larry would be there. Jerry then went back to the bar but within a few minutes noticed there was not a single woman at the bar. He thought it was strange until he saw two guys playing pool. One of the players kissed the other on the mouth and Jerry then figured out he’d been set up. Jerry ran out of there and back to his room where Rick was waiting for him laughing his head off. The next day KC Jones (who was in on it too) came up to him at practice and said he wouldn’t have traded for him “had he known” about his lifestyle. Larry had a good laugh at that one.

Another Larry had at Sichting’s expense was after Game 5 of the NBA Finals. The Celtics were up 3 games to 1 when the 7’4 Sampson started fighting with Sichting leading to both getting ejected. Johnny Most called Sampson every name in the book although the Houston Rockets ultimately won the game. Afterwards Larry quipped “I don’t know why Ralph would want to fight Jerry, my girlfriend could whip him.” The night before Game 6 the Rockets arrived in Boston and Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan was watching the news with Larry. Larry studied Ralph’s body language on TV and told Bob “You won’t have to worry about him tomorrow, trust me.”  Sampson scored just 8 points as the Celtics ran away with Game 6 and the NBA championship.

Going all the way back to the first game in Celtics history on November 2, 1946 for the next one. For those that don’t know, the NBA that we know it was formed in a merger between the Basketball Association of America (BAA) and the National Basketball League (NBL) in 1950. The Celtics were one of the inaugural BAA teams in 1946. Shockingly they were one of the worst teams in the league before they ever took the court because head coach John “Honey” Russell couldn’t pick the top talent coming out of college or in the NBL because he was coaching minor league baseball. One of the players that were on the first Celtics teams was Chuck Connors. Connors later became a television actor known for his role in The Rifleman. During pregame warmup, Connors threw up a half court heave and smashed the backboard. At the time the Celtics were playing half their games in the old Boston Arena and the other half in the Garden. This game was played at the arena and they didn’t have a spare backboard. The game had to be delayed as a crew had to travel all the way to the Garden to retrieve THEIR backboard. Only one problem, the Garden had booked the circus that night and the crew the Celtics sent over had to wade through the animal storage area to find the backboard and bring it back to the Arena. The Celtics ended up getting beat by the Providence Steamrollers that night and finished the season 22-38. It should be noted of all the teams that played in that first season of the BAA, only two are in their original cities to this day, the Celtics and the New York Knicks.

There are many more stories and there will probably be even more as time goes on and tales are told. As the Celtics are one win away from the NBA Finals, this year’s team feels special and who knows what kind of stories will come out 10, 15 or 20 years from now. Let’s just hope a few NBA Championships are won in the process.


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