Celtics' winning ways perk up beleaguered Boston
Boston, a city that's morale is down at the heels over monumental fiscal woes , feels like a million dollars today. The Boston Celtics are champions again, rulers of the National Basketball Association's 22-team domain, and that's cause for rejoicing.
If nothing else, the Celtics' victory over the Houston Rockets proves that at least something in Boston works. In this case, that something has 11 moving parts, a trio of coaches, and a boss with an incredible track record.
The boss, Arnold (Red) Auerbach, coached the Celtics to nine NBA titles from the mid 1950s to mid 1960s, and has been the team's general manager during the last five championships, including this season's 14th.
As the only link connecting all these teams, he seems to have the Midas touch.
In the Wall Street Journal, Frederick C. Klein has defined a sports-management genius as "an executive who puts together teams that dominate their sport for longer than a single athletic generation." Auerbach, he feels, fits the description, as do just two other individuals during the postwar period --George Weiss of the Yankees and Sam Pollock of hockey's Montreal Canadiens.
No one bats 1,000 in the risky business of judging talent, and even Auerbach has made his mistakes, drafting such where-are-they-now players as Clarence Glover, Steve Downing, and Glenn McDonald in the first round. But his errors of judgment pale in comparison to dozens of astute moves. Several of these have assured the Celtics of strength in the middle down through the years.
Back in 1956 he traded for an angular, rookie center named Bill Russell, who became the cornerstone of a genuine dynasty (9 championships in 10 years). In 1970 he drafted Dave Cowens, a 6 ft. 9 in. product of Florida State thought too short for the pivot until he led Boston to NBA titles in 1974 and 1976. Then, before the current season, he worked out a deal for Robert Parish, a seven-footer who had spent four rather undistinguished years with the Golden State Warriors.
With the Celtics, however, No. "00" became a force, blocking shots, swishing steeply arched jumpers, and starting fastbreaks to inspire the Boston Garden banner "Is Parish Burning?"
Seldom does a team win everything with a new center. And certainly Boston had never secured a championship with so many relatively new faces. The starters on the team's '74 champions (the first of the post-Russell era) averaged seven years wearing the green; the current starters averaged less than three, and none had ever played in the finals before.
The unit is one Auerbach built in a hurry, almost from the ground up. The overhaul was necessitated when owner John Y. Brown, now governor of Kentucky, attempted to give the Celtics a fresh image two years after their '76 championship. In large part, it was his decisions, not Auerbach's, that led to various player personnel moves that didn't pan out.
When Harry Mangurian, a low-profile millionaire, bought out Brown's share of the team in 1979, he returned complete hiring, firing, and trading responsibilities to Auerbach.
Red set about restocking the roster with Celtic-type players, those willing to carry out whatever tasks are assigned them, no matter how inglorious. The team's motto became "No More Games," which simply meant there would be no more fooling around, no more disruptive influences in the locker room or bad attitudes on the court.
In piecing together the present roster, Auerbach drafted Larry Bird when he was still a junior at Indiana State; traded for Nate Archibald, Chris Ford, Rick Robey, and Parish; and signed M. L. Carr and Gerald Henderson as free agents. The remaining regulars -- playoff MVP Cedric Maxwell and rookie Kevin McHale -- were first-round draft picks.
Bird's arrival for the 1979-80 season along with that of Bill Fitch, the first head coach hired without any previous Celtic connections, triggered radical change. Boston went from a 29-53 record, its worst ever, to a league-best 61-21. In the playoffs that spring, the Celtics lost badly to Philadelphia, but they turned the tables on the 76ers this year with a breathtaking, come-from-behind triumph in the Eastern Conference championship series.
After defeating Philadelphia in a dramatic seventh game, the Celtics were considered a cinch for the title. They only had to beat Houston, a club with 40 -42 regular season record and one they had defeated 13 straight times.
It all sounded so easy, yet recent history hinted it probably wouldn't be. the NBA's winningest regular-season team (a distinction Boston and Philadelphia shared at 62-20) hadn't carted off the NBA championship since 1972. The energy, both physical and mental, expended in achieving such a performance often leaves little for the stretch run.
Determined to make Boston's task as difficult as possible, Houston won Games 2 and 4, then made a valiant fourth-quarter run before losing Game 6, 102-91, and the series 4-2.
The Rockets depended on strong rebounding from the likes of Moses Malone and Bill Willoughby, veterans who jumped from high school to pro ball, but lacked consistent firepower from their guards.
It's in the backcourt, too, that the Celtics could use a more dependable shooter, and the failure to find one could make Boston the NBA's 11th straight one-year champion. The only thing certain is that Red Auerbach won't rest on his laurels -- not while there's still rafter space left for another championship banner in Boston's antiquated Garden.