This is Part 2 of our The Worst of Celtics-Lakers series. It's a decent sequel, I think. Not quite Ghostbusters II, but close. Wait...I should probably rethink that comparison...
1963 NBA Finals
Getting it wrong, Part I: In march of 1963, some big, throbbing brain at Sports Illustrated ensured himself a place in the Stupid Quotes Hall of Fame when he wrote that: "The Boston Celtics are an old team. Tired blood courses through their varicose veins." Which was a pretty off-the-wall viewpoint considering the five-time champions finished the season with the best record in the league (58-22) -- five games better than the second-place Lakers.
Oh, and those old, tired legs ran up 118.8 PPG (third in the league) while allowing only 111.6 PPG (second in the league). And their point differential (7.2) was easily tops in the NBA. What's more, seven players averaged in double-figures and Bill Russell was the league MVP for the third straight season. So I think the real issue was simply that SI -- and probably a lot of other people -- were tired of watching the Celtics win year after year after year.
Fun fact: It wasn't just the sports writers and their opponents who were getting tired of Boston's wining ways; their fans were too! Regular-season attendance dropped to 6,800 per game, which means there were about 8,000 empty seats in the Boston Garden every night. Wow. I guess back in the 60s, winning just wasn't enough. Ah, if only Bill Russell had been white.
Bob Cousy, quote machine. The Cooz appeared on The Mike Wallace Show and Wallace asked him how he dealt with playoff pressure. Cousy said, completely seriously, "Well, I go to the toilet much more often." Well, at least he was properly hydrated.
Bold predictions, Part I: Red Auerbach and his victory cigar made a lot of enemies back in the day. Oh, and the fact that he and his team spent the better part of a decade and a half kicking everybody's ass didn't win him many friends, either. A rival coach once had this to say about the cigar-smoking curmudgeon: "At first I didn't like Red Auerbach. But in time I grew to hate him."
Hate never daunted Red, though. He fed off of it. Well, that and the blood of his enemies. And the man had no fear -- except for grizzly bears, and who can blame him? -- which is probably why he gave the Lakers some bulletin board material after the Celtics won Game 4 in L.A. to take a 3-1 series lead. Said Auerbach: "We've never lost three games in a row."
That's the kind of statement that would get you in trouble if you were, say, Tracy McGrady. Of course, this was Red Auerbach, so it turned out to be true. Eventually.
The Celtics in Game 5: Red's plus-sized mouth got muzzled in Game 5, which his team lost at home due to a series of unfortunate events. Tommy Heinsohn got himself ejected. Bob Cousy fouled out after scoring only 12 points. And the Celtics had no defensive answers for Elgin Baylor (43 points) and Jerry West (32 points) as Los Angeles kept their playoff hearts beating with a 126-119 victory.
Getting it wrong, Part II: The media was as obsessed with Boston's composite age as Marilyn Monroe's suicide and the Cuban Missle Crisis. (Yes, those events happened during the 1962-63 season. Wild, huh?) After the rotten egg the Celtics had laid in Game 5, everybody was predicting the crusty leprechauns would disintegrate into dust under the Lakers' youthful feet. Good call, collective media!
Fun fact: I guess "old age" meant something completely different in the 60s. Sure, The Cooz was 34, but Sam Jones (29), Heinsohn (28) and Bill Russell (28) were all in their primes, and the Celtics even had a young crackerjack rookie named John Havlicek (22) on the team. As Cousy put it: "We are not the oldest men alive."
Bold predictions, Part II: With the media carving the letters on his team's tombstone, Bill Russell openly scoffed at the notion that the Lakers had taken control of the series and were going to overtake his Celtics. Said Russell: "No. Los Angeles is not going to do any such thing." That's a pretty ballsy thing to say, and he backed it up. But still.
Lakers fans: Man, those dudes were a combustible bunch even in the 1960s. Prior to Game 6, a 5,000-person horde descended on the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena to buy playoff tickets. When they found there weren't any available, the "fans" transformed into an angry, yelling mob. The situation fell just short of the pitchfork-and-torches treatment only after the Lakers offered to show the game on closed-circuit TV for $2.50 per person. So much for The Age of Aquarius, huh?
Jerry West: The Logo missed the final seven weeks of the regular season due to a hamstring injury, and it certainly limited his effectiveness in the playoffs. But his hammy wasn't to blame for his biggest boner of the of Game 7: With 2:48 remaining and the Lakers down only two points, West tried to force a pass to Rudy LaRusso. The pass was stolen by Tommy Heinsohn, who took it the other way for an easy bucket. That play killed the Lakers momentum and all but broke their will. A couple minutes later, Cousy dribbled out the clock on a 112-109 win and another Celtics championship. I'm guessing that's one pass Mr. Clutch would like to have back.
Red Auerbach, quote machine: In honor of Lakers owner Bob Short and the team's successful move to The City of Angels, the NBA staged the 1963 All-Star Game in Los Angeles. The day of the game, Short held a luncheon that featured plenty of back-patting and glad-handing, as well as a program that proclaimed L.A. to be the "Basketball Capital of the World." Too bad for Short that he had invited Red to speak at the event, right after Lakers coach Fred Shaus. And this is what Red had to say: "I suppose you people expect me to make some more nice chitchat like Shaus. You're a bunch of bushers. That goes for the club, the fans, and all the writers." Red held up the program and continued: "I come here today, and I see this -- it's ridiculous! What do you people think this is? Win a couple championships first, then talk about being the basketball capital of the world. Right now, the basketball capital is Boston. And it's gonna stay in Boston for a long time!"
It was against that backdrop that, after the Celtics finished off the Lakers in Game 6, Red said to the press: "Please tell me some of these stories about Los Angeles being the basketball capital of the world." Ah, Red...always the gracious winner.
Bill Russell, quote machine: While not quite as acerbic as his feisty coach, Russ made his own subtle dig to the assembled media: "It's nice to be playing with the old pros. The old, old pros."
Party pooping: After winning their fifth straight title -- and sixth in seven years -- the Celtics didn't break out beer or champagne. In fact, it would have taken an electron microscope to even find a trace of emotion in the Boston locker room, despite the fact that Cooz had played his final game. Said Heinsohn: "Why celebrate? We've won five in a row." Added Havlicek (years later): "We won, and I think people expected us to win. We had a breakup dinner, and we were gone within a day or two."
Wordiosity: While the Celtics were pretty ho-hum about their latest title, the Boston media wasn't. Grantland Rice, the great sports writer/poet, wrote the following: "With a farewell performance of supreme virtuosity, Cooz, the Magnificent, had led his Boston Celtics to a fifth straight championship. Thus did the Celtic captain complete his playing days on the triumphant note he deserved, still a champion among champions." Jeez, Grantland. If you wanted to sleep with The Cooz so badly, you could have just tried asking him.
Sources: NBA.com, Wikipedia, Basketball-reference.com, Ever Green by Dan Shaughnessy, and The Rivalry by John Taylor.