Tuesday, April 23, 2013
The Good Old Days
With the NBA Playoffs starting it brings back memories of when Mrs THC and I became big fans of the Boston Celtics in the 1980s during the Larry Bird era. We didn't attend many games but we watched or listened to a ton of them (broadcast distinctively by Johnny Most). Along with Bird we also had Kevin McHale, Chief (Robert Parrish), Dennis Johnson and for one glorious season, Bill Walton.
(McHale, Chief) (Johnson, Most)
During that period the Celtics had three rivals. In the early 80s it was the Philadelphia 76ers led by Julius Erving (Dr J) and the dangerous Celtic-killer Andrew Toney. It was a good rivalry and we always wanted to beat the Sixers but there was mutual respect and we all admired Dr J (of course there was that unforgettable moment when Bird and J started strangling each other on the court which Bill Simmons said was as shocking "as watching Santa Claus throw down with the Easter Bunny".
Next were the Los Angeles Lakers who we really disliked and felt entitled to beat. That was a hot rivalry but we all knew how good Magic Johnson was and we respected him.
But then, starting in the mid-1980s the Detroit Pistons arose from the primordial ooze and we hated the Pistons because they were the cheapshot champs of the NBA. They specialized in irritating opponents until they retaliated and were talented at not letting the referees catch them while they were doing it. We already didn't like Isiah Thomas and then when he and Dennis Rodman claimed that Bird was an overrated player because he was white, well things got a lot worse. Thomas was generally disliked across the league; he was a natural selection for the 1992 Olympics Dream Team but was kept off the team when Michael Jordan told league officials that if Isiah was on the squad he would not play. You had also had Ricky Mahorn deliberately and repeatedly stepping on Kevin McHale's broken foot in the '87 playoffs but worst of all was Bill Laimbeer, the smirking and sneaky center who was loathed by Boston fans (and, I'm sure, by all true basketball fans outside Detroit).
The rivalry reached its peak during the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals. In Game 3 at Detroit, Laimbeer clotheslined Bird, provoking Larry to retaliate and triggering his ejection from the game - nothing happened to Laimbeer. Game 5 was in Boston and every Celtics fan, whether you were at the Garden or watching on TV, as we were, wanted Laimbeer taken care of. He was, and from an unexpected source. Robert Parrish was an excellent center who never changed his expression, never showed excitement about anything and never got angry. Until that day. In the second quarter, Laimbeer elbowed Chief and Parrish hit him hard from behind and knocked him to the floor. We all went nuts. The best part was that the referee saw the whole thing and didn't call a foul (Bill Simmons called it "maybe the most astounding non-call in NBA history"). We figured it was because he agreed that Laimbeer deserved it. Game 5 ended with the Pistons on the verge of victory when Bird stole Isiah's inbound pass, and whipped it to Dennis Johnson who scored at the buzzer to win the game.
The league stepped in and suspended Chief for Game 6, which the Pistons won, but the Celtics came back to win the seventh and deciding game.
You can see the clothesline, Chief's slugging Laimbeer and Bird's steal here:
And here is Larry Bird in 2013 on why he still hates Bill Laimbeer (ah, the good old days).
We'll close with my pick for the best sports celebrity commercial which started airing during this year's March Madness, featuring Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabber. First, it's amazing they got four of the five greatest living retired players in NBA history (only missing Jordan) and second, it's actually funny (and true!). The first time I saw it I could not believe who I was seeing. Of course, my choice for best commercial ever remains the Dollar Shave Club.