August 11, 2022

When Bill Walton relaunched and concluded his NBA career with the Boston Celtics, he devised a game night plan to avoid the city’s notoriously congested traffic: he took the subway to work.

Imagine a towering, unmistakable redhead, 6ft 11in, boarding the T, as it is known in Boston, at Harvard Station. Walton lived nearby during the Celtics’ 1985-86 championship season and in 1986-87 when they lost in the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers.

“Red line to green line to old garden,” he said. “And with a car packed with crazy fans banging on the walls and the ceiling, shaking the car, chanting, ‘Here we go Celtics, here we go!’ ”

In a recent phone interview, Walton added that after six years of injuries with the dysfunctional, Donald Sterling-owned Clippers of San Diego and Los Angeles, these rides were neither scary nor a culture shock for a Coast native. west.

“It was heaven,” he said.

The old Boston Garden was replaced in 1995 with what is now known as TD Garden. But the bustling suburban center of Gare du Nord remains, reached by trams from the T which echo through tunnels old enough for archaeological digs.

The same is true of the famous parquet floor, with some remnants of the original garden: the now-retired 23 jersey banners, a good number of ruddy-faced ushers with Southie accents and hidden ticket dealers at the view of Causeway Street. .

“The new location lacks the sight lines and the overhang of the second tier, where we called the games from and had, in some ways, a better view than the court,” said Marv Albert, the broadcaster of the Hall of Famer whose radio debut — Knicks at Celtics, Jan. 27, 1963 — was in Boston, replacing Marty Glickman, at age 21.

He added: “The TD Garden is not a very glamorous arena, like what the Warriors built in San Francisco. And with the surrounding area and the history of the Celtics, there is still a feeling of yesteryear.

To that end, when the NBA Finals return to Boston for the first time since 2010 – with the aforementioned Golden State Warriors in town for Game 3 on Wednesday night – it will be the league’s version of strolling around somewhat gentrified but still old neighborhood, taking a nostalgic tour of where he grew up.

It wasn’t until years after the Bill Russell-era Celtics won 11 titles from 1957 to 1969 that professional basketball became a hot ticket in Boston, or anywhere in the United States, and let alone a sexy global sale. But it’s largely at North Station, that heavy urban design nexus, that the NBA has gone from crawl to walking.

It has been a difficult few years, the losses of the Retired Number Celtics painful and profound for those who remain of Boston’s incomparable dynastic period. John Havlicek, No. 17, died in 2019; KC Jones (25) and Tom Heinsohn (15) died in 2020; Sam Jones (24) in 2021; Jo Jo White (10), star of the 1970s in two title teams, in 2018.

Yet venerable Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy recently spoke to Bob Cousy (#14), who told him: “For this to happen at the age of 93, it’s really a special time.” He meant the Celtics’ 22nd championship series, of which they won 17, in a stalemate with the Minneapolis-native Lakers franchise.

Not an impressed newbie, Shaughnessy was nonetheless moved by the trophy presentations after the Celtics’ tight escape from Miami in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. There was Cedric Maxwell, a Celtics broadcaster and retired No. 31, presenting the conference championship trophy, named after Cousy, to veteran forward Al Horford. Next, Maxwell passed the new conference most valuable player trophy, named after Larry Bird, to rising Celtics star Jayson Tatum.

“Where else do you find that?” Shaughnessy said before answering her question. “The Yankees in baseball.”

For a generation of sportswriters too young to have covered Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach’s lighting of victory cigars from his coaching job, the Bird-era Celtics of the 1980s were our introduction to lore. Celtics live.

In third-grade-friendly chairs along the baselines, we’ve seen the Lakers and Celtics dramatically raise the profile of the league through the lens of the Magic Johnson-Bird rivalry. Out-of-town reporters slept in a new chain hotel in Copley Square, woken by deafening alarms on a June morning that we swore was Auerbach’s sneaky job — because the Lakers are there, too. remains.

We recoiled as cheering fans rushed onto the field after the Celtics won Game 7 of the 1984 Finals and wondered if Bird and company — not to mention the Lakers — would make it out alive. We risked being suffocated or crushed in horribly ventilated visitor locker rooms that were no match for the growing media crowd.

We walked out, exhausted from the oppressive humidity of the building in late spring, dodging the occasional rat, still thinking there was nowhere else we’d rather be.

Despite Walton’s memories of everyone aboard the Resounding T, those Celtics didn’t represent all of Boston. Thanks to the enormous luck of landing Bird (retired No. 33) in the college draft and cleverly trading the rights to Kevin McHale (32), but also filling their bench with marginal white players, the Celtics were seen as the renowned resister in a league increasingly dominated by African-American talent. The black districts of Boston preferred their rivals, the Philadelphia 76ers of Julius Erving or the Lakers of Johnson.

But the Celtics, whose main talent, at least, has been predominantly black for years, have played this season 100% at home. Boston’s fan base presumably finds this team of murderous returning defensemen all the more relatable and cohesive than ever — though visiting players of color might argue they’re simply mega-partisan, not post-racial.

It’s always tempting to overstate comparisons to champions of yore, especially when one remembers the Celtics have won exactly one championship since 1986. But some have pointed out that rugged playmaker Marcus Smart conjures up memories of KC Jones and Bird’s 1980s running mate Dennis. Johnson (retired #3). And while Tatum may never be Bird in the collective minds of the Boston masses, he, at 24, seems destined to see his number, 0, join Robert Parish’s 00 in the rafters.

After all, it took a title in 2008 for Kevin Garnett (retired No. 5) and Paul Pierce (34) to achieve this.

Current center Robert Williams III is no Russell (retired No. 6), but he, at 24, is a true local rim protector. Horford, who plays like 1970s glue guy Paul Silas, was bought out last offseason, the kind of nifty team-building addition the Celtics were known for over four decades. multiple wins.

After losing the only top player they signed, Gordon Hayward, in free agency in 2020, and Kyrie Irving, the best player they traded for, also in free agency, in 2019, these Celtics were more or less less put together like any Auerbach. crew. Danny Ainge, the former general manager, did the heavy lifting with lots of help from the Nets, whose draft picks were shoved in a 2013 trade for the discoloration Pierce and Garnett brought in Tatum and his co -star, Jaylen Brown.

Likewise, the current Warriors are built without the benefit of a boutique free agent, following the departure of Kevin Durant in 2019. This series is a welcome variation on the theme of willing stars determining the competitive balance, leverage which discouraged some fans and which some people came to view as harmful to the league.

These Celtics are, of course, playing in the same 3-point shooting universe that has been stylistically expanded by Golden State’s Stephen Curry more than anyone else, another trend deemed objectionable by many older fans. And TD Garden is no different than other NBA arenas with enhanced culinary delights and the standard in-game experience of floor show gimmicks and uninterrupted noise that once blew Auerbach’s head and cigar.

Walton would rather remember fans reaching a frenzied state on their own, en route on the Green Line. From his home in San Diego, he said, “Knowing Boston, I’m pretty sure nothing has changed.”