THEY WERE wise, the ancient Greeks. They had no time for the simplistic idea that history moves in a linear way. They knew that Clio, the muse of history, is addicted to cycles. So they would hardly be surprised to see a Golden Age cycling back into view once again to have the Celtics and Lakers suiting up for a championship series on a June night, and at the very site where the original temple to the Hoops God once stood.
Instead of Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, or Magic and Kareem, the newest superstar incarnation leading the enemy horde will be Kobe Bryant. In the roles once played by Russell, Cousy, and Havlicek and later by Bird, DJ, and McHale, the contemporary Celtics take to the hardwood with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen.
The Athenians of old would have understood. They knew that what matters is not the actor but the mask. Garnett can stand where Russell stood, Pierce can be what Bird once was, and Ray Allen can play the part of Bill Sharman. After waiting more than two decades since the last Celtics appearance in the NBA finals, local fans are not about to waste time pining for the heroes of yesteryear.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson made a silly remark the other day, saying that since the Red Sox won a World Series, folks in Boston are not so bedraggled anymore. He should have known that Celtics fans were not assuaged by the success of the Bosox.
The wheel of roundball history has come full circle, and the stage is set for a revival of the old dramas. If the excitement rises to a high enough pitch, the crowds in the new Garden will become oblivious to the air conditioning, the plush seats, and the superfluous Jumbotron. They will be infused with the frenzy of sweating fans in the old Boston Garden, they will sense the hovering spirit of Red Auerbach, and they will create crescendos of hometown sound that leave the Lakers disoriented and dispirited.
They will enter a new Golden Age.