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Gino night fever

A mysterious man is conquering the Garden, one booty at a time

By Wesley Morris
January 13, 2008

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SOMEBODY HAS BROUGHT sexy back to the Garden - and it's not Justin Timberlake or that guy the Celtics imported from the Timberwolves. Look up. There is hotness on the Jumbotron.

When things are going irreversibly great for the Celtics, which is to say frequently, here comes "Shake Your Booty" on the sound system along with a clip from disco-era "American Bandstand." The clip has lots of dancers. But amid the Afros and the flamboyance and the groups doing the Hustle, the bearded white guy dancing with himself in the snug Gino Vannelli top stands out. He looks like he cut Mr. Kotter's class to boogie at Dick Clark's. His shirt is too tight. But his moves are just right.

At Celtics games, this moment has been christened Gino Time. When it arrives, dudes (and dames) rise up from their chairs, beer in one hand, pumped fist in the other, upper teeth gently pressing down on lower lip, and begin to do the Gino. A small sample suggests this dance is undoable. Gino's hips undulate. His arms swing gracefully from near his head down to his waist and into a soft clap. He's committing a roller-rink seduction with no skates.

These moves are from a simpler time. No one who learned to dance after 1980 knows how to flow like that. At the Garden, the Gino is basically whatever happens to your body when music plays. It is often "wave your hands in the air, wave 'em like you just don't care." It's often as unsightly as the home victories are glorious.

The team began playing the "Bandstand" moment a few years ago. But in a winning season, the clip has become an infectious phenomenon. There are T-shirts. There are rumors (maybe KG does the Gino, too). There is the magical, unprecedented sight of people surnamed McNulty and Callinan dancing at a Boston Celtics basketball game - from good seats and bad.

One of the pleasures of this craze has been watching the main show shift from the parquet floor to the stands. You can see the players on the bench turn into astonished spectators of the unsafe-looking, borderline disinhibition erupting in the stands. The Celtics look on in much the same way the nation watched Jonathan Papelbon's Riverdance - in cringing amusement.

Someday, Gino might also give the Celtics its "Sweet Caroline," a stupid ritual that turns collectively cathartic - a holy necessity. But the "Bandstand" clip is still at the novelty stage. For one thing, the featured groover's name is unknown (the Celtics are trying to find him in order to make a documentary about him). His shirt says "Gino," as in Gino Vannelli, the curiously irresistible Italian-Canadian singer whose 1978 hit "I Just Wanna Stop" remains a velour-padded slow jam.

For another, Gino was plucked, YouTube-style, from a kitsch graveyard (the screen shows a VH-1 logo) and who's to say some other viral-video craze won't replace it? In the meantime, someone very real and very gymnastic must be worried: the Celtics' Lucky the Leprechaun. His obsolescence could be imminent. Who needs a live mascot when you can download one from YouTube?

That any of this is happening at Celtics games is richly ironic, since it's the sort of distraction Red Auerbach disdained for his team. He was a purist. The T-shirt cannons, the Jumbotron, the acrobatic mascot, the cheerleaders: it's all noisy pizzazz. What about the basketball? (Doc Rivers doesn't seem all that crazy about the frippery, either.) People who miss the austerity of the Auerbach era might want to cover their ears. Not that it will do any good. Your heart might long for no-frills Celtics, but when it's Gino Time your heinie might beg to differ.

Wesley Morris is a Globe film critic. He can be reached at wmorris@globe.com

(Illustrations/James Krause)