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Dan Shaughnessy

Strolling down Memory Lane

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June 5, 2008

Our young people are making their own memories. Last night. Sunday night. All next week. Years from now these kids will talk about what it was like when the Celtics and Lakers played for the NBA title in June of 2008. They'll remember what it was like to be part of this special spring in Boston.

Those of us who are a little older (OK, maybe a lot older) already have memories. And watching this matchup of NBA brands is like opening a dusty trunk in our parents' attic.

The Celtics were defending NBA champions when I went into first grade in 1959. They'd just beaten the Minneapolis Lakers in the Finals. By the time I saw Bill Russell and Sam Jones lose a playoff series, I was an eighth-grader. The Celtics always won and it seemed like they were always beating the Lakers in the Finals.

Celtics-Lakers. Celtics win. It was a birthright for those of us who came of age in the 1960s. Snow melted, forsythia bloomed, we gave up chocolate for Lent, and the Celtics beat the Lakers in the Finals. Sometimes it was difficult. Sometimes it was a breeze. Always there were memories. Many of them personal.

The Celtics beat the Lakers in the Finals the year my dad had his first heart attack in 1959. They beat the Lakers in the Finals the year our new high school opened in '62, and again in April of '63 when my sister Joan was married. They beat the Lakers in the Finals the year my brother Bill graduated from high school (1965), which was the same year my sister Mary graduated from college. They beat the Lakers in the Finals in '66, two days after my parents celebrated their silver wedding anniversary. They beat the Lakers in the Finals when I went out on my first date in 1968 (Dad drove), and again in '69 when my sister Ann scored 30 points in the Wachusett League championship game.

That was it for a while. A generation came and went. We grew up, finished school, got jobs, and got married before the Celtics and Lakers met again. Then came the 1980s. My children were born in 1984, 1985, and 1987 - and the Celtics played the Lakers in the Finals every one of those years. New memories. Many of them personal.

Red Auerbach gave me a box of cigars (probably a violation of Globe policy now) when Sarah Shaughnessy was born in the middle of the conference finals in May of '84. Dutch Masters Corona De Luxe. Red received a lot of free cigars in those days. He smoked Hoyo de Monterreys and gave away the Dutch Masters, which was OK with me.

Those are the personal memories. Associations. A Celtics-Lakers series can transport you back in time the way a song can take you back to a middle school dance. Or the way the smell of freshly baked cookies can put you back in your mom's kitchen 30 years ago.

Shared memories are altogether different. They are captured on microfilm, photographs, and video archives. We all see the same thing.

We see a box score authenticating the fact that only 8,195 watched the Celtics and Lakers at the Old Garden in the first game of the Finals in '59. We see Frank Selvy's shot clang off the rim, sending Game 7 into overtime instead of delivering a championship to Los Angeles in '62. We see Bob Cousy dribbling out the clock at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, then heaving the ball toward the rafters - the last moment of his career in 1963. We see the Celtics score 20 consecutive points against the Lakers in the Game 5 clincher in '65. We see John Volpe, the governor of Massachusetts, lighting Red's cigar at the end of Red's last game in '66. We see John Havlicek scoring 40 in the Game 6 clincher in LA in '68. We see Russell beating Wilt Chamberlain one last time in Russell's final game, at the Los Angeles Forum, in 1969. It's the final frozen frame in the greatest individual rivalry in the history of sports. The '69 ring is the one Red always wore.

Fast forward to 1984 and we see Cedric Maxwell walking across the foul lane and putting his hand to his throat after James Worthy missed a free throw. We see Kareem Abdul-Jabbar winning a world championship in the Old Garden in '85, the highlight of his long basketball life. We see Magic tossing the baby skyhook over McHale, Parish, and Bird in '87. The end of the golden days.

Already we have new shared moments from last night's renewal of this fabled rivalry. And the young people in our town who are seeing this for the first time will someday look back and remember Celtics-Lakers '08 and it'll remind them of an old girlfriend, a first apartment, or maybe a new baby.

Me? I still have the Dutch Masters Corona De Luxe box in my dusty office closet. It's full of double-A batteries. And memories.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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