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Dan Shaughnessy

Smoke and mirrors

Red takes me through his looking glass

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / June 10, 2008

It was dark, hot, and late. It was long after midnight. Even some of the all-night convenience stores were closed. The Celtics' 6-point Game 2 win was in the books, I was scheduled to fly out of Boston at 6:39 a.m., and there was nowhere to go and nothing to do until Logan opened for business.

It seemed like a good time to take a walk through an empty Faneuil Hall marketplace. The bars were closed, the crowds long gone, and there was no sign of life save for a couple of pigeons cooing and pecking at some spilled popcorn.

I strolled through the arcade between the Quincy Market building and the South Market and took a seat next to the bronze statue of the bald guy with the cigar wedged into the fist of his right hand.

"What a night," I said to myself, staring across the brick walkway.

"No fooling. I had this thing all lit up when we were up by 24, then those damn Lakers came back and cut it to 2."

I looked around. I felt like Ray Kinsella walking through his cornfield, or Dorothy after she heard the voice of the scarecrow. Was this the statue talking. Was it really the voice of the Celtic godfather?

"That you, Red?" I asked the statue.

"Yeah," he said. "Thanks for stopping by. Larry Bird teased me when this statue was dedicated - saying I'd be here all alone with pigeons sitting on my head - and he was right. There's people here all day long, taking pictures, girls sitting in my lap, all that stuff. But at night it gets pretty lonely."

"Wow," I said, shaking my head, no longer noticing how much I was sweating in the humid darkness. "It's good to talk with you again, Red. We've all been thinking about how great it would be if you had lived to see this. I mean, they dedicated the season to you last year and only won 24 games. Now this. A chance for a championship. Against the Lakers. You've got to be loving this."

"You bet your ass I'm loving it. It's been a long, long time. We never really recovered after the Len Bias thing, you know. Then Reggie died and that weasel Pitino came in and took me off the masthead and Stern put the screws to us to make sure we stayed down as long as possible. It hasn't been easy, I'll tell you."

He was rolling. It seemed like a good time to ask a Phil Jackson question. Asking Red about Jackson was always like asking Don Zimmer about Glenn Ordway.

"Did you hear Jackson complaining about the officials tonight?" I ventured.

"You're [expletive] right I did. Typical crybaby. I never liked the guy. We got off to a bad start because he played for the Knicks. Then he started winning championships - only because he inherited great teams that had already been assembled. Jordan got him six rings. Then he goes to LA and wins with Shaq and Kobe. How tough is that? Now he's tied with me with nine championships and I need Doc and my guys to stop him.

"Hey, I retired from the bench when I was 48. Do you know how many championships I could have won if I'd stuck around? I remember when everybody made a big deal out of Jose Canseco being a 40-40 guy - 40 homers and 40 steals. And Mickey Mantle said, 'Heck, if I knew they were gonna make a big deal out of that, I'd have done it every year.' Well, that's me and Jackson right there.

"And now he's complaining about his team not getting to the free throw line. It's their own fault. They're soft! Try getting dirty one time. How 'bout a couple of floor burns? Did you see how many times we picked up an offensive rebound - off the floor? Jackson's got no beef with officials. He should go back and look at some film and see what Sid Borgia and Mendy Rudolph used to do to us."

"What else you got, Red?"

"Well, this series brings back a lot of memories for me. I think we can win it in LA, just like in '63 when Cooz dribbled out the clock at the old Sports Arena, and in '68 and '69 at the Forum. Remember all those damn balloons Jack Kent Cooke hung in the ceiling of the Forum? We always loved winning championships in LA and I see no reason we can't do it again.

"This kid Garnett reminds me of Russell at the defensive end. Great intensity. Pierce is a scorer as good as any I had, and Ray Allen shoots it like Sam Jones. I like what Danny's done with the bench, too. He's got good role players. Bringing in P.J. Brown reminds me a little of when I got Clyde Lovellette for some bench help at the end of his career in 1963-64.

"Oh, one last thing. I heard Stern saying I was in favor of this 2-3-2 format for the Finals. That's bull [expletive]. I was fine with the way it was when we beat the Lakers in '84 and I was the first to say that the 2-3-2 hurt us when we earned home court again in '85. We had to play Game 5 in Los Angeles. It's a horse [expletive] system and I never liked it from day one."

"Thanks, Red," I said as I stood up, grabbed my bag, and started for the street in search of a cab.

I looked back only once, and when I did, Red wasn't moving or talking. He was just . . . a statue. But I'm pretty sure I saw a wisp of smoke flutter from the tip of the bronze cigar in his hand.

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

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