In the late 1950s and '60s, the Celtics were the top basketball team in the nation, yet empty seats still checkered the stands during the NBA Finals and championship celebrations were little more than a nice dinner after the game, recalled Celtics legend Bob Cousy.
How things have changed.
This season, while the Celtics were playing to win their 17th NBA championship, even seats in the nosebleed section were golden. And yesterday, thousands of fans flocked to the TD Banknorth Garden to pay tribute to the team for winning its first title in 22 years.
As the NBA has become more popular, victory parties for the Celtics have evolved. First the post-game street parties. Then congratulatory ceremonies with the mayor. Then came the parades.
"Our situation was so Mickey Mouse compared with what goes on today, both in television and the fans," said Cousy, who joined other Celtics aboard a duck boat for yesterday's parade. "But that didn't mean we didn't enjoy it every bit as much as these guys."
Here is a recap of some of the sweet - and not-so-sweet - victory moments the Celtics have seen during their reign:
The Celtics had a blowout victory parade in 1969 after winning their 11th championship in 13 years. The crowd at City Hall Plaza cheered for retiring guard Sam Jones for a solid two minutes while he was honored by the city.
A plane circling over the parade in 1974, when the Celtics raked in their 12th title, dragged a sign that read "Boston salutes the Boston Celtics - You're on top of the world."
After the Celtics earned their 13th trophy in 1976, JoJo White, the most valuable player of the Finals spoke to the screaming crowd at City Hall Plaza. "I just want to say one thing," he said. "How sweet it is." And with that, their cheers became a thundering roar.
When the Celtics picked up their 14th championship in 1981, a rivalry between Celtics' Larry Bird and Moses Malone of the Houston Rockets made headlines when Bird stood before 500,000 fans at the City Hall celebration and said "Moses Malone does eat [expletive]," responding to Malone's taunts during the Finals that four friends from his hometown could beat the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics received a nod from President Ronald Reagan after winning their 15th title in 1984. The players filed onto the White House lawn, where Red Auerbach, then the team's general manager, gave Reagan a Celtics jacket.
In 1986, after the Celtics won their 16th championship, Larry Bird held the trophy and addressed the fans at City Hall Plaza. "We as a team feel we got the greatest team ever assembled here," he said. "Hopefully, we can prove it by getting back-to-back championships."
Bird didn't get his wish, but yesterday, the trophy was back in Boston.
Jonnelle Marte can be reached at email@example.com.