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Celtics Legends Series: Celtics vs Lakers 1969 game 7

Posted by shawn cassidy on August 27, 2011 at 10:00 AM

It's back again! I promise to post more on the Celtics legends series.

NBA games were televised on weekends before May 5, 1969, but there was not enough viewer interest for stations to carry games on weekdays in primetime.  I can't imagine watching a  NBA finals taped. That changed with Game Seven of the 1969 championship series between Boston and Los Angeles. The ABC broadcast sent a signal to the country that professional basketball had come of age. Pro sports of today will thrive with under today's market. With the culture of Tivo,or DVR the ads that run during your favorite shows are missed now because of the abiltiy to fast forward. In pro sports the majority of fans want to watch live,and so the ads will bring in major money. Now back to the 1969 Finals.

It was a game the Celtics were supposed to lose. The average age of the team was 32 and it had suffered the ignominy of finishing fourth in the Eastern Division before squeaking into the finals. Los Angeles, in contrast, had dominated the West with an unprecedented concentration of offensive power in the figures of Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, and Wilt Chamberlain, the Babe Ruth of basketball and nemesis of Celtics player-coach Bill Russell.Wilt only beat the Celtics once,and he was a 76er at the time.

The series opened in LA and the Lakers won the first two games. Jerry West, whom Russell decided not to double-team, scored 53 points in the first game and 41 in the second. The Celtics managed to win the next two contests at the Garden, including an 89-88 victory in Game Four on a buzzer-shot by Sam Jones from the top of the key. The teams split the next pair of games to send the series back to the Forum in LA for resolution.

That was where the owner of the Lakers committed one of the more memorable blunders in NBA history. With LA favored by 3 points, Jack Kent Cooke prepared and publicized a meticulous plan to celebrate his team’s impending victory. Fans arrived on May 5 to discover that thousands of purple and gold balloons had been suspended from the Forum’s rafters with fishnet. They also found fliers on their seats outlining the proceedings in some detail lest they fail to grasp the big picture: “When the Lakers win the championship, the USC Marching Band will play ‘Happy Days Are Here Again.’ Balloons in the rafters will fall down. And Chick Hearn will interview Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, and Wilt Chamberlain.”

Jerry West was angry when he saw the balloons. Celtics broadcaster Johnny Most read the flier to Hearn before the game and the legendary Lakers announcer prophesied: “It’s dumb, that’s what it is. I can imagine what Russell is going to say to his team about this nonsense.” True enough, Cooke had given Russell the perfect theme for his pre-game address and he used it to good effect: “One thing that cannot happen, the Lakers cannot beat us. It’s not something that can happen. But it will be fun watching the Lakers get those balloons out one at a time.”

The aging and aching Celtics outran, out-rebounded, and outscored their opponents. Sixth man Don Nelson scored 12 points in the third quarter to give his team a 91-76 lead. LA made a run in the fourth but Boston held on to win the championship, 108-106.

Jerry West was named series MVP, the only time a member of the losing team has earned the accolade. He averaged 38 points during the series and scored 42 points along with 13 rebounds and 12 assists in Game 7. Following the game, the Celtics tried to console him. As Russell held his hand, John Havlicek told him, “Jerry, I love you.”

Chamberlain injured his leg on his 27th rebound and left the game with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. A minute later, he indicated to Butch Van Breda Kolff that he was ready to play again but the coach, who felt his center was egotistical and more concerned about personal statistics than the team, left him on the bench in a move designed to humiliate him. Following the game, VBK would tell reporters the Lakers were doing just fine without their superstar. Chamberlain would say VBK was the dumbest coach he had ever seen.

After grabbing 19 rebounds and blocking numerous shots, Bill Russell was exhausted physically and emotionally. The game was the 165th playoff contest of his career. Three months later, Boston’s peerless leader would announce his retirement and close the book on what ABC broadcaster Chris Schenkel called ‘the greatest sports dynasty in the history of athletics.” The Celtics won 11 championships during Russell’s 13 seasons in Boston and were 10 for 10 in Game 7s.

The 11 titles in 13 years will never be duplicated,and the thought of it still is amazing.

Categories: Celtics Legends Series

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