May 13, 2010

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LONGSHOTS: Anniversaries remind Reed and Russell were two of a kind
by Dave Long

There are certain things that make an impression on you that lasts forever. Two sports events that made such impressions on me had anniversaries that snuck up on me last week.

One was the final game played by the great Bill Russell 41 years ago. That’s when the limping, wheezing Celtics summoned the guile accumulated in winning 10 titles in 12 years to win number 13 over the heavily favored Lakers in L.A. A team with Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain owned three of the spots on the NBA’s all-time starting five.

The other was, gulp, the 40th anniversary of the famous “Willis Reed” game, which thankfully ESPN was all over — otherwise I’d have missed it, and for me that would have been a tragedy. It took place a year later against those same Lakers when, despite a torn muscle in his hip, Reed and my Knicks won the decisive Game Seven at, as they say in NYC, the real garden — Madison Square. Given the relative success in that one vs. the one in Boston I’m not sure that claim stands up, but that is what New Yawkers say about MSG. For reasons that I will say later, the Reed game is the greatest sports moment I have ever had and I can tell you if I live to be 726 nothing will ever be close.

Both were juxtaposed against a Celtics loss Friday to LeBron and company that only served to heighten the sting of their — I’ll be kind — putrid non-effort in such a BIG game. It was a truly epic no-show by all, especially for captain Paul Pierce, whose mind seemed to be someplace in the ozone. For someone who’s admired effort, toughness and those who rise to the occasion when it arrives since he first began watching sports, it was infuriating to see. And while I may have overreacted, it comes from the same place that was so thoroughly struck while watching and learning from Russell and Reed as they played. 

In truth, I’ve seen more of Russell on film after the fact than live, since I was pretty young through much of his career. But I did see that final game. And it does seem fitting to point out a day after Mother’s Day I only got to see it because of my mom. She let me stay up for that 11 p.m.-in-the-east start time because she knew how important it was to her little boy to see it — though it only happened after my agent cut an 11th-hour deal to take a nap after I got home from school.

It wasn’t that he won that game that struck me. It’s that he ALWAYS won. And while you can say it was easier to win in those days because the playoffs went two rounds until late in his career instead of today’s grueling four rounds, what you can’t take away is that he was 21-0 in winner-take-all final games dating back to college, where he won two NCAA titles with San Francisco and 60 straight games. Or that they started winning the DAY he arrived and stopped the day he left. No one can say that — even Jordan, though Magic was close in L.A. And in my opinion, that makes him the greatest player ever in ANY sport. Better than the Babe, Jordan, Tiger or anyone else you can think of.

The Reed game is legendary in NBA circles, but unless you were in New York in early May 1970 and a Knicks fan in May 1970 you can’t understand what it really meant ’cause you can’t feel it as I do even now. That’s how people could incorrectly liken Pierce’s wheelchair ride off and quick return to Reed’s story. Most chalked Phil Jackson smirking at that notion as mind games from the Lakers coach. I knew it was because he was Reed’s teammate that night and understood its magnitude.

It’s like today’s generation trying to comprehend The Beatles taking America by storm. They may know the story, but not what it felt like as Beatlemania crept into everyday life by changing hairstyles, fashion, politics and they way the young looked at the world. The closest thing I’ve seen was watching The Nation as Curt Schilling pulled a Willis with the bloody sock as the Sox ended the curse.  

The only difference was The Nation always had doubts, where EVERYONE in New York was convinced, with Russell gone, the Knicks were going to win. There was a feeling their time had come, after a climb from the cellar that started when Reed joined the team six years earlier. People who think winning is the only thing will never get it. It was like watching your kids grow up from a 31-49 team to the one that nearly derailed Russell’s final Celtics in the conference finals. And that’s what made it so special

It all followed the script perfectly. Thanks to a then NBA record 18-game winning streak, they bolted from the gate 23-1 and cruised home as Reed won MVP of the All-Star game and the regular season. They beat Baltimore and Milwaukee to make the finals. Then with the series tied at two and down 10 in the first period of Game 5, Reed went down. Somehow they rallied to win, but Wilt dominated Game 6, scoring 45 and grabbing 27 rebounds, and it was clear if Willis also missed Game 7 they were dead.

In the two days leading to Game Seven every Knicks fan was on pins and needles. It stayed that way until they heard Marv Albert say on the radio right before game time, “And here comes WILLIS!” The place went wild, as did Tommy Kelly’s basement, where I was watching. He limped on to make the first two baskets. It shot energy through the Garden like a lightning bolt to inspire his teammates and the crowd, whose energy lifted them even further, and it was over at 4-0. Walt Frazier scored 36 and had 19 assists, but Reed with his four points was the MVP without question.

It’s my most cherished sports memory, because that night taught me about responsibility to teammates and fans who care as much about what happens as the players do — a lesson I never forget. Willpower and desire are what I admire most. I guess that’s why I was so bothered by the way Pierce played on Friday night and until the end on Sunday. He’s certainly played in pain before and had his share of huge games — like his epic Game Seven duel with LeBron two years ago. So I suppose he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Dave Long can be reached at dlong@hippopress.com. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.


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4/15/2010 Five stories for the price of one on That Was the Week That Was
4/8/2010 The Nation makes a pitch for having best staff in baseball
4/1/2010 Offense the biggest question as Sox open 2010
3/25/2010 Dancing withthe stars in the NCAA tournament
3/18/2010 Mixed bag on Nomar's Red Sox retirement
3/11/2010 Are Sox spinning on the new move to defense
3/4/2010 Mail bags talks of Pats, Celts and the Olympics
2/25/2010 Tigers tail between his legs amid vast public attention
2/18/2010 This and that as the curtain goes up on other stuff besides football
2/11/2010 This and that as the curtain comes down on football
2/4/2010 Peyton's place in historical pecking order on the line Sunday
1/28/2010 The all-decade choices — Part II
1/21/2010 The 2000s decade gets a last blast from the past
1/14/2010 Patriots marching toward an off-season rebuild
1/7/2010 Questions abound as second season arrives for Pats
12/31/2009 Numbers tell the story for 2009 in review
12/24/2009 Holiday presents for the sports naughty and nice
12/17/2009 Life can be like riding a tiger by the tail
12/10/2009 The mailbag beckons in a busy week
12/3/2009 Is hot stove turning into ho seat for Theo?
11/26/2009 Thanks and turkeys are the usual holiday fare this time of year
11/19/2009 Belichick's fourth-down cal lconfounds Patriot Nation
11/12/2009 the mid-year report for the NFL
11/05/2009 Ducks on the pond as Oregon drowns USC title hopes
10/29/2009 Run for the title looks in store for Celtics
10/22/2009 Mt. Rushmore of Patriots moments
10/15/2009 Changes I'd like to see happen
10/8/2009 Predictable ending to 2009 baseball prediction game
10/1/2009 Bay watch on for Sox MVP
9/24/2009 Pitch count police trigger another dreamlike episode
9/17/2009 The mailbags open for business
9/10/2009 Pats now see more clearly what needs to be done for '09
9/3/2009 On the shrink's couch in a near francoma
8/27/2009 Random thoughts and big refrigerator magnets
8/20/2009 Sixty-one years later and Ruth's still in the conversation8/13/2009 Empire strikes back during annual visit
8/6/2009 Ortiz and Manny's steroid story tests fans as well
7/30/2009 Trading places not as simple as "I'll take the old guy"7/23/2009 Mailbag delivers some interesting questions and answers
7/16/2009 Random thoughts for a lazy summer day
7/9/2009 Season's second half is when it'll get interesting for the Sox
7/2/2009 Declaring independence of how others play the game
6/25/2009 Finding the right plan is as easy as A, B, C with Celtics
6/18/2009 A great experience came in the Knick of time
6/11/2009 Ripping key to Rodney's broadcast success?
6/4/2009 The Mt. Rushmores of the red Sox-Yankees rivalry
5/28/2009 First-place Sox are making the grade
5/21/2009 NBA rivalries have no rival in other team sports
5/14/2009 Lying from baseball's Pinocchio prompts questions
5/7/2009 Celtics bull their way into round two — finally!
4/30/2009 Tanked from the headlines, the Fenway series yanks it back
4/23/2009 Draft winds blow NFL teams to make interesting decisions
4/16/2009 Spring cleaning of a cluttered sports mind
4/9/2009 Red Sox Nation springs back to life
4/2/2009 Climbing sports Mt. Rushmore
3/26/2009 Mount Rushmore offerings and other spring thoughts
3/19/2009 B-Ball, Coach B and Baseball in the mailbag today
3/12/2009 Great talent a rush but not all it's cracked up to be
3/5/2009 In Bill we still trust?
2/26/2009 A mountain over this molehill
2/19/2009 Steroids muscle in on game's strength
2/12/2009 Bonner bombs away on Cs in garden party homecoming
2/5/2009 Nation's angst ends as V-Tek says what the heck and rejoins flock
1/29/2009 Super Bowl Sunday brings to mind past and present
1/22/2009 The elusive quality of greatness is the topic of the day
1/15/2009 Spring cleaning of the sports mind a little early
1/8/2009 Will hall have Rice on the menu come July
1/1/2009 Predictions and wants for the year ahead
12/25/2008 A look in the rear view mirror at 2008
12/18/2008 The Pats' playoff run and new Yankees contracts make big news
12/11/2008 Random thoughts and associations
12/4/2008 Pats should consider options when it comes to Cassel and Brady
11/27/2008 Putting the thanks in Thanksgiving
11/20/2008 News of the week has people talking
11/13/2008 Cassel's in the clouds compared to early expectations11/6/2008 Mail bag delivers some interesting questiont10/30/2008"Yankees Suck" - like mentality fuels political discontent10/23/2008 No ray of hope as season closes in Tampa Bay
10/16/2008 Going to the nines a thing of the past
10/9/2008 C-eeing some interesting stories unfold this week
10/2/2008 "How come?" is the main question of the day
9/25/2008 Observations on baseball in 2008
9/18/2008 If I were a QB, a DB, a stat geek or a soccer mom ...
9/11/2008 After disaster Brady's bunch won't pass on season
9/4/2008 Pats start off with high expectation and some concerns
8/28/2008 A race to the finish to take all month long
8/21/2008 National news items of interest for local folks
8/14/2008 A little of this and that from the good side of sports pile
8/7/2008 Manny happy returns from the Evil Empire
7/31/2008 Manny being Manny - the sequel Part XXXII
7/24/2008 Open the mail bag for some Red Sox questions
7/17/2008 Hall-worthy or not the latest question on Schilling
7/10/2008 Baseball season has actually started
7/03/2008 UL editorial in denial — stop the presses
6/26/2008 Boston turnaround makes NBA green with envy
6/19/2008 Letters from the NBA finals
6/12/2008 A Father's Day letter to dad
6/5/2008 Twenty-one and six are the lucky numbers for the Cs
5/29/2008 Sometimes a bat is just a bat
5/22/2008 Some questions for folks right up there in the front row
5/15/2008 Numbers don't add up to supposed Fenway
5/8/2008 Cavalier attitude nearly derails first meeting with LeBron
5/1/2008 I'm so old,I remember ...
4/24/2008 Sox Line-ups, Celtics and ESPN investigations are in the mail bag
4/17/2008 Show me the way to that All-Star Game
4/10/2008 For C'ing a great time ahead as playoffs arrive this spring
4/3/2008 Bill James and the stats for 2008 — Take Two
3/27/2008 Drowning in the NCAA office pool
3/20/2008 Whether forecast is right or not is the question
3/13/2008 Comment sparks wonder over just what I did
3/6/2008 New hires, new trades in pro sports
2/28/2008 Celtics issues far from black and white in the early days
2/21/2008 Congressional ineptitude muscles in on steroid hearings
2/14/2008 Basketball rounds into form under the cover of Pats football
2/7/2008 A giant win leaves Patriots fans feeling blue
1/31/2008 Foxboro lads earn pats on the back, and old Celtics mystique makes sense
1/24/2008 Mail bag asks about Rice, the hall and wild-eyed liberals
1/17/2008 Peyton manning the fort back home as Pats take on Chargers
1/10/2008 Grumpy old Dolphins are lost at sea on this one
1/3/2008 The primary concern is getting a clear picture
12/27/2007 The annual sports awards close out 2007
12/20/2007 Holiday gifts for the deserving and not so deserving
12/13/2007 Jets land in Foxboro as pat go number 14
12/06/2007 To include or not to include Ellsbury — that is the questione
11/29/2007 Yanked from the sports pages in the Big Apple
11/22/2007 Here's what I'm thankful for at Thanksgiving
11/15/2007 Waiting game leads to a series of random thoughts
11/8/2007 OK — it's week nine and I'm ready to talk
11/1/2007 Finally a little shut-eye for a sleep deprived nation
10/25/2007 A rocky mountain high for Red Sox Nation
10/18/2007 Time to go to the mailbag
10/112007 Who'd more popular, Patriots or Red Sox
10/4/2007 IA weekend chock full of nuts, chokes and great moments
9/27/2007 I hate to say I told you so...
9/20/2007 Media and fan bias shades the severity of sports crime
9/13/2007 All round baseball week starts with a look at leaders
9/6/2007 It's Superbowl or bust for Pats in 2007
8/30/2007 The race is on as baseball enters September
8/23/2007 Spine vs. lack of spine theme for school board debate
8/16/2007 Time for thoughts from the summer mailbag
8/9/2007 Will this three make it big in Boston?
8/2/2007 Trading places all in a day's work for Boston GMs
7/26/2007 Getting out of a slump; an ameteur golfer can feel Sox' pain
7/19/2007 Does second chance guarantee a great outcome?
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7/5/2007 Brown Monster a big Fisher Cat hit
6/28/2007 Rambling along with some random thoughts
6/21/2007 The future is now for the C's come Thursday night
6/14/2007 Homers create bonds among fans for generations
6/07/2007 Sox win by losing two of three this weekend
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5/24/2007 Down 2-0 M’s for playoff payoff
5/17/2007 Baseballs' conventional wisdom is for the birds
5/10/2007 The Rocket lands in Gotham during Monarchs' playoff break
5/3/2007 Raiders say "No Moss" in fight with talented wideout
4/26/2007 A little history on the ancient Sox and Yanks rivalry
4/19/2007 Lessons to be learned from Robinson, Monarchs and I-Man
4/12/2007 A few questions for the sports gods
4/5/2007 Stanton his case on a variety of current topics
3/29/2007 Sox spring back into action on Monday
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3/15/2007 The madness of March kicks off on Thursday
3/8/2007 Jumping through hoops after an odd season
3/1/2007 A trip to the mail bag for Hippo Sports
2/22/2007 Six degrees of Muhammed Ali
2/15/2007 Monarchs rule as streak reaches 12
2/8/2007 Talking a good game ahead on all-sports WGAM
2/1/2007 Manning the Super Bowl watch more difficult in '07
1/25/2007 Winning and what else matters in college coaching
1/18/2007 ESPN polls are fanning the flames of national lunacy
1/11/2007 Patriots marching to MIami promised land
1/4/2007 Predictions for 2007
12/28/2006 REcognizing the best on the national front
12/21/2006 Present under the tree for all
12/14/2006 Mailbag open for busines at a time filled with questions
12/07/2006 Lions and Gators and Bears, oh my
11/30/2006 Does Fenway frankness roll to the negative side?
11/23/2006 Turkeys and thanks as the big day arrives
11/16/2006 Green-around-the-gills Celts looking to earn some respect
11/9/2006 Blame game reaches new local low
11/2/2006 A week of highs and lows in sport
10/26/2006 Curses! The U is foiled again
10/19/2006 Time for a trip to the sports mailbag
10/12/2006 U turns Granite Stare around on football
10/05/2006 James' gang riding into town to face the Celtics
09/28/2006 Words to describe a lost Red Sox season
09/21/2006 Football Friday can't stack up to Saturday
09/14/2006 A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
09/07/2006 Usual pat choice to win AFC East questioned
08/31/2006 Whining won't yank AL East away from NY
08/24/2006 Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
08/17/2006 Trash talking abounds in the Empire over Sox and Pats
08/10/2006 Monarchs call press conference to crown new leader
08/03/2006 Deadly Fenway duo leave mark on history
07/27/2006 Word of the wise gets lost in sports translation
07/20/2006 Looking beyond the Big Three
07/13/2006 Cream rises to the top of baseball talk at the Dot
07/06/2006 Greetings and salutations toThe Nation at mid-year
06/29/2006 Being dealt is a consequence of the trade
06/22/2006 A year later, Boudreau's cup runneth over
06/15/2006 See dogs and cats battle for a different fan experience
06/08/2006 Not Bad Anymore league makes a comeback
06/01/2006 Luck goes Sox way with Lowell in Massachusetts
05/25/2006 Pitching in to help the Sox trade a few places
05/18/2006 Going to school by cutting Red Sox payroll
05/11/2006 Columnist blows his mind; here are the results
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04/27/2006 Regular crowd nowhere to be found come playoff time
04/20/2006 Questions and answers from the mailbag
04/13/2006 Local sports teams spring into action
04/06/2006 Predictable Red Sox season lies ahead
03/30/2006 Analyzing this and that as Pats roster shrinks
03/23/2006 A week of following the bouncing balls
03/16/2006 The beginning of four days of basketball bliss
03/09/2006 Many miss the central point of the story
03/02/2006 Better late than never to jump through local hoops
02/23/2006 Celtic green means raw, not envy as it once did
02/16/2003 An issue that is all black and white
02/09/2006 Nomar curses from the UL's Sullivan
02/02/2006 Super memories from 40 years of watching the big game
01/26/2006 A certain uniformity to the inquiries in the mailbag
01/19/2006 Sudden end to Pats' season leave just one thing to do
01/12/2006 Pats on the back for the football team
01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Hero’s death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The Demonization of Johnny Damon
Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat