Hans Remembers- Monday May 5, 1969- Game 7 of the NBA Finals. The Boston Celtics had a 17 point lead with 10 minutes to go- but the Los Angeles Lakers a big scare in them down the stretch- going from being down 100-83 to getting within a single point 103-102 before the Celtics pulled it out 108-106. The Celtics ruled the NBA in the 1960-s out of the ten seasons they won nine titles- only losing in the 1966-67 season.
The Celtics at this point were an aging team. This victory would be the final game for player-coach Bill Russell who would retire as the greatest winner in American professional sports history. More on William Felton Russell later. The Celtics in 1968-69 had a record of 48-34- after the retirement of Russell they would go 34-48 without him. The Celtics would go four seasons before they won another championship. The Celtics winning in 1968-69 was a big upset- while they ruled the 1960’s at this point they were running on fumes. This was going to finally be the Lakers year. Game 7 as in Los Angeles and it would be the first time that a road team won Game 7 in the NBA Finals.
Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke made a big error going into Game 7. Anticipating the Lakers championship he ordered thousands of balloons with World Champion Lakers on them -and had them suspended in the rafters to be released at the end of the game. He had the USC Marching Band on hand to play “Happy Days Are Here Again” after the game. It was all lined up and ready to go. When Laker legend Jerry West walked onto the court and saw those balloons he was furious with Cooke – and Bill Russell walked up to West and told him’ Those f-in balloons are staying up there.”
Interesting comparing 50 years ago to 2019- yesterday was the anniversary of the finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs of 1969 and on this date the NBA finals. The NHL and NBA finished in early May- in 2019- well it will be nearing the middle of June before both sports end. I think it was better back then the playoffs last forever now.
Bill Russell. Being a sports fan all my life I have thought about this question before- If I could have had the career of any athlete whose career would I have wanted? I didn’t think too long on it- Babe Ruth would have been a strong contender- but when it comes down to it- Bill Russell is my answer. In three years in college at San Francisco Russell led the Dons to two National Championships in his three seasons. He was the best player on the 1956 Olympic gold medal team and in his thirteen seasons with the Boston Celtics- he was the central player on a team that won eleven championships in thirteen years. So in the end when you total it all up out of 17 possible championships- Russell helped his teams win 14 out of 17. As I mentioned he was the central player- the key player on all those teams not just a player who happened to be on the right teams at the right time. Before Russell the Celtics had never won a championship. Sure the Celtics over his career had other great players- one player doesn’t win alone but also over the years players came and went- the one constant was Bill Russell. There was only one statistic Bill Russell cared out- wins.