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Scott Ostler

Being Easy to Take Is Just the Problem for the Fans of L.A.

May 26, 1985|Scott Ostler

In attempting to jump-start my writing glands for this story, I dug into the filing cabinet and pulled out a dusty old folder la "Lakers vs. Celtics."

In the back of the file were some notes from a story I wrote six years ago. The subject Frank (Pops) Selvy's shot.

You kids back there in Boston, if you haven't heard about Pops Selvy's shot, you probably haven't heard about Paul Revere's ride. Bjust in case, a quick review:

It's 1962, seventh game of the NBA final, Lakers vs. Celtics in the Garden. score, four seconds left.

Selvy, a journeyman Laker guard who once scored 100 points in a college game, takes a pass on the left baseline and quickly goes up with a 15-foot jumper. If this were golf, the shot would be a gimme. The shot is maybe an inch short. It bounces away into the hands of Bill Russell.

The Celtics win in overtime.

When I phoned Selvy nearly two decades later, he bristled at being placed bac in the scapegoat limelight.

Selvy pointed out that he had scored the Lakers' last four points in regulation time. I looked it up. One was a kni driving layup over Russell.

But I think Pops understood that when you're talking Lakers vs. Celtics from an L.A. viewpoint, you don't dwell much on the positive aspec because there aren't any.

I'm painfully aware of that. I'm supposed to be a funny writer, one of those cute, clever guys who can fin fun in any sporting situation.

But I grew up in L.A. as a Laker fan, and even though I'm now a detached, objective observer, I can't shake the memories. I can't be funny in the of this sobering fact: 7 and 0.

Or, as we look at it o here on the West Coast: 0 and 7.

Oh and seven!

As Fran Tarkenton wo say, "That's incredible."

As James Brown would scream i agony: "Good gawd, y'all!"

But do we really care? From letters and calls I received from the Greater Boston area after a recent column, where I lashed out at everything from the Celtics' ugly shoes to Red's cigar, I know how you folk feel about the fans in L.A.

You think we're all sun-addled airheads who go to Laker games to dig the dancing girls and slap cool five with JNicholson in the Forum Club.

And to an extent, this is true. However, there are also some people out here, Jack Nicholson included, who know a little about the game and are capable of taking it seriously, especially it is Lakers vs. Celtics.

I'll use Chick Hearn to illustrate this point. Chick has been the Lakers radio and TV broadcaster since the team came west. Chick blow-dries his hair, has a glib and hip broadcast style, wears expensive clothes and has appeared in hu of movies and TV shows.

Mr. Hollywood, right? Some people even call him Chickie Baby to his face. Yet when it comes to being in sync with the subtle rhythms of the NBA game, and to being tied to the spiritual soul of a team, Chickie Baby matches anything you've got in Boston,the booth or in the stands.

There are others out here. Real fans. Maybe not as loud and loony as the fans Boston, but fans down deep.

They look at that 0 and 7, and there is pain and embarrassment. Suffering, even. There is also talk of jinxes hexes and unfair bounces.

Not that anyone out here lets the Lakers off easy. They've ma some of their own breaks.

For instance: With Jerry West and Elgin Baylor on the floor, how was it that Pops Selvy winds up taking the most c shot in basketball history?

And, what the hell was then-Laker owner Jack Kent Cooke thinking when he taunted and motivated the Celtics in Game 7, 1969, by filling the Forum rafters with balloons and having a college band waiting in the wings for th big celebration that never came?

Oh, ye gods of the hoop, how can we make amends f these and other blunders?

Can we bring back Pops Selvy to the Garden today, just before tip-off, and let him try that shot one more time?

Will you accept a written apology, notarized by the Pope, from Jack Ke Cooke, for the balloons?

Can we call this series a brand new ballgame, with a new cast of characters, all jinx and hexes expired and voided?

No, we know better. There's nothing new in this series. This is Part 8 in a continuing drama. The Celtics are still the tough guys, from Russell and Heinsohn to Bird and Maxwell. The Lakers are still the showtime pretty boys, from Elgin a Jerry to Magic and Kareem.

More than any other teams in any other sport, the Lakers and Celtics have carried their traditions and styles nearly int through a quarter-century.

And the most enduring and agonizing trad of all is this one: 0 and 7.

What if Pops Selvy had hit that shot? Auerbach himself said after the game that the victory would serve as a huge psychological boost his team in future seasons.

Tom Hawkins, a reserve forward on that Laker team, said years later: "That shot could have ch the history of the NBA."

More historical lore, kids: After that final game in '62, the Lakers sat glumly in the visitors' locker room. Center Ray Felix, who had forgotten that this was Game 7, t to cheer up his teammates.

"Don't worry, guys," Felix sa "We'll get 'em tomorrow."

In this series the Lakers will be emphasizing the present, de-emphasizing history. Maybe they will even succeed in playing 'em one at a time, forg about '84 and '62 and so on.

But please be aware, good people of Boston, that out here on the funny coast, where the surf rolls gently in and the beachside homes roll gently out, where happiness is a clean Mercedes, a lot of people who have better things to do are busy praying for Pops Selvy's salvation and for Ray Felix's tomorrow.

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