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GAME 2: CELTICS 108, LAKERS 102 / FIRST PERSON

Parquet view

The son of a late Boston Celtics trainer recalls the days when he all but sat courtside to NBA history for Finals against L.A.

June 09, 2008|J.P. DeLauri | Times Staff Writer

The last time the Celtics and Lakers played for the NBA title, skinny ties and jean jackets were in fashion and the country believed in Reaganomics. Little did I know that three of those four things would go out of fashion, but I was there to witness one of the greatest rivalries in sports.

As a witness, I mean as close as you can get without being on court.

My father, Joe, was the Boston Celtics' trainer from 1966 to '72, the latter part of the Celtics' dynasty. When he died of a heart attack in 1992, he left me his two prized possessions, his 1968 and 1969 NBA championship rings, both earned by defeating the Lakers with Bill Russell as the Celtics' player-coach.

He repeatedly told the story of when Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke had balloons ready to drop from the Forum rafters for a Game 7 celebration in 1969. When Boston won, 108-106, ABC captured the moment -- now a fixture on ESPN Classic -- with my father running off court next to Russell as the team laughed its way out of L.A.

When going off to school, my father often gave me the best advice a kid could get:

"Don't ever let anyone tell you Wilt [Chamberlain] was better than Russell."

Boston was about world championships, not scoring championships, I quickly learned.

My father was always extended the welcome mat at the Boston Garden and was twice named the trainer for old-timers' games. Tickets were easy to come by in the late '70s, but when they became scarce in the early '80s, I was concerned he didn't have the clout anymore. Especially since Showtime was bringing its act to Boston.

I shouldn't have doubted him.

"I'll get you so close you'll be able to smell the sweat from the players," he yelled, turning red in the face.

He wasn't lying.

We were at Game 2 of the '84 Finals in about the third row. The intense crowd, the swift Lakers offense and the way Larry Bird would have his way on the perimeter was nothing I'd seen in those '70s games.

At halftime, when everyone else went for hot dogs, we went into the Celtics' locker room. After the players went back out my dad gave me a tour of where he used to keep the players pain-free.

On the way out we bumped into the Lakers trainer, Jack Curran, who had been there in the '60s. I thought it was cool that opposing trainers were old pals. Later on it looked as though our flashy West Coast visitors were going to spoil a perfect night. With seconds left, L.A. was about to take a 2-0 series lead with the next two games in Los Angeles. Then the ghost of Celtics past spooked the Lakers. James Worthy's cross-court pass was picked off by Gerald Henderson. He went in for a layup to force overtime. Boston won, 124-121.

A week later, my father didn't want to deal with another mob scene at the Garden, so he called the front office and got me and my friend Mike Norton press passes for Game 5. "Good luck," he said before we drove to the game. The passes got us in the building, but no specific seats.

We got there early and went courtside to watch warmups and look for a place to sit. I approached Celtics Coach K.C. Jones and team doctor Thomas Silva, both good friends of my father. "Tell your dad we said hello, but we can't help," is basically what they said.

As the building started to buzz, the ushers were out in force and it wasn't looking good.

"Take your seats guys," one of them said to us for about the third time.

We showed him our passes. But he said, "Upstairs."

"What do you mean, upstairs?" I said. "These are press passes."

"That's a general entrance press pass, upstairs, let's go," he said

I said to Mike, "Let's go to the other side of the court and see what we find."

That's when I spotted the Leprechaun. Then the "Spider," sweeper of the Garden's parquet floor, appeared.

"Where can we sit with these?" I asked him.

"How'd you get those?" he wondered.

"My father's the former trainer."

"Which one?"

"Joe DeLauri."

"You're Joe DeLauri's son?"

"Yes."

"Stay right there, I'll be right back."

Minutes later he returned with a couple folding wooden chairs and sat us in the front row behind the basket.

We were so close we could smell the sweat from the players.

As Boston took control in fourth quarter, the crowd could taste the title as the Celtics took a 3-2 lead. The chants of "Beat L.A" on a sweltering June night took their toll. The Lakers were away from their air-conditioned digs at the Forum, and the home-court advantage prevailed again.

Here's hoping this 2008 series will live up to images of those games.

--

jp.delauri@latimes.com

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