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February 22nd, 2007

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05:39 pm - #3
The best NBA starting five in history, in this humble New Englander's opinion, was of course the 1985-1986 Celtics' five: Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parrish, Danny Ainge, and Dennis Johnson (whom we all called DJ cause, you know, initials and all.) They didn't just win, they dominated. Bird scored over 2110 points that season alone and easily earned the MVP.

Of course, Bill Walton (Sixth Man of the Year), Scott Wedman, and Jerry Sichting helped, forming a solid bench and all, leading the Celtics to a .817 year (67 out of 82 games won -- only fifteen lost!) and an easily-won championship banner. It's the last banner that was raised in the old Garden, and the most recent banner in a new venue which wasn't even a gleam in a city planner's eye then.

I'm only mentioning this not to brag about the past or to bemoan the team's inability to enjoy even a .500 season anymore (10 ignoble finishes in the past 19 years, and they're heading full-speed towards that eleventh.)

I'm writing this because Dennis Johnson has died at the age of 52. Coach of the Austin Toros (a team in the NBA's "Development League" -- their version of the minor leagues), DJ died on the court, collapsing after a practice.

It's a blow to those of us who followed, grew up with, loved and wore the Celtics green (was there any other shade of green?) in the 80s. The needless death of Len Bias and the tragic death of Reggie Lewis proved to us that the team itself wasn't infallible, but nevertheless, our 85-86 starting five were immortal.

Bird. McHale. The Chief. Ainge. DJ.

One by one, our heroes fall. Their numbers are retired, hoisted to the rafters in a misty-eyed ceremony, then left up to collect dust and occasionally get shaken out before the start of a new season. The heroes themselves may live on further, but we don't remember their importance, their impact, their lay-up of Bird's stolen pass to win Game 5 of the 1987 Conference finals -- we don't consciously remember any of that.

We only get reminded when we're told that they're gone. That they've fallen.

Rest in peace, #3. If I were the type to make comments about hobnobbing in heaven, I'd say I hope you're up there now with Red, sharing a cigar (it's ok; they're not bad for you up there) and laughing about the days long gone.

bonus question: without looking, can you name the one player out of that starting five whose number has not been retired?

(6 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:February 23rd, 2007 01:22 am (UTC)
Larry Bird, fearless 33. Instantly knew via his CelticSense where all four of his teammates were and could pass the ball to them unerringly. Over the top, through the legs, behind the back. Didn't matter. Not to mention that he won several three point shot competitions.

Kevin McHale, any-shot-will-do 32. There aren't too many players ever who had truly perfected the hook shot or the fall-away field goal, but McHale was one of them. Always in the paint right when he needed be, he was Mister Offensive Rebound before the Celtics decided not to go for those anymore when K.C. Jones retired.

Robert Parish, Stolid Double Zero. You could not block him, you could not shoot around him. If he was on you, you might as well just hand him the ball and get it over with. With speed uncanny for his height of seven feet and change, he was more than capable of finishing fast breaks fed to him from the back court. His shots from outside the paint redefined "hang time".

Danny Ainge, the young 44. His accurate passing in the field and effortless three-pointers made the whole court seem smaller. Most unwisely traded by the Celtics to the Sacramento Kings (who?!?) for a Joe Kleine who did all right for a while.

But DJ... man, he did it all. Defense. Offense. Passing. Lay-ups. Three points! Foul shots. Described by most as intelligent, fearsome and unselfish, #3 rounded out the Fab Five, the Dream Team for two championships and a decade of edge-of-your-seat B-ball. We miss you but hope you're well on the great parquet floor in the sky.
[User Picture]
Date:February 23rd, 2007 08:53 pm (UTC)
He also had one more title than everyone else, having brought the Sonics to the top in '80.
[User Picture]
Date:February 23rd, 2007 01:26 am (UTC)
Was that the year they won every single home game?

Any time I hear about a healthy person suddenly dying at 52, I get upset. I'm not that much younger than DJ.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:February 23rd, 2007 05:06 am (UTC)
Same here, since I also know for a fact that Bird, McHale, and Parrish's are retired.
[User Picture]
Date:February 23rd, 2007 04:09 pm (UTC)
Yup, you both got it. They retired #3 after DJ left in 1990.
[User Picture]
Date:February 23rd, 2007 08:48 pm (UTC)
So sad. I'm distraught. My sis actually works for the C's right now, I'll have to find out what they have planned for DJ. What a blow in a such a bad season.

Danny Ainge's #44 is not retired and currently adorns Brian Scalabrine's back.

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