For the Celtics , 1991 was just the latest example of Green Pride giving way to Gray Power ... and Blue Cross.
By year's end Robert Parish, Larry Bird and Kevin McHale had turned a collective 105, and their health remained central to Boston's bid to regain a place among the NBA's superpowers. An autumn's worth of injuries to Brian Shaw and the loss of Dee Brown (torn knee cartilage) three days before the 1991-92 season only made the Celts' mix of age and youth more fragile.
Last Jan. 12, just after Bird had squeezed some last minutes from a compressed disc and an inflamed nerve root that would require back surgery in June, the Celts parlayed rookie coach Chris Ford's gospel of defense and uptempo offense into the league's best record (29-5). It didn't last.
GREEN LIMP HOME
With Bird missing 22 games and McHale (foot/ankle injury) 14, the Green limped into the playoffs with the NBA's fourth best record. The good news is they survived the Pacers in five games, Bird stealing the show with a 32-point Superman imitation in Game 5 after having been forced out of the game with a facial injury in the first half.
The bad news? The joy of Boston's first victory in a playoff series since 1988 masked the club's physical woes only briefly. The banged-up Celts played Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semi against the Pistons without Bird. Boston lost. They also lost the series-deciding Game 6 in Auburn Hills when Parish was unable to play.
Larry Bird will have back surgery any day. McHale said Dr. Arnold Scheller wants to operate on his foot again.
Sorry. Crosby, Stills & Nash got old and a little sloppy, and so did Tinker, Evers and Chance. To continue to build your team around McHale, Bird and Parish is to continue to postpone the inevitable.
Boston's 1990-91 season gave us a nice ride, but the franchise's foundation continues to deteriorate. How long will it be before the C's are candidates for the draft lottery?
If this had been Strat-O-Matic hoops, where injuries, age and inexperience didn't enter the picture, who knows how far Chris Ford could have taken the 1990-91 Celtics ? None of the above was in evidence in the first 34 games, when the team went 29-5 and looked like true championship timber.
It's going to get worse here before it gets better. The C's did a nice job reversing the decay for a year, but it's still happening right in front of our eyes and there's not much you, or me, or Dave Gavitt can do. Meanwhile, those of you who've been on a waiting list for season tickets should sit by the phone. There might be some seats available sooner than you think.