Point to the 14 Celtics banners hanging over their heads, invoke Celtic pride if you must, but pride, history and tradition are empty symbols to the one enduring trait of this team, champions of the basketball world for the 15th time. The Celtics are the sweetest-sounding of four-letter words - a team.
"Dynasty? What dynasty?" Red Auerbach couldn't help but say as he entered the locker room, Quinn Buckner pouring champagne over his head and Larry Bird hugging him in a deep embrace. "You guys (the media) were talking about a dynasty the Lakers had, but what dynasty? Here's the only dynasty right here . . . this team."
Auerbach shouted those words, poking his needle in those who would have crowned the Lakers the world's best for one game. He stepped onto the podium in the maelstrom of the Celtics locker room and clenched one fist, punching it in the air, then clenching the other, punching the memory of those who would have written off his Celtics with both his fists. This moment, his last as general manager, was as good as the other 14.
Auerbach grasped the NBA championship trophy, rubbed both hands over it proudly and then raised it high. Auerbach looked past the chaos of his winning team, champagne corks popping everywhere, and searched for Larry Bird, his player, the team player, as Celtic as Russell, Cousy, Sharman and Havlicek. Bird, though, slipped quietly behind his boss, opened his can of Miller Lite and poured it over the bald, once-red head. Again Bird and Auerbach hugged long.
"Dynasty? What dynasty?" Auerbach said again and again. "I guess their dynasty lasted only one series . . . this feels great."
His cigar hadn't been lit when Auerbach pushed his way into the locker room because the ending was closer than the game. When Dennis Johnson drove to the hoop with 2:43 left and was fouled, giving him two free throws and the Celtics a 104-95 lead, Auerbach jumped out of his loge seat, took two little steps into the aisle and punched the air. The game, the championship, the crowning moment to this career that began so long ago seemed near.
But Auerbach jumped out of his seat in despair when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dropped his sky hook, and again when James Worthy buried a 15-footer, closing the Boston lead to 105-102 with 74 ticks left in Auerbach's career. Still, the Celtics prevailed as they always have in these seventh games of championship series, and Auerbach waited until the championship trophy was in his hands before lighting up. Appropriately.
When Bird stopped pouring his beer over Auerbach's head, he learned that he was unanimously named the Most Valuable Player of the series. Of that there is no argument, but Bird was not the MVP last night, for that title belonged to Cedric Maxwell and the trio of Celtics guards, Dennis Johnson, Gerald Henderson and Danny Ainge. No sparks came from Bird last night; only the hard work.
"It feels good being named the MVP, but I had a lot of help out there," said Bird. "We played hard and K.C. (Jones) put it all together and coached us all the way to victory. To be honest, (the Lakers) should have swept and it was virtually over after, that game they swept us, but we came back and played hard and played together."
Did this championship feel better than the first title three years ago?
"I don't know," Bird replied. "I'll have to think about it."
Over in the corner, quietly away from the vortex of champagne and celebration, coach K.C. Jones was being congratulated. One of the first to get to him, his message delivered by an embrace, was former teammate Bill Sharman. Jones was near tears.
"I can't explain how I feel," Jones said. "It's too great a feeling . . . my first thought is that these guys, all these players, made me a better coach and I needed their help. I wanted this championship and they went out and got it for me."
Jones looked around the mad madcap locker room, champagne pouring everywhere, his friends embracing him, the respect now his that seemed to have left him for good in Washington. Jones took in the whole scene and spontaneously blurted out his feelings.
"I like this; I've got to say I like this."
It was a Celtic moment played over now for the 15th time, replayed through generations. Different men, different players, different coaches, one result. And Red Auerbach's cigar has lighted the way for them all, one man responsible for the most enduring of sports successes. His idea always was simple - teamwork.