They looked like children in the end. Happy boys. They are famous faces and wealthy landowners, half of them mini-corporations responsible for the well- being of various agents, lawyers and endorsed products, but in the end, they were so many kids. Happy boys.
"How much fun was that?" 28-year-old forward Kevin McHale asked, unable to put his description in a simple declarative sentence. "How much fun? Geez, Louise."
One by one, they came into the little locker room on a corridor of Boston Garden that is their home for nine months of the year. The Boston Celtics. The new -- and seemingly forever -- world champions of basketball.
"Did you ever think you would be here?" 33-year-old reserve center Bill Walton was asked in the noise and swirl of the aftermath of this final win, this 114-97 roar past the Houston Rockets yesterday afternoon to finish off the 16th Celtics world championship. "Did you think when you came here -- in your wildest dream -- that this would happen?"
"This is my wildest dream," Bill Walton said in his deep voice. "Unbelievable."
Moet champagne was dripping from the clock on the locker-room wall even before the game was finished. The starters were off the floor with 35 seconds left, saved from the onslaught of fans. The game still was going, still being played on three television monitors on the wall, but the celebration had begun.
"And we get $45,000, too!" 27-year-old guard Danny Ainge, slapping high fives with anyone he saw, said. "Pow. We get $45,000, too."
The money was a bonus. True. That is a different sort of thing to say in professional sport in 1986, but absolutely true. This was a win as pure as a state high school championship, all letter sweaters and freckles, a dance at the firehouse sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce at the end. A thousand times harder to accomplish, a million times more lucrative, the NBA title still was a Hockomock League trophy to be held high over a smiling head.
"This is the game ball," reserve center Greg Kite, the game now finished, the celebration expanding, said. "Steve Harris, somebody from the Rockets, took the final shot. I don't even know how I got it, a rebound or off the floor or what. I just made sure I was going to get it. No one else."
The ball almost seemed grafted to his right arm. He went around and around the room, through the champagne fog and the cameramen and photographers, with the ball tucked close. He would not let the ball loose.
"What are you going to do with it?" he was asked.
"There's only one man who can make me relinquish this ball," Greg Kite said. "Red Auerbach. Unless he asks, it's mine."
The trophy celebration was held on a little stage, right there, next to the familiar refrigerator and the everyday blackboard, and the entire team stood together. Everybody made it to the stage. Everybody. Brent Musburger talked and Red Auerbach talked and champagne was poured over heads and champagne was poured into mouths and the ultimate trophy also appeared. Beer.
"It's been 2 1/2 months since some of us had a beer," Bill Walton said. "We just stopped. We wanted to. We didn't want anything to mess this up, what we had going."
How many players on how many teams do that? Give up beer? To help win a championship? Bill Walton gave it up and Kevin McHale gave it up and Jerry Sichting gave it up and Larry Bird gave it up. Larry Bird? The man of whom it once was said, "His idea of heaven would be a garage filled with Budweiser, and every time he removed a beer, it was replaced?" Larry Bird.
"We all sort of decided together," McHale said. "Bill said we wouldn't have a drink until we won the championship. I said, 'OK, but we're going to win it this year, right?' "
The final day was a final focusing of eyes that seldom had strayed during the long year from what they wanted to do. For one night in Houston, there had been a thought of celebration before the job was done. The Rockets won that game, 111-96, and their forward, Ralph Sampson, had become famous for a weekend as a rising heavyweight boxing contender. No more fooling. Not now. Not this time.
"I had to call off practice yesterday," coach K.C. Jones said. "I was just going to go five baskets and a half-court scrimmage, but these guys went at each other like Muhammad Ali and the Gorilla. I had to call it off. I've never seen anything like that in all the time I've been here."
The locker room before the game had a D-Day seriousness. The entire town seemed to have that seriousness, the greenest shirts in creation brought out of the closet for the day, signs everywhere for the Celtics and against Ralph and the Rockets. The focus became as narrowed as ever. One day. One game.
"The guys were irritable in the locker room," the coach reported. "A guy would walk through, and someone would say, 'Who the hell is that?' and it would be the trainer. The guys were as quiet as the old days.
"Then they just went out and were as aggressive as any team I've ever seen. The only team that's played as aggressive as we did in the first quarter is the Chicago Bears."
The players virtually wrote the game plan themselves. Robert Parish took Akeem Olajuwon. McHale took Sampson. Dennis Johnson took Robert Reid. Larry Bird took . . . Larry Bird simply took charge.
Is there anything left to say about the man? Twenty-nine points and 11 rebounds and 12 assists and 3 steals and . . .
"He gives you highlights all during the season," assistant coach Jimmy Rodgers said. "Then, on one day, he puts them all together in one package. The passing. The shooting. The rebounding. Everything together. One day in a game for the ring."
Walton stood in the middle of the locker room, 7 feet tall, a towel around his waist, talking, live, with broadcaster Johnny Most, and said, "It's rock 'n' roll wherever you are; let's party." McHale talked about telling the story of this game to his grandchildren. Bird accepted the MVP award and went to the trainer's room. With a beer. Everybody needed a shower. A dozen showers. Nobody seemed to care.
"Where are you going with that bag?" Greg Kite, dressed and leaving the celebration, was asked.
The bag was a laundry bag, green cloth. It was pulled tight to cover an object that appeared to be round, approximately the size of a large leather melon. Twenty-four-year-old Greg Kite laughed.
Red never asked.