3.15.2009

More on Most

1990-91 Boston Celtics

Last Thursday night a retirement roast was held for Johnny Most. A long list of speakers joked about his excesses, from his broadcasting, to smoking, to caffeine, to insomnia, and other eccentricities. Everyone laughed.

Finally, it was the roastee's turn to speak. When Most got up, he looked frail and terribly tired. Only his voice seemed strong. "When someone roasts you, it is a sign of affection . . . I do not look upon this as an ending, but as a new beginning," he said.

Most spoke for only three minutes, saying how fortunate he had been during his career. He paid special tribute to the late Walter Brown, the founder of the Celtics who hired him 37 years ago. Most concluded with a poem he had written. It wasn't Tennyson, but it was sensitive and contained meter.

Was this the person all those macho guys had been cracking jokes about for 90 minutes? What had Most thought while listening and watching?

What was Johnny Most thinking all those years, seemingly trudging along absent-mindedly, the center of attention among fans who loved him and those on the road who loathed him? What was he thinking in recent years as many Boston players disdained him, oblivious to how pivotal a role Most played in creating the Celtic mystique that they were now basking in?

I have known Most for more than 20 years without penetrating beyond the public personality. But you sensed there was more there. He never reacted to written criticism of his increasingly careless broadcasting habits, but two years ago the delayed confrontation seemed imminent as he walked toward me at the Garden. He took my hand and expressed genuine thanks for attending his father's funeral a few days earlier.

Most's voice was so strong and familiar that small talk in a delicatessen would be heard several tables away. People often would speak to him and ask about the Celtics' chances. His association with the team was so ingrained that offseason work was very limited. He became famous, but not rich.

Most battled increasingly bad health after suffering a stroke seven years ago. He became more crotchety. Three years ago he was almost abrupt to adults waiting in line for his autograph following a sound-alike contest in Cambridge. But no amount of rudeness could ruin the moment for them, it seemed.

"I am the show," Most told partner Glenn Ordway a few years ago after being told to hurry because the pregame show was about to begin on WEEI. Indeed, from 1953 to about 1980, he was the show and various on-air partners were largely valets.

When the game began they got out of the way. Fans watching television turned on radios to hear Most describe crunch time. In his prime, the attention was well placed. Most was rapid-fire, knew the game and tendencies of the players cold turkey, would spontaneously insert humor and hyperbole, and seize dramatic moments as no else could or would dare do. His was a rare combination of talents.

WEEI will air approximately 90 minutes of Johnny Most recordings tonight at 6, leading into the retirement salute at Boston Garden during halftime of the Celtics-Sonics game. They are worth recording because we will not again hear someone of his talent. During the roast the other night, someone should have stopped telling jokes long enough to plainly state that.

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