3.15.2009

Celtics Honor Most

1990-91 Boston Celtics

He thought it was a short-time gig, a lark of a job to pass the time before something really important broke back in the old hometown.

"I figured two years," Johnny Most explains. "Then I'd go back to New York. But Red made me feel so welcome, and Walter Brown became like a father. I started to get a love affair with Boston. So one year led to another and another and another and then 37."

And it came to a culmination last night, when Glenn Ordway pulled back a black cloth directly in front of the WEEI broadcast booth to reveal a green-framed silver microphone. As long as there is a Boston Garden, that reminder of the most famous broadcaster in Boston sports history will be there for all to see.

The guy from New York could never have envisioned a scene like last night's, as 14,890 people, acting as stand-ins for several hundred thousand of their fellow citizens, cheered and cheered and cheered during Johnny's halftime ceremony as the Celtics paid tribute to a unique man.

The gifts just kept on coming. WEEI's was an 18-karat white and yellow gold lapel pin with 37 diamonds. WEEI also announced the establishment of a $2,000 annual scholarship fund in Johnny's name at Emerson College. Satch Sanders, representing the NBA, brought an antique microphone. Red Auerbach gave him a unique ring symbolic of the 16 world championships he broadcast to the multitudes. Larry Bird gave him a piece of the floor (hopefully, the spot where Havlicek Stole The Ball).

Finally, the unveiling of the silver microphone. As long as there is a Boston Garden, Johnny Most will be up there, flanking the retired numbers. And why not? At a time when basketball was a mere pup among local sports, he was its most important public proponent.

"He was the perfect apostle," says Tom Heinsohn, who has known Johnny for 34 of those 37 years. "He created the invincible image of the team for people to latch onto when there weren't that many basketball fans in the area. He created the fans."

Johnny Most is a walking history of the Celtics. There were seven years of Celtics basketball pre-Most, but does it matter? Of course, but not to most people. If Johnny didn't see it, report it and, most likely, embellish it, it didn't matter.

How about a quick hit on the five epochal Celtics, as seen by Johnny Most?

Bob Cousy: "You saw him once, you had to admire him. No question about it. He made things up in mid-air. He had a fabulous imagination, and I used to say to myself subconsciously when he'd be coming up from the backcourt, 'What the expletive is he going to do now?' "

Bill Russell: "I had been told about Russell. Ex-Celtic Don Barksdale was my roommate. After he left the club, he said, 'You guys have got to get this big, skinny kid.' He told me all the things he could do. He said, 'They let him roam around the basket, nobody'll score.' "

John Havlicek: "I knew he'd be something special the first time I saw him play a full game. It was an exhibition game, and at the end of the game, he wasn't sweating. That was his game. He just took you apart by running you, running you, running you. Imagine. The timeout comes at three quarters. You look down at the other bench, and there's the guy who's been running you, running you, running you, and he's not even sweating! Now how discouraging could that be?"

Dave Cowens: "I believed in him right away, because I took one look in his eyes, and I knew this guy was a winner. He refused to lose, not because of his talent. He did have that magnificent body and that speed, but, most of all, he had that indomitable fire in his belly. He refused to lose. That's the first time I ever got that notion about a player, refusing to lose."

Larry Bird: "Bird is the most complete basketball player I ever saw. Magic Johnson is a very close second. People say Oscar Robertson, and he was great, but the difference was that when Oscar came down, his first option was him. And if he couldn't do anything, then he went to somebody else. These guys look to the other four, then to themselves."

In Johnny Most's world, there were only Celtics and those who wanted to be Celtics. There was even a hallowed category consisting of Those Who Should Have Been Celtics. Betcha can't guess who's the prime minister of that exclusive society.

"Mike Newlin."

Mike Newlin? The man an enraged Dave Cowens chased the length of the court and blasted to the parquet before running over to the official and bellowing, "Now THAT'S a foul."?

It's true.

"Mike Newlin absolutely should have been a Celtic," says Johnny. "Mike Newlin had compassion. Every time we'd play his team, he would come to me and he would say, 'Recite one of your poems.' "

This, I'm sure, Johnny did with relish. But the only poems his listeners wanted to hear came flying out of his lips during all those "basketball battles" all those years.

Hey, John: thanks for sticking around.

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