3.14.2009

Most to be Honored

1990-91 Boston Celtics
12/3/90


What male sports fan who has lived in the Greater Boston area at any time during the past 35 years has not risked permanent damage to his throat by trying to do a Johnny Most?

That's celebrity.

We've all heard some great Johnny Mosts. There have been official Johnny Most Sound-Alike Contests, and there have been some wonderful talk show callers and practically everyone's sports circle has someone who does a passable Johnny Most -- for about 10 seconds. Johnny Most is part of the very fabric of Boston sports and entertainment life.

But as humorous and accurate as the would-be Mosts are, there is never any real danger of mistaking them for the real item. The man who will be honored at Boston Garden tonight has about him a passion and genuineness that even the most uncanny impersonator cannot duplicate.

For along with a unique sound, Johnny Most has a unique sportscasting soul. He springs forth from a lost culture, if you will. There is never going to be another Johnny Most because we aren't going to be producing any more broadcasters with a '30s Brooklyn Jewish political activist background; who were World War II veterans; who played college football weighing less than 160 pounds; who could recite every sideman Benny Goodman ever had; and who compose haiku in their spare time. And who, along the way, accumulated the sports savvy that was endemic to that particular generation of New Yorkers.

Johnny Most is an intelligent announcer;

never forget that. A bit biased, perhaps, but intelligent. And witty. People repeat Most routines, but never forget that these things just tumbled out of his mouth on the spot. Take McFilthy and McNasty (and don't ask which was which, because by this time I'm not sure Johnny remembers himself). That's an inspired description of Jeff Ruland and Rick Mahorn, in whatever order. Or the night when Johnny wondered aloud that if Rick Barry were to fall in love again, would he insist on doing it with himself?

One thing is certain: the Boston Celtics could never thank Johnny Most enough for what he has meant to the organization. In terms of nonplaying personnel, the three most important people in the history of the ballclub have been Walter Brown, who founded and nurtured them; Red Auerbach, who taught them how to win; and Johnny Most, who has preached the Celtics gospel to the masses in his unique style.

You've got to be at least 30, and possibly a little older, to realize that the Celtics weren't always the prominent local institution they are today. When Johnny Most arrived in Boston to be the radio play-by-play man in 1953, the Celtics were a struggling team that had never won anything and had a very modest fan base. The only reason they were in business at all was the fact that Walter Brown was a very stubborn man. He was, in fact, a hockey man who had started the Celtics in 1946 as a business proposition and had unaccountably fallen in love with his creation.

A conventional play-by-play man wouldn't do. Walter and Red needed a salesman and a personality, someone who could attract attention to the team just by being there. It did not take long for people to learn that this new guy from New York not only had a very strange-sounding voice, but was also one very excitable character. He could make a Bob Cousy behind-the-back pass sound like a celebration on V-J Day. When Bill Russell came during Johnny's third year, the mesh between team and spokesman was perfect. People in Boston were just getting used to Johnny Most, and now things were really getting interesting because with this Russell kid and this Heinsohn kid there was a wonderful new adventure to relate every night. Even on nights when the team itself was not exactly larger-than-life, Johnny Most always was.

Slowly, the mystique grew. Johnny's vivid description of Russell plays ("He came from NOWHERE!!!!!") and Sam Jones bankers (it was Johnny who gave us the phrase "stop and pop") and Cousy's magic became familiar to Bostonians. The voice grew raspier and trickier. You wouldn't think of missing a broadcast, if only to hear the standard Voice One give way to a more excited Voice Two, or perhaps even to Voice Three, an eerie pitch used to describe truly special occurrences (Voice Three goes on for an astonishing minute and four seconds during the epic "Havlicek Stole The Ball" description).

There was even a more amazing phenomenon. Above Voice Three, Johnny even had another sound entitled Dog Whistle. This took place when Voice Three ran out of gas and the only sound was a faint whisper. Dog Whistle was very big in the '70s.

It is no longer possible to think of the Celtics without thinking about Johnny Most. All the Celtics' greats of the past three-and-a-half decades have taken on a life for thousands who have never even been near the Garden because Johnny Most has given them an image. This was especially true during the '50s and '60s, when he hung nicknames on many of them. The names were often corny, but they stuck because Johnny was Johnny and thus able to sell his audience on anything. Johnny was always accessible as a personality to his audience. As great as Chick Hearn and Marv Albert are, could either have spit out "Jarrin' John, the Bouncing Buckeye from Ohio State" and not have had the listener start wrinkling his or her nose? Johnny got away with this for 16 years, and it always sounded appropriate.

What was always lost in the depths of Johnny's singular air presence was the fact that in his prime he was a blindingly fast and accurate follower of the action. With Johnny you got the picks, the switches, the block-outs and assorted other peripheral observations in addition to the shots, rebounds and assists. Johnny Most knows his basketball. The problem, if any, was that he chose not to disclose the depths of his knowledge if that meant describing the Celtics in a negative manner. Through many a Boston clunker the worst Johnny could bring himself to say was that "The lid was on tonight." When all else has failed, of course, Johnny has never had any difficulty ascribing guilt to the men blowing the whistles.

They're retiring his microphone tonight, but they'll never retire his spirit. And nothing they can do will ever adequately thank him. That premise is nonnegotiable.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great Post!

to remember Johnny Most

Lex said...

Tomorrow we'll get a couple of articles on the actual commemoration!

FLCeltsFan said...

Good stuff! I love Johnny Most! He was so much fun to listen to and it is safe to say there will never be another like him.

Thanks!

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