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9.04.2009

Most Enjoying the Offseason

July 1983

Johnny Most does not dwell among the Celtics championship banners in the rafters of the Boston Garden, though one imagines he'd be plenty comfortable there. It's kind of incongruous, but Most, the Celts' radio voice for three decades and now a Boston institution, doesn't live in Massachusetts. For the last two years, he's called Nashua his home.

He came to New Hampshire to stay with an old basketball buddy for five weeks not long after his divorce and the sale of the family's Wayland home, and then he settled in Nashua for good. During the basketball season, Most doesn't relish the hour's schlep back and forth from his five-room wood shingle townhouse a half mile off Rte. 3 to the Garden or Logan Airport. But in the off-season, if he has to be anywhere, this place will do just fine. "It's a nice place, as large as a bachelor would want to have," he says. "A housekeeper, I'm not." Atop a hill and overlooking tennis courts and a swimming pool, Most's townhouse sits amid a cluster of similar townhouses, apartments and condominiums.

Most's favorite seat in the house is at his squat wood dining room table. "All my life I've been a dining room, coffee-clutch sitter." Here, smoking Merit cigarettes ("I'm trying to quit. So far I've cut down from four to one and a half packs a day.") and drinking coffee, Most composes poetry and reads it into a cassette recorder. He is preparing a book/tape of his verse.

Above him on the near wall hang a troika of minature Norman Rockwell prints, mounted on thin wood blocks. "I like Norman Rockwell, and I hope sometime to fill this wall with these." Behind him, on a short portable bar, stands a fiddle (a play on the expression Most coined, "fiddling and diddling around"). It was a present from the Terre Haute, Ind. (Larry Bird country) radio station, which carries Most's broadcasts of the Celtics games.

Although this is his favorite room, he eats many meals elsewhere.On almost any given day during the off-season, Most starts his morning with breakfast at the Friendly restaurant, two blocks away. There, he and his buddy Nashua-native Rodney Gould chat over coffee and cigarettes in one of the back booths. If Most has a catbird seat away from the courtside, this is
it.

"We're fixtures here," says Gould.

"Part of the woodwork," adds Most.

As he is leaving the place, a middle-aged man asks a stranger, "Hey, is that Johnny Most? Yes? I thought so. Hi, Johnny Most, right? Nice to meet you." "Hi, howzitgoing." He pats the man's little daughter on the head. "Do people often come up to you like that?" a visitor asks. "Oh, yeah, all the time."

It's no wonder, Most is unmistakable.

Think of it this way. He's a 60- year-old sportscasting impresario who looks like his voice and sounds like his face. If you listen closely to a Celtics game, you will almost be able to see him in your radio. The face. Bushy gray Edward Telleresque eyebrows hover coarsely over soft, deep-set, blue-gray sad puppy's eyes. Down a long nose, thin lips outline a tight no-nonsense mouth. His mop-thick, silvery mane is tucked behind big, floppy ears, though wisps swing over his forehead. It's a scruffy face, especially when he hasn't shaved for a day or two, and the deep lines etched there tell you he's been around a while.

The voice. Gruff, rough, raspy and animated with a flair for hyperbole, it's the voice you'd expect from a longshoreman, bookie or deep throat. It's as old and cigarette-worn as Boston Garden itself, but with character. Back at home, Most relaxes at his dining room table. From here he can survey nearly every part of the first floor of his rented townhouse - a small, functional kitchen on one side and a living room on the other.

It's modestly furnished; but Most is not the kind of person who cares much for adornments.In the living room, an orange sofa and chair form an L' around a metal-framed glass coffee table. A console stereo, given to him by appreciative Celtics' fans 10 years ago on the occasion of his 20th anniversary with the team, sits in the corner. Most says he often watches sports matches on the big color television, which rests against the opposite wall. "But I like to go to the games," he says. He sometimes hits a Nashua Angels minor league baseball game. "I pay my way. I don't use my press card for that kind of thing."

The living room bookcase next to the front door is lined with trophies, knick-knacks, pictures of his children, a set of encyclopedias, and a few miscellaneous books, including a turn-of-the-century collection of Shakespeare sonnets, which have been passed down to Most from his father and grandfather. Among the trophies are a gold basketball given to him by WBZ radio, a cigarette lighter that looks like a microphone, an NBA all-star game mug, a gold key to some city ("I think its Worcester, but I forget"), and a few awards from the Celtics and the city of Boston. Still,there isn't all that much memorabilia. "I regret to say that I haven't even kept a scrapbook over the years," he says.

The basement is filled with old clothes and trinkets. Here, scattered among the piles, are mementoes from his past. There is a portrait of a 50- year-old Most, which Celtics Coach Tom Heinsohn painted for him 10 years ago, and a drawing of Most given to him by the kids in the Wayland Pop Warner football league that he supervised for years.

Upstairs are two bedrooms, one for Most, which he shares with his son Rob, 19, when the boy is home from school. (Rob attends Larry Bird's alma mater, Indiana State in Terre Haute, where he is on the track team.) The other room is occupied by his daughter Andi, 14, which she has been sharing this past month with older sister Marge, 23, a recent college graduate who will be moving into Boston soon. Most's fourth child, James 24, lives in San Francisco.

To Most, hanging out at home in Nashau is okay, but the Celtics seem awfully far away during the off-season. He confides, "I wish the season would start tomorrow."Most is especially anxious to get back to his microphone this fall because he spent nearly all of the second half of this past season out of action. He suffered a mild stroke in February, and spent 18 days in Massachusetts General Hospital. His right arm is still stiff, he says. He has been working out with light barbells in his dining room, but movement is coming back slowly.

His nightlife has also slowed down since his younger days. He sometimes goes out to eat with his buddy Gould, or friends in the area. "There's a load of restaurants around here," he says. Other times he drives 45 minutes away to the Newton Marriot, where he'll eat with a woman friend or alone. Maybe he'll have a beer or two, but no more than that. "I'm not a big drinker," he says. Of women, Most says: "If there are any around that want to adopt me, I'm available." If they do, they are liable to find him an incorrigible fellow.

It is certain he is the incorrigible Celtics Fan. He's been called everything from a partisan cage-caller to a company man who faithfully delivers the management line. "Don't you call me a company man. You can't tell me that after 10, 20 or 30 years of being with a team, you don't build an affection for it. If somebody tells you it's possible to be completely objective after all that time, he's a liar."

He's protective of the Celtic players: "I never pick a Celtic all-star team because I would have to leave people off who are only 2 percent less than all-stars." Most is looking forward to the upcoming season, alright. With K.C. Jones at the helm now, he says "The bombastic one will start to play more of a role."

Bombastic one?

"Yeah, Red (Auerbach). He can't fool me, he's itching to get back. And when you have an itch, the best thing to do is take off your shoe and scratch it." Most likes Auerbach. The Celtics General Manager has been a long-time friend. When Most's contract came up for negotiation with WRKO two years ago, Red served as his agent.

"Red's an old war horse," Most says. "like me."

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