Grampa Celtic Talks More About Beantown Legends
Most cities have a superstar or two in their history. We live in one where, since 1925, we have had superstars, SUPERSTARS, and **SUPERSTARS!**
No kidding. For the past 75 years, Boston has had at least one unquestioned, first-ballot Hall of Famer performing for one of its professional hockey, baseball, football, or basketball teams. The Celtics alone have had about a half-dozen guys who would be under serious consideration as the greatest player in the history of many NBA teams.
The run began when Eddie Shore showed up in 1926 and started laying out NHL bodies from here to Chicago. He was the resident BCIT (Big Cheese In Town) until 1940, but the torch was easily passed to Ted Williams, who had made his American League debut a year earlier. The Bruins themselves had such players as Milt Schmidt (1936-55) and Frankie Brimsek (1938-49) in uniform, and each of these gentlemen could unashamedly be labeled a superstar, so hockey was well-covered.
Williams lasted until 1960, but when he retired, the Celtics were in full flower as winners of three championships in four years, largely because of the efforts of Bill Russell and Bob Cousy, each already a basketball legend. Carl Yastrzemski showed up in 1961 to make sure baseball would be covered until 1983. Hockey had not been carrying its weight in this regard following Schmidt's retirement, but the wait proved to be well worth it when Bobby Orr skated onto the Garden ice in 1966. Football raised its hand when John Hannah started clearing paths for the Patriots in 1973, and when he retired 12 years later, the local superstar cupboard was not left bare because in 1979, the Celtics had given us Larry Bird and the Bruins had provided us with Ray Bourque. And now we have Pedro Martinez, who, when healthy, is - and let's not waste time arguing with the Randy Johnson fans - the best pitcher in baseball.
All this is without even mentioning such luminaries as Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, Dominic DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, Tony Conigliaro, Luis Tiant, Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez, Bill Cowley, Dit Clapper, Johnny Bucyk, Phil Esposito, Gerry Cheevers, Brad Park, Cam Neely, Adam Oates, Gino Cappelletti, Babe Parilli, Jim Nance, Russ Francis, Mike Haynes, Sam Cunningham, Irving Fryar, Julius Adams, Andre Tippett, Stanley Morgan, Bill Sharman, Ed Macauley, Tom Heinsohn, Frank Ramsey, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones, John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, Jo Jo White, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Dennis Johnson.
What with all the various retired numbers on the Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics, and Patriots, can we not agree that four stand out above all others? There is an inner sanctum of Boston superstars, the, yes, **SUPERSTARS!** Those numbers are 4, 6, 9, and 33. In other words, Bobby Orr, Bill Russell, Ted Williams, and Larry Bird.
In each case, it's a combination of their skill and their overpowering game personalities that have set them apart. Orr and Russell each somewhat reinvented their sports, Orr by making the position of defenseman much more of a two-way proposition than it had ever been before, and Russell by making defense and rebounding arts, and, more importantly, arts that won games and championships.
Williams may or may not have been the greatest hitter who ever lived (there was this Babe guy, remember), but he was surely the best combination of pure hitter and power hitter of the last 70 years and he oozed personal magnetism, on and off the field. Bird combined many of the physical attributes of other great basketball stars in one package (i.e. he rebounded (Russell), passed (Cousy), and scored (Havlicek), and he had an approach that made him the most humanly accessible personality of any great basketball player.
Ray Bourque, whose number 77 will be retired this evening, just misses taking up residence in the inner sanctum. But he won't really mind his new neighbors on Athletic Immortality Boulevard, one would think. He should get along nicely with Bob Cousy and John Havlicek.
Bourque equates very nicely to Havlicek. Each excelled on both offense and defense. Each thought it a mortal sin to miss a game. Each led more by example than by verbiage. And each maintained his skills at a very high level for a very long time right up to the end, retiring with the full understanding that he had something left in the tank physically, if not necessarily emotionally.
Bourque's seemingly endless maintaining of extraordinary efficiency amazes hockey folk. Orr, for example.
"His consistency for so long, never any big downs and always being at the top of the game, that says a great deal about the kind of player he was and the kind of player he still could be," observes No. 4.
Bourque the person has pretty much been canonized for being cheerful, thrifty, kind, loyal, reverent, steadfast, noble, and very helpful to little old ladies in need of an escort while crossing the street. It really is true: Everybody Loves Raymond. Somewhat lost in the adulation has been the actual reason why he won those five Norris Trophies and was selected to the first All-Star team 13 times (including this past season, his 22d).
"If you think of Bill Russell," explains Harry Sinden, forever our Renaissance sportsman, "what Bill Russell did in and around the basket, the little I really know about the sport, was unique. The same way, what Ray Bourque did at his end of the rink, behind the corners and in front of the net, well, I don't know anybody like him in the history of the game.
"One of the things we teach is that when you check, keep your stick on the ice, because in the ensuing seconds there will be a loose puck and if your stick is in the air you will lose time attempting to gain control of the puck. It is a very difficult thing to do. You must have the body for it, and the timing. Raymond had the body. No one had better wheels. And no one was better at this maneuver. What he did was incomparable."
Then throw in the offensive capability. He wasn't Orr, but no one was, or is, or is likely to be Orr. But Bourque was better offensively than just about any defenseman of the past two decades, possessing, among other things, an old-fashioned bullet of a wrist shot (think about those accuracy contests he dominated at the All-Star Game). And then throw in the durability and sheer reliability. (If you'd really like to fantasize, imagine an Orr-Bourque pairing. Some "stay-at-home" defenseman, huh?)
All this may sound like a resume of someone who really should have a residence next to the ones occupied by Messrs. Orr, Russell, Williams, and Bird. But in an extraordinarily competitive superstar environment such as ours, in order to get one of those addresses, a player must combine great ability with that extra je ne sais quoi. And while everybody loves Raymond, no one has ever once suggested that he is charismatic. He's got to settle for being a SUPERSTAR.
- #05 (Walton)
- #08 (Wedman)
- #12 (Sichting)
- 1971-72 Lakers
- 2007-08 Scores
- Banner 17
- Grassy Knoll Network
- Green Mile
- Larry & Magic
- NBA Scoreboard
- Russell v. Chamberlain
- Walton Gang (1977)