Remember playing ball with your buddies in the driveway, curious to find out what it was like to be a basketball legend?
Remember forcing your little brother to stage a countdown … 10 seconds, nine, eight … and you reenacting the moves of the greats just before firing up a fantastical game-winning shot?
If so, you may remember recreating this:
“And...now there's a steal by Bird! Underneath to DJ who lays it in!!...Right at one second left! What a play by Bird!! Bird stole the inbounding pass, laid it up to DJ, and DJ laid it up and in, and Boston has a one-point lead with one second left! Oh, my, this place is going crazy!!!” – Johnny Most (Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals)
It remains one of the most stunning moments in sports history; Larry Bird stealing Isiah Thomas' inbounds pass, which led to the decisive score by Dennis Johnson (Watch it
Yet to think, this dramatic tale may not exist if not for a distinguished dignitary.
On June 27, 1983, Arnold "Red" Auerbach, the godfather of the Boston Celtics, acquired Johnson from the Phoenix Suns for Rick Robey in one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history.
That special night in 1987, when Red, Bird, and D.J. united as kings, remains an iridescent light for all who love and cherish the NBA.
This past season, both Auerbach and Johnson passed away, and that light diminished a little.
Red, who guided the Celtics to 16 NBA championships, including nine as head coach, died from a heart attack in his Washington D.C. home on Oct. 28. He was 89.
Nearly four months later while coaching the Austin Toros of the NBA Development League, D.J., a five-time All-Star and three-time NBA champion, suddenly collapsed and died also from a heart attack after a practice. He was 52.
Auerbach envisioned greatness for Johnson; and Johnson honored Auerbach’s vision. That is the slogan for this illustrious pair.
When Red was coach, he instilled the most tenacious defense in his teams. Think about Bill Russell, a vintage shot-blocker, and John Havlicek’s glorified steal to conclude the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals (“Havlicek Stole the Ball”).
While in the front office, Auerbach understood the offensive prowess he had already assembled before acquiring D.J. with stars like Bird and Kevin McHale. Thus, Johnson, who ultimately was named to the All-Defensive First Team six times and the All-Defensive Second Team three times, became the perfect fit for the renewed Celtics dynasty.
"What made him such a great defensive player was his ability to go laterally," Bird said of D.J. "He had some quickness that people didn't realize, and he was deceiving."
After winning his first NBA title and earning Finals MVP with the Seattle Supersonics in 1979, Johnson added two more championship rings to his stash with Boston, in 1984 and 1986.
It became clear that Auerbach, who in 1980 was named the greatest coach in the history of the NBA by the Professional Basketball Writers Association of America, was the brains behind one of the most prestigious franchises in professional sports history.
The beauty of Red, and the reason he is one our most well-known legends, is that we have clear images in our head of who he was and how he presented himself.
It’s like Michael Jordan’s signature tongue protrusion as he attempts one of his many remarkable plays; or Babe Ruth’s pointing bat gesture to indicate a homerun blast was inevitable.
We remember Red with his victory cigar, the original in-your-face taunt.
“Back then, a lot of the coaches smoked,” Auerbach had told Bob Duffy of The Boston Globe. "Joe Lapchick used to smoke on the bench all the time. I don't like cigarettes -- never touched 'em. But I do like a good cigar."
But irrespective of Auerbach and Johnson’s individual signatures and competencies, the two would tell you, it was all about the Boston Celtics family.
"They'll (players who started their careers somewhere else and wound up in Boston) tell you what impressed them most upon joining the Celtics was that they were now part of a unit, part of a family whose only purpose was to win as a team," Red wrote in his 1985 autobiography.
And now nearly 20 years after the renowned steal by Bird, Auerbach and Johnson are not just legendary members of the Celtics organization, but also legendary members of the NBA family.