The Greatest Game Ever Played
Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals, Phoenix Suns vs. Boston Celtics at Boston Garden
Going into the 1975-76 season, the Boston Celtics were confident they knew a great deal about themselves and their place in the league. They knew they would be good. Very good. With Dave Cowens surrounded by a cast of players both seasoned with titles, but hungry for more, the Celtics realized that anything less than an appearance in the NBA Finals that season would be falling short of their goals.
Cowens, Paul Silas, John Havlicek, Jo Jo White, even Head Coach Tommy Heinsohn, were raised on Celtics ideals. To them, winning the 13th title in team history was paramount.
What these players did not fully realize was that it would be the final season of one of the proudest eras in the history of professional sports. Red Auerbach taught the first generation of Celtics players, which included Bill Russell and Heinsohn, that Celtics basketball was not just a way of playing, but that it was also a way of life. These players, in turn, fulfilled their duty by teaching those that came after them so that the legacy could be carried on.
The 1976 Championship team would be the final edition of the old-blooded squads, as within two years after winning the 1976 title, the winds of change swept through Boston. Heinsohn would be out as coach. Havlicek would retire. Cowens left to play elsewhere. White was hobbled by injury. Silas left as a free agent.
Although the patriarch Auerbach remained at the helm, the next Celtics dynasty to take hold of the NBA would be, for the first time, led by a coach who was not raised within the Celtics family. When the Green and White lifted their next title in 1981, there was not one player on the roster that had a hand in hoisting the 1976 banner. Only Assistant Coach K.C. Jones possessed a ring from a previous Celtics title.
It was not only the last season for the old generation of Celtics, but it also marked the beginning of the end of an era for the entire NBA. Within the next five years, the league would experience an immaculate growth spurt. With Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, the league attracted millions of fans, as well as live television audiences worldwide.
But before the bright lights, halftime entertainment, chartered flights, cable television, and before The Dream Team, there was the 1976 Celtics. Although they did not have the glitz of many NBA champions after them, they didn't need it. Many feel that there will never be a more exciting game than Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals, in which the Celtics fought off the resilient Suns in a triple-overtime affair on June 4, 1976.
But that era has not totally neen forgotten, as Cowens and Silas are just two of more than a half dozen players on the court that night at the Boston Garden who continue to shape the game to this day as NBA coaches and administrators.
- Reagan Berube