1963 NBA Finals: Boston 4, L.A. Lakers 2
Cousy Retires as Six-Time Champion
"The Boston Celtics are an old team," declared Sports Illustrated in March 1963. "Tired blood courses through their varicose veins."
The Celtics, of course, went on to win their sixth title that spring and they added five more over the next six seasons. But SI's underestimation of Boston's strength had some basis in fact. Bob Cousy had announced that he would retire after the 1962-63 season. Observers viewed his departure as a major loss to the Celtics, but coach Red Auerbach wasn't losing any sleep.
The previous spring, he had drafted John Havlicek out of Ohio State. Auerbach had never seen Havlicek play until camp that summer. "I remember I was stunned," Auerbach later told reporters. "All I could think of was, 'Ohh. Have I got something here? Are they going to think I'm smart.'"
But Havlicek was just one of several new faces. Later Auerbach added Don Nelson, Bailey Howell and several more key pieces to the puzzle. Plus, Cousy's departure meant that the Jones duo, K.C. and Sam, became a larger factor. Most importantly, however, the Celtics still had Bill Russell, "the most dominating individual who ever played a team sport," according to Los Angeles Lakers coach Fred Schaus.
With the incredible Russell as linchpin, the team adjusted to the personnel changes without a hitch. The coach and center had come to dominate the NBA, and Auerbach toasted each victory with a cigar. "At first I didn't like Red Auerbach," a rival NBA coach once said. "But in time I grew to hate him."
All this controversy didn't translate into a crowd at the gate. If anything, the Celtics were too efficient, too businesslike in the dispatching of their foes. Regular-season attendance dropped to 6,800 per game. "Once we started to win, we almost did it too easily," agreed Cousy.
Boston claimed the Eastern Division with a 58-22 record and then faced Oscar Robertson and the Cincinnati Royals in a seven-game shakedown in the Eastern Division Finals. The Celtics survived a Game 7 shootout in Boston Garden, 142-131.
The Lakers also had to prove themselves, and they did so by beating St. Louis in a seven-game Western Division Finals. Jerry West had been out with an injury for seven weeks at the close of the season, and although he was back in the lineup for the playoffs, the team still hadn't worked out all the kinks.
Boston edged the Lakers 117-114 at the Garden in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Game 2 wasn't much different, as the Celtics took a two-game series lead, 113-106. Back at their Sports Arena, the Lakers retaliated with a 119-99 blowout, only to see the Celtics take firm command by sneaking away with Game 4, 108-105.
Up three games to one, Auerbach was as confident as ever. "We've never lost three games in a row," he told reporters.
The Lakers headed back to Boston and found the stuff to survive. Tom Heinsohn was ejected, Cousy fouled out with 12 points and Los Angeles' dynamic duo went wild. Elgin Baylor had 43 points and West 32 as Los Angeles won 126-119.
The loss fueled speculation that the Celtics had run out of gas, and that the younger Lakers were about to surge ahead. "No," said Russell, "Los Angeles is not going to do any such thing."
Cousy seemed genuinely surprised by the assertion. "We are not the oldest men alive," he told reporters.
In Los Angeles, a throng estimated at more than 5,000 converged on the Sports Arena hoping to buy playoff tickets. When they found there were none, the scene turned angry. The Lakers quickly calmed things down by offering closed-circuit TV seats at $2.50 a head. By tipoff of Game 6, 6,000 such theater seats had been taken, to go along with the 15,000-seat arena sellout. "We were aware we were testing the future of pay television," Lakers general manager Lou Mohs told reporters.
The crowd at the Sports Arena on April 24 did its best to support the Lakers' comeback bid, but it was Havlicek who had the hot hand, scoring 11 straight points during one first-half stretch that put Boston up by 14 at the half. The lead had dipped to nine with 11 minutes left in the fourth period when Cousy tripped and sprained his left ankle. He didn't return until the five-minute mark. By then the Lakers had cut the Boston lead to a single point.
With 2:48 remaining, the Celtics were holding on, 104-102. Then Heinsohn stole a West pass to Rudy LaRusso, drove and scored. From there, Cousy worked the clock as he had in the old days. He dribbled out the last seconds of his career and threw the ball high into the air. Then he and Auerbach hugged, the final touch on the 112-109 win.
"Please," Auerbach crowed to the press, "tell me some of these stories about Los Angeles being the basketball capital of the world."
Russell said, "It's nice to be playing with the old pros. The old, old pros."
There was no champagne or beer in the Boston locker room. Why celebrate? When asked about it, Heinsohn replied, "We've won five in a row."
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