Guest Column: A Tale of Two Titles

Today’s guest column is from Mike Passanisi.

It took an editorial by a respected journalist to get the city to recognize the Celtics’ incredible accomplishment.

On May 6, 1969, the team, a collection of aging stars with a few new additions like Bailey Howell and Emmette Bryant, shocked the hoop world by winning their 11th title in 13 years.

After finishing fourth during the regular season, the Celts had overcome the Sixers, Knicks, and finally the Lakers in seven games capped by an exciting 108-106 victory. Longtime Celtic fans all remember Don Nelson’s shot that bounced off the front and back rims before dropping in. They also remember that Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke had put balloons into the ceiling of the Forum ready to be released after a Laker victory. Also, the USC band was ready to march onto the court playing “Happy Days are Here Again”. A bitterly disappointed Jerry West said “we’re still the better team, but you have to give them credit for winning it.”

In the Boston Globe, the announcement of the Celts’ victory in a game that did not get over until 1:00 AM Boston time (TV didn’t dictate starting times in those days) did not even make the day’s headline. It only appeared as a “kicker” at the top of page 1 of the morning paper “Celtics Beat LA for 11th title, 108-106”. An accomplishment that had never been achieved in pro sports and probably never will again did not even merit a regular headline.

At the time, one of the most popular and respected journalists was a Globe columnist named Jerry Nason. His style was understated and rather old-fashioned (he used to write prediction poetry for local college football games), but he was not afraid to speak out. In a column entitled “Yes Boston, They’re Your Celtics”, Nason called attention to the team’s incredible achievement over 12 seasons and praised the late owner Walter Brown, who kept the team afloat in the early years.

Then, gently, he prodded the city.

Since the advent of the Celtics era, the Canadiens have captured 9 Stanley Cups, the Yankees 7 AL pennants, the Green Bay Packers 5 football titles. The Celtics have been finalists in 12 “World Series” and the town has never invited ’em to a party. That used to bug Walter, and it continues to bug me. The closest Boston ever came toward enshrining the Celtics was one year when they rounded up a few of the guys who were still hanging around and got ’em into the Marathon. They rode in open cars all the way from Coolidge Corner to Exeter Street, three miles-big deal..

Garden officials confirmed that Nason was correct.

Nason and the Globe apparently had some influence with city officials. And so, two days later, there was a parade. It went from the Common to City Hall Plaza. It drew about 3,000 people. Bill Russell, not surprisingly, failed to attend. Mayor Kevin White proclaimed it “Boston Celtics Day” and retiring Celtic Sam Jones was presented with a rocking chair. This was all that happened, and the newspapers began following the Red Sox into a disappointing season that ended with manager Dick Williams getting fired.

Let’s jump ahead 17 years to 1986, 25 years ago last month. The Celts had defeated the Houston Rockets, 114-97, to cop their third title in 5 years. The reaction in Boston was, shall we say, a bit different. On the left side of the front page of the next day’s Globe was a headline, not much smaller than the regular headline on the right side. It read “Celtics Crowning Glory”.  An article by Bob Ryan (who else?), spoke of the Houston Rockets as an “unwary couple pulled over on the highway for going 3 miles an hour over the speed limit by a burly Georgia cop with the mirrored sunglasses”. He continued : “It wasn’t their day. The cop’s name was Bird. The bailiff’s name was Bird. The judge’s name was Bird. And the executioner’s name was-guess what?- Bird.” Ryan went on to say :”Welcome to Bird country, boys, and while you’re at it, why don’t you congratulate your Celtics on the occasion of their 16th NBA championship? “The front page also showed huge photos of Larry getting doused with champagne and fans celebrating outside the Garden. The headlines on articles for the next couple of days tell the story. “Off the Rim and Into Clover”. “From Head to Toe, Fans are Green with Pride”. “Playoff Effort Puts Bird into Drivers Seat”.”A Garden Hangover.”

The parade two days later was somewhat bigger than that of 1969. About 2000 times bigger. That headline proclaimed “Boston Roars Its Tribute”. But the most interesting column was one authored by the great Leigh Montville. It talked about and Irish kid and four Italian kids from East Boston, all students at Boston Latin. They were playing hookey, like many Bostonians that day. It is significant, however, that they were not African-American kids from, say, Brighton or Dorchester High.

In the 1980’s the issue of racism and the Celtics which had always been simmering, appeared again. The ’86 team captured Boston, it was said, because of the racial makeup of the team. There were big men Bird, Kevin McHale, and Bill Walton-all white. African-Americans were certainly part of the picture. Coach KC Jones was black, and Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson played big parts in the title. But it was true that the racial makeup of the Celts was close to 50-50 at a time when most teams were largely black. There were stories  that in parts of Dorchester, Laker jerseys were outselling Celtic ones by a wide margin.

Race was definitely an issue. You can’t talk about Boston in the 70’s and 80’s without facing it. The busing crisis brought it to a head, but it had been there all along. However, the issue is not so much that the ’86 Celtics had more white players than the ’69 team, though it did. The issue is more one of symbolism. In 1969, the coach and symbol was Bill Russell. His image was one of an angry black man. He refused to sign autographs. He was way ahead of his time in criticizing the white power structure, both in sports and society as a whole. In ’69, Boston could not fully accept a team with this symbol. A parade couldn’t even draw 5000 fans.

In 1986, the symbol was a blond superstar with a bit of a chip on his shoulder and a bit of a wise mouth. He seemed to be an everyman, though he earned millions of dollars. At an earlier rally on live TV, he shocked a few people when, seeing a sign, he made a comment about what Houston’s Moses Malone really ate. Though he was neither Irish nor from Boston, people saw some of the team’s mascot-the leprechaun-in Larry Bird.

Ironically, a week after the’86 celebration, Jerry Nason passed away at the age of 77. Few people remember the editorial back in ’69. The parade he inspired was a small one, but that doesn’t matter. It showed that he cared.

Mike Passanisi is a semiretired former high school teacher and freelance writer. Over the years, he has written for New England Baseball Journal, Patriots Football Weekly, Manchester Union Leader, and a number of blogs, including BSMW. He is a member of the Sports Hall of Fame at Pope John High,  where he worked for many years as SID. He is also a regular contributor to the blog Fenway West. He and wife live in Medford.

You can contact Mike at [email protected]

2011 Approval Ratings – Tony Massarotti

Tony Massarotti is the co-host of the Felger and Mazz show on 98.5 The SportsHub.

A Waltham native, Massarotti also hosts The Baseball Reporters on 98.5, and is a sports columnist. He joined the Boston Herald as a sports intern in 1989, joining the likes of Michael Felger, Bill Simmons, Michael Silverman and Paul Perillo. In 1994 he started covering the Red Sox for the Herald, a focus he held until he left the paper in 2008. He then joined, and in August 2009, he and Felger started their popular afternoon drive show on 98.5, which has unseated long time ratings champ Glenn Ordway and The Big Show on WEEI. Interestingly, Massarotti, like Felger had been a frequent co-host on the WEEI show in the past. The duo signed a new deal with the station in April of this year.

Once a dogged and capable baseball reporter, Massarotti now focuses on playing the contrarian, especially when it comes to the Patriots – a franchise and fan base that he clearly loathes. He has also proclaimed his love for Derek Jeter, and does an absolutely horrible voice impression of Boston sports fans.

Massarotti  has written or co-written several books, including Dynasty: The Inside Story of How the Red Sox Became a Baseball Powerhouse, as well as bios with Tim Wakefield



Guest Column: The State Of The Media – 2011

Today guest column during Bruce’s vacation comes from former Channel  7 sportscaster Roy Reiss

By Roy Reiss

Technology and innovation have spawned some incredible changes in the media landscape over the last several years.

Witness the tremendous expansion of internet sites and the many new opportunities created by their existence. See the great impact of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and how they feed into the insatiable 24/7 “want to know” culture that has evolved. Realize the endless hours that have to be filled on talk radio means you need plenty of sizzle and unfortunately less substance. Understand how all of this has affected the once proud newspaper industry that tries to stay competitive in today’s much different world.

What does all this mean to the avid sports fan who follows their favorite team with a passion? I like to break it down into 3 categories. The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.

The Good

Jobs, jobs and more jobs. There are now more opportunities than ever for sportswriters, sportscasters and support personnel to be involved. Young talent that had a difficult time breaking through in the pre internet era now have become prominent players in today’s media. Joe Haggerty on CSNNE, Chris Forsberg on ESPNBoston, Ian Rapoport of the Herald, and Peter Abraham of the Globe are a few of the so-called “new” guns making an impression in the new environment. The common thread for these individuals is a passion for their respective sport. They fully understand what’s required and they deliver for their followers with plenty of copy, some insight, and a love for the sport they cover that is evident to a sports fan. Those are the necessary ingredients for any wannabe to be successful and ultimately to be accepted by the public.

The Bad

What’s happened to the art of reporting and to accountability? Anything goes in today’s media and most of what’s anything is not worthy. Twitter has created a monster as everyone seems to follow everyone else. You have people pointing out what others are writing instead of developing their own stories. The heck with checking the facts or authenticity of the report, simply get it out there and be first. Who cares if the facts are incorrect since no one is held accountable for what they report. And to think this is what new media people are taught as they learn the ropes which all serves as a preview of what to expect in future years.

I’d love to see some of these so-called reporters go two weeks without any locker room access that seldom results in meaningful quotes or insight. No longer would they have the crutch of players droning on and now they’d face a real challenge of developing story lines outside their comfort zone.

Just like in professional sports, expansion has watered down the product. So too in the media. Many are simply not prepared to play in the “big time’. They’re rushed into roles that they’re not ready to fill since they haven’t had the proper training or experience. Hurt the most has been the newspaper industry that loses their talented young writers they’ve developed to new websites that simply offer more money and opportunities. As a result the papers need to fill key roles with many “not ready for prime time talent”. It’s a trend that will be hard to reverse in the future.

The Ugly

With so many people covering teams now, the question becomes “how do you stand out?’

The quick and easy path is you become the story rather than covering the story. Sadly many of the young journalists follow this path. They insert themselves into stories and try to be controversial in the hopes of attracting attention to their work. In the short-term it may work, but long-term Boston sports fans are too smart. Sooner or later these type of reporters lose their credibility which is the one ingredient anyone in the media should cling to.

Remember the Patriots 2010 draft when they selected Devin McCourty with their first selection. There was the reporter from a major paper who suddenly knew more than the scouts and blasted the team for their selection the next day. He projected himself as an expert and implied to readers that he knew more than everyone. Maybe it pleased his bosses who could point out how this was different and would attract readers or viewers on the internet. Now, a year later, wonder how that worked out for him?

Truth be told no one knows how any draft pick is going to work out so why travel this route. Intelligent fans realize this, yet we constantly have management shoving draft grades down our throats the day after. How ludicrous!

Just recently midway thru the Stanley Cup playoffs, we had a prominent radio talk show host discussing the possibility of trading Tim Thomas after the playoffs end. It’s the shock technique. Say something outrageous, get people involved, generate telephone calls and ratings. Rather than intelligently discuss sports issues, we rely on this method to draw attention to our show and ourselves. Sizzle over substance.

And we haven’t even gotten to those journalists who have agendas and push their agendas at every opportunity. You know who they are and what those agendas are. Yes they’re different and they do stand out. Unfortunately they stand out for the wrong reason.

Roy Reiss, who started his career working for Curt Gowdy Broadcasting, was a former sportscaster on Channel 7. His son Mike now covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.