NBA Playoffs 2012: An Open Letter to the Celtics: Remember 1968

Andy LiptonContributor IMay 1, 2012

Paul Pierce: Not Done Yet
Paul Pierce: Not Done YetChris Chambers/Getty Images

These Celts can win the NBA championship. The team, with four truly great players, is far from done.  They love the game, are in excellent condition, leave it all on the court, and still represent what teamwork is all about.  

“The Celtics are old,” is one of the oldest stories in sports in my lifetime. Since the 1960s, every generation of great Celtics teams has been accused of getting old prematurely. Oh, it will happen, but not yet. 

 In 1967, the Philadelphia 76ers won the NBA championship, breaking the Celtics' streak of eight championships in a row.  The 76ers, with Wilt Chamberlain, looked dominant with the best record in league history.  They easily beat the Celtics in the playoffs. 

That was when talk that the Celtics were old first gained credibility. 

This year, Celtics fans had to endure rumors that every one of the core four would be traded.  Thankfully, it did not happen. These guys still know how to play the game as well as any team in the league. 

Somehow, the Almighty must have listened to Red up there.  

Or maybe former Celtic player—and now general manager—Danny Ainge could not sleep one night and started reading the history of the Celtics. If he did, he would have remembered what Celtic greatness was all about and know that talk of being old was premature. 

Rajon Rondo. As one of the most unique and creative players in the league, he quarterbacked the Celtics to the championship—in only his second season.  He has only gotten better.  But his Celtic greatness is playing while hurt and giving up his body; he is a throwback to the many great Celtics who played hurt for the sake of the team. 

Last year, Rondo playing hurt—and practically one-handed—with a dislocated left elbow against the Miami Heat in the playoffs brought back great memories.

Memories of the late Larry Siegfried all bandaged up and diving into the stands. Of Bill Russell playing with a broken foot in the 1969 playoffs—which we learned about when the playoffs were over. Of Havlicek playing left-handed against the Knicks in 1973 when he seriously hurt his shoulder. Of McHale playing with a broken foot in the 1987 playoffs. 



Paul Pierce. The Truth.  In the same category with Havlicek and Bird. Physically gifted and a wise player, he scored over 40 points a few weeks ago against the Knicks.  He knows how to play the game of basketball better than anyone in the league at his position.  

For a playoff series, he is still my first pick.  Why would Red ever trade Pierce?  As his career winds down, he could impart much knowledge to the younger players.  

Kevin Garnett. The Big Ticket. The Celtics are not big enough?  Bill Russell was just 6’10”. Who gives more of himself to a game and his teammates?  A true Celtics champion who has shown there is plenty of game left at both ends of the court.  Trade him, and you end any chance of winning a championship. 

And Ray Allen. Ray Ray. Is there a Celtic in better shape than him, or one who plays harder at both ends of the court?  Ray is still a great shooter.  Even the great Sam Jones had to pace himself near the end, and he had K.C. Jones, Siegfried, Tom Thacker or Emmette Bryant guarding the opposing scoring guard. 

For crying out loud Doc, put the ball in Ray’s hands a little more and give him a few simple picks. He can get his shots more easily that way. He is killing himself running circles trying to get open without the ball.  We would never get equal value for Ray Allen in a trade. 

Frank Deford, the great sportswriter for Sports Illustrated chronicled much of the 1967-68 NBA season.   Right before the 1968 Eastern Conference playoff finals began,  Deford—giving credence to the Celtics are old theme—said, “[i]t began last week, Wilt vs. Russell, best of seven for what may, quite possibly be the last time.”  Sports Illustrated, April 15, 1968, p. 34. 


Despite the naysayers—and after a demoralizing 1967 playoff loss—those “old” Celtics in 1968 never quit.  In the 1968 Eastern Conference playoff finals, the Celts were down 3-1 against Wilt and the 76ers. 

The Celts came back to beat the 76ers. It was the first time a NBA team had come back from 3-1 to win a playoff series. The Celtics then beat the Lakers in the finals for the championship. 

Before the finals against the Lakers in 1968, Deford had this to say about Bill Russell and the Celtics: “Supposedly a tired old man near the end of his trail, who has known defeat like other mortals, he has managed to bring his own new team of hustlers and scramblers and even castoffs to the brink of one final great success.”  Sports Illustrated, April 29, 1968, p. 24. 

And guess what?  Those old Celtics won the championship again in 1969.