Watching Miami's LeBron James cramp up and be overheard saying he couldn't breathe during Thursday's air conditioning-deprived Game 1 of the NBA Finals in San Antonio certainly brought back some -- forgive me -- warm memories.
A day short of 30 years ago, the NBA's ultimate "Heat Game" took place on the parquet floor at Boston Garden. It was Game 5 of the Finals between the Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers and also happened to be the first game I ever attended in the ancient building on Causeway Street.
Unlike Thursday's Spurs' win, the heat wasn't a case of an electrical failure. Rather, it was caused by a stifling, humid Boston heat wave -- outdoor temperatures above 100 degrees -- and a building with no air conditioning.
Given the series had reached a fever pitch in Game 4 when Boston's Kevin McHale clotheslined Kurt Rambis and the Celtics rallied to tie a series they had been badly outplayed in, a heated environment was appropriate.
As a native New Englander whose airline-pilot dad had moved the family to Florida when I was six, I was a diehard Boston Anything fan. But as a result of the championship run of Bill Russell and Co. in the 1950s and 60s (much of it at the expense of the Lakers), the Celtics were my No. 1 team.
Now, in position to cover the final two home games of the 1984 Bird vs. Magic Part II as a journalist -- Indiana State vs. Michigan State for the NCAA title was Part I -- a little heat was only going to make it an even more memorable occasion.
It was obvious if you stuck your head outside that day what was ahead that night.
During a noon news segment on Boston television, Celtics forward and current team radio analyst Cedric Maxwell -- he was just "Cornbread" to C's fans in those days -- was told it might be 100 degrees in the building. Maxwell, not one to hide his feelings, smiled and said that the "fancy boys" -- I think that was the term he used, but hey, it was almost 30 years ago! -- from L.A. wouldn't be able to handle the heat, but the Celtics would be just fine, thank you.
Wanting to relish the night, I arrived about 90 minutes before gametime. The fans, oblivious to the heat, were stoked. I remember keeping track -- I counted 10 separate "Beat L.A., Beat L.A." chants before tipoff.
The temperature on the floor was above 90 at tipoff. Different readings had it reaching near 100 during the game. The most reliable reports from Thursday night in the AT&T Center had it at about 88 for the Spurs and Heat.
By the time I settled into my press row seat -- as Johnny Most always said, "high above courtside" -- I had worked up a good sweat. Even for a Florida resident, it was oppressive. As the first quarter turned into the second, a Miami Herald reporter sitting to my left muttered "I hate this damn place." I just smiled. I couldn't relate. For me, it was hoops heaven.
Actually, sitting in the front row of an upper deck, we were probably "cooler" than most. Didn't dare tell my Miami friend that. I asked him if he wanted a drink at halftime, and of course, he said yes. That turned into an adventure. As I reached the hallway to the concession stand, it was like a skating party had erupted. With everyone's sweat hitting the floor, it was as slick as an icy driveway. People were slipping and sliding as they tried to navigate the narrow corridor, drinks in hand. Somehow, luckier than many, I managed to shuffle back to my seat without spilling a drop.
On the court, it was obvious Maxwell had it right. A 37-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was using an oxygen mask during timeouts while Larry Bird -- his pale, white skin turning a lobster red -- looked like he was playing a summer pickup game in the hot sun back in French Lick, Ind. How about 34 points on 15-of-20 shooting with 17 rebounds as the Celtics pulled away for a 121-103 victory?
Having filed my story, I left with a smile and a lifetime memory. I returned for the clinching Game 7 and it was special as the fans spilled onto the court and the city erupted in celebration.
Inspired by the experience, I looked for and eventually landed a sports editing job in Boston and happily attended dozens of Celtics games in the following five years, but it's the memory of that sweat-drenched night that stands alone as the most memorable.
To contact Richard Lord:
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