Bill Russell, John Havlicek, JoJo White, Tommy Heinsohn and Danny Ainge were cheered again by thousands of screaming fans two weeks ago as Boston Celtic legends led the 2008 NBA champion Boston Celtic parade through the green, fan-frenzied streets of their city. A crowd filled Copley Square and then something different happened. The basketball legends pointed, screamed into the crowd for some one to join them on their parade float of Celtic honor. Who was it?
It rained green and white confetti, the Celtic leprechaun danced, Paul Pierce was triumphant with his MVP gold and Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins were each atop a duck boat. Kevin Garnett hoisted the golden NBA trophy. Crowds parted, yet stayed. The parade was over but no fan wanted to leave the magic of this Boston history. It had been 22 years since last these Boston Celtics were number one. Well, of course, not these Celtics, but the authentic excitement and team spirit were back.
And then there he was. Or was he a mirage? Dapper straw feathered hat, silk mustard shirt tucked into black-belted sharp pleated pants above polished shoes. And the postured stance — after all these years, could it be?
Hello, is it you Spider?
The Boston Celtic luck-bringing leprechaun did not disappear.
Spider Edwards has been there in Celtic history and seen all 17 Boston Celtic NBA champion team wins from a unique courtside viewpoint. This year was the first time in 12 championships that Spider was not working the parquet. The 16 prior championships came in the 29 years from 1957 to 1986, including eight straight with Coach Red Auerbach and his victory cigars.
“Red, he was my man. He’s here today. His presence is here, you just know it, you can see it,” he said.
In 1997, the famed nine-time (no NBA coach has ever won more) championship Celtic winning coach flew up on Thanksgiving eve to present Spider Edwards with a plaque, at halftime on the Garden’s parquet upon his retirement.
“Oh, yeah. Thanksgiving eve 1947 to Thanksgiving eve 1997, I kept the parquet for the Celtics and had a lot of fun doing it,” he said.
The parquet basketball court at Boston Garden was installed in 1946. A war was on and lumber was scarce. The short lumber floor parquet pattern was an ingenious, thrifty New England solution.
Spider’s brown eyes twinkled and he laughed at the many memories.
“Great friendships, right up to today,” he said.
News casters hailed him from the press stage. Off the air, they had missed him. Happy, all smiles and waves, he walked mostly anonymously through the crowd, observing it all, just as he did for all those years at the Garden.
Now 78, he talked about what he has seen.
“In the 1960s, each [Garden] employee was given six tickets to take out on Causeway street and give away to try to get people to watch the Celtics. The team was winning, but white Boston would not watch a black basketball team. Oh yeah, we had Cousey, but mostly folks would just not come. We used to push fans to move down from the Garden’s balcony seats to fill in the courtside seats, so when the TV cameras looked down, people would think we had a lot of fans. No one really watched.
“Everything changed when Red brought Larry Bird. Drafted him two years before he graduated. People thought Red was crazy. Crazy smart he was. Can’t do that anymore, it’s called the Red Auerbach rule.
“Then Red brought in Parish, McHale and Ainge, Johnson. Red orchestrated it all!
“Red made them wear black high tops. Thought they would look heavy footed and slow to the other team. Don’t see that no more.”
And what would Red Auerbach see today at this rolling rally?
“A whole other generation, all over again, getting a kick out of the Celtics. Fantastic!” proclaimed Spider Edwards. He continued: “I’ve had a good life and it’s getting better. All these new kids, most wouldn’t have known our times. But what Red and his players started —it is here today in these young fans and this Celtic team with Ainge. So emotional. What a day to see.”
A Chinese grandmother and new American citizen led her young grandchildren up the Boston Public Library steps, hoisting the smallest to see the famous players for the first time. Fans held digital cameras aloft and Swiss tourists sent text messages to friends.
A sign read: “The Glory is Back.”
Sandra Kingston lives in Vineyard Haven.