BOSTON — “Come out, come out, wherever you are,” I coo at the Boston Garden walls.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are. . . . “
They are in here somewhere. I know it. Those ghosts or leprechauns or pixies or whatever you call them, the invisible spirits that ensure the Celtics never lose a crucial game in this building. They are in here. I have come to lure them out.
“Look what I’ve got! . . . ” I sing, waving a piece of green cheese. “Yoo hoo! Little sprites! Look what I’ve got!”
“Little spri-i-i-ites! . . . “
There? Behind the tiny locker rooms? Is that them? Yes? No? Up there, behind the championship banners? Yes? No? Over . . . there! Did you hear something? Yes? No?
I heard something. I think I heard something. Quick. Now is the time to nab them. Now is the time they hover over a little green fire, plotting mischief for tonight’s Game 5 between the Pistons and Celtics in the Eastern Conference final.
What will they use this time? The invisible lid on the rim? The big gust of wind every time Detroit takes a jump shot? That worked last time. Will they use it twice?
You know they will use something. They always use something. Why do you think the Celtics have won 83 of their last 86 games here? Captain America didn’t have that good of a record. And he was a cartoon.
“FIRE!” I scream, my voice echoing off the empty seats. “FIRE IN THE GARDEN! EVERYBODY OUT NOW!”
Silence. Nothing fair in 5-year famine
I have been here all morning. I will stay here all night. I am not giving up because I believe in a fair fight and I do not think you get a fair fight when you play basketball here.
How else do you explain that record? How else do you explain this past weekend? The Celtics, who looked invincible here in Games 1 and 2, came to Detroit and looked like, well, a basketball team. A basketball team that lost twice, badly. The series is all tied now, two games apiece. And yet the Celtics were smirking on their way out. They were going home; the way a wasp goes home, the way Dracula goes home.
The minute they reach the Garden they are all six inches taller, two seconds faster, 50 percent more accurate. No wonder they are smug. Wouldn’t you feel confident if the “Poltergeist” crew was on the payroll? Hey. Let’s play ball.
Larry Bird was probably on the phone as soon as Boston lost Game 4.
“Think up something good for Tuesday,” he whispered to a group of high-pitched giggles on the other end. “Concentrate on that Laimbeer guy. Maybe tie his shoelaces together or something.”
The Pistons have not won in Boston Garden in five years. How can that be? They have won in Los Angeles and San Antonio and New Jersey. They have won in Cleveland on nights when they didn’t even want to be in Cleveland. They have not won here in five years. Think about it.
“SHOW YOURSELVES!” I scream, standing alone in the middle of the parquet floor. “COME OUT AND FIGHT LIKE M–.”
“Excuse me, sir,” asks a security guard, walking in from the tunnel.
“Can I help you?”
“Have you seen any little green . . . with no real shape, really, but just, kind of, green, small and, um, well, this is a little tough to . . . “
“Can I help you?” he repeats.
“No thanks,” I say. The wall-crawler will find them
I creep silently through the highest seats. I crawl like Spider-Man out on the steel rafters and hang there, listening. I check every Garden corner, every heat duct, boiler room and office.
They are here somewhere. They are dancing to flutes with their arms crossed and their hats tipped. Dancing behind some radiator pipe, or under Red Auerbach’s desk. They are reminiscing about the time Havlicek stole the ball, the time Cousy ran out the clock. They are recalling the Houston collapse last year and the Milwaukee collapse this year. They are taking full credit.
They are putting together something for tonight. I can feel it. Some 60-foot shot, some air through the referee’s whistle, some lead in the Pistons’ sneakers. Something. It could be trouble. Big trouble. Unless I get to them first.
“Come to Papa, boys . . .,” I croon, holding out a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal. “It’s magically delicious. . . . “
“Come to Papa. . . . “
I will wait. As long as it takes. And when the TV cameras pan the crowd this evening, perhaps you will see me, standing next to a suspicious-looking hole in wall, poised, ready to finally bring justice to Boston Garden basketball.
I’ll be the one with the baseball bat.