Hop into the way back machine to a simpler time . . . a time when a team won a championship on Tuesday night, then flew to the White House Wednesday morning . . . a time when three star players didn’t make the trip to Pennsylvania Avenue, and hardly anybody noticed.
This happened to your Boston Celtics in the middle of a scalding June in 1984 when Larry Bird was king, Ronald Reagan was president, the Celtics were champions, and a trip to the White House was No Big Deal.
I was there. And in today’s 24/7 culture of social media, hot takes, and political polarization, it’s kind of refreshing to look back at a time when Red’s cigar was just a cigar, and nobody really cared that Bird, Robert Parish, and Cedric Maxwell skipped the trip to the White House.
This stuff is all the rage these days, especially here in the championship-laden Hub of the Universe. Stanley Cup hero Tim Thomas lit a political torch when he wouldn’t go to Washington with his Bruins teammates in 2011. Today folks speculate endlessly about what will happen when it’s time for the Patriots to make their next trip to the White House. Six players have already said they won’t go because they don’t like the man in the Oval Office, but the Triumphant Trump Trio of Bob Kraft, Bill Belichick, and Tom Brady are all BFF’s with The Donald.
There was none of this speculation, anticipation, or political heat back in ’84. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that it even happened. The Celts went from the Boston Garden to the Rose Garden in less than 14 hours.
The C’s and Lakers were in the throes of what is arguably the greatest NBA series ever when word of a Washington trip first spilled into the ancient Garden on the day of Game 7. This was a series that had featured James Worthy’s game-losing pass, a couple of Laker blowouts of the C’s, Bird calling his teammates sissies, Kevin McHale’s takedown of Kurt Rambis, Max giving Worthy the “choke” sign in mid-game, Pat Riley calling the Celtics “thugs,’’ and M. L. Carr calling the Lakers “Fakers” and mocking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by wearing goofy goggles in the LA Forum.
Nobody was thinking about the White House when the teams gathered at the Garden cauldron for Game 7 on Tuesday night, June 12. That’s when Celtics GM Jan Volk got a call from the league office at 3 p.m.
“Apparently the invitation had been made a day or two earlier to the Lakers that if they won they’d be going to the White House, but nobody bothered to mention it to us,’’ recalled Volk. “I scrambled to get flights [Eastern Airlines, flight 375] and we prepared a memo that we hoped to use if we won.’’
The Celtics won. With Maxwell delivering after telling his teammates, “Hop on my back,’’ the Green clinched their 15th championship, 111-102. There was a wild, hot celebration in the Garden, a team party at a Faneuil bar called Chelsea’s, then an after-party at the Winchester home of team marketing director Mike Cole. Bird stayed out until the sun came up, did a live interview with a Boston radio station, then went home to Brookline to sleep while nine of his teammates were gathering at Logan’s Terminal A.
“If the president wants to see me, he knows where to find me,’’ said Bird.
What about Maxwell? Was he perhaps making a statement by snubbing the president?
“No,’’ Maxwell recalled this week. “It was a very simple reason for me. I was getting married the next week. I did not go to the victory parade the next day either. I was out getting a marriage license. I didn’t have time. It wasn’t anything anybody said. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the president.’’
Danny Ainge went to the White House wearing Tom Cruise “Risky Business” sunglasses. When he met Reagan in the Rose Garden, Ainge asked the president if playoff shares could someday be tax-free.
Lynn McHale accompanied her husband and carried the couple’s first-born 1-year-old, Kristyn. Scott Wedman’s wife, Kim, also made the trip, as did Auerbach, Volk, three Celtic owners, three coaches, the team doctor, trainer, equipment manager, and publicist. Auerbach presented Reagan with a Celtic team jacket and Dennis Johnson served as sweltering spokesperson, asking, Reagan, “How do you stand out here and don’t sweat?’’
When Volk was asked about the missing starters that day, he answered, “We expected them. We don’t know why they weren’t here. It was a late night and I’m sure they were very tired.’’
Would Danny make anyone go if the same thing happened today? “I think you’ve got to leave it up to each guy,’’ he said. “I don’t think it’s a time to make a statement. Some guys do. I wouldn’t force a player to go if he didn’t want to. I would encourage him to go and try to talk him down off the ledge.’’
Maxwell, now divorced, has regrets about his decision not to attend.
“Now that I’m looking back, I should have gone to the White House instead of got married,’’ said Max. “Can I get a do-over? I should have gone. It would have saved me some money.’’