I have framed copies of all Globe front pages from Boston sports championships won in this century. The datelines under those happy headlines are NEW ORLEANS, HOUSTON, ST. LOUIS, JACKSONVILLE, DENVER, VANCOUVER, GLENDALE, and HOUSTON (again). Two of the 10 titles were won in Boston and required no dateline.
Now, with plenty of wall space available, I am ready to add: LOS ANGELES.
The Red Sox play Games 3 and 4 of the 2018 World Series at Dodger Stadium Friday and Saturday. Game 5, if necessary, would be played Sunday night at Chavez Ravine. This means the historic, 117-win Red Sox have a chance to win Boston’s first championship in Los Angeles since Bill Russell and Sam Jones beat the Wilt Chamberlain/Elgin Baylor/Jerry West Lakers at the Los Angeles Forum 49 years ago.
That was the night Lakers owner Jack Kent Cookie hung nets filled with balloons from the ceiling of the Forum. It was trolling before we even knew there was trolling, and it fired up Russell, Jones, and especially Red Auerbach. When the Celtics won their 11th title in 13 years, Arnold was the first to scream, “What are they gonna do with all those goddamn balloons?’’
How’s that for “Beat LA”?
Most of the Boston-vs.-LA championship competitions have involved the Celtics and Lakers. The Patriots won a conference semifinal against the vaunted Los Angeles Raiders in the Coliseum en route to New England’s first Super Bowl appearance in January of 1986. That was the day Patriots general manager Patrick Sullivan got into a postgame dustup with the Raiders’ Howie Long and Matt Millen, moments before the late Billy Sullivan tried to insult the late, great Will McDonough on national TV.
Ah, good times for Boston in the City of Angels.
The Celtics have played the Los Angeles Lakers in 11 NBA Finals (another matchup was played when the Lakers were in Minneapolis). The Celtics won their first Los Angeles-based championship in 1963 on the final night of Bob Cousy’s Celtic career. The Cooz scored 18 in his final game and heaved the basketball toward the rafters of the LA Sports Arena as the buzzer sounded and Boston won its fifth straight crown.
In ’68 and ’69, the Celtics clinched again in Los Angeles, most famously in the balloon game. Russell announced his retirement a few weeks later, and Auerbach wore the 1969 championship ring until his dying day.
The Celtics and Lakers renewed hostilities in the 1980s, playing in three Finals between 1984-1987, with LA winning twice. The 1984 showdown won by Larry Bird’s Celtics featured Kevin McHale’s takedown of Kurt Rambis, Larry calling his teammates “sissies,” Cedric Maxwell giving James Worthy the choke sign as Worthy prepared to take a free throw (Worthy missed), and M.L. Carr nicknaming LA’s superstar “Tragic Johnson.’’
A year later, the first year of the 2-3-2 NBA Finals format, I struck up a conversation with Bird at the bar at the airport Marriott the afternoon before Game 3 at the Forum.
Larry: “Man, we’re going to be out here for a whole week to play these three games. Dinah [Bird’s wife] doesn’t usually make road trips, but we’re here all this time and I’ve been able to save up some of them frequent-flyer miles, so I think she’s gonna be able to come out.’’
Me: “Thank God for the miles, Larry. Guess she’d be riding Amtrak if you didn’t have the free flight.’’
Like I said: Good times in Los Angeles.
The Celtics and Lakers played in the NBA Finals twice in this century, each winning once. The Celtics clinched in six in Boston in 2008, but lost their chance to win another title in LA in 2010 when they blew a fourth-quarter lead in Game 7 at Staples Center. The Celtics had to play without the injured Kendrick Perkins, and Rasheed Wallace ran out of gas because he was out of shape.
Now we’re on to baseball, and your 118-year-old Red Sox have a chance to win the World Series this weekend in Los Angeles.
Dodger Stadium is the third-oldest park in the majors (opened in 1962), trailing only Fenway Park and Wrigley Field in longevity. Like Fenway, it still has a few wood seats with cast iron standards. It has the original corrugated fan-shaped roof beyond the warning track. It has a plaque commemorating the 2008 exhibition game at LA Memorial Coliseum between the Red Sox and Dodgers that drew a crowd of 115,000, the largest crowd in baseball history. It has photographs of Don Zimmer, Bill Buckner, Reggie Smith, Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez, and Adrian Gonzalez, all of whom did time at Fenway.
In the left-field reserve plaza, there’s an 800-pound bronze statue of rookie Jackie Robinson stealing home. A few months after the statue was dedicated, team officials removed the bronze home plate and replaced it with a stone home plate. It was a safety issue. Evidently, there were complaints that fans were burning their butts while sitting on the sun-heated metal dish for photo ops.
The 2018 World Series is far from over, but do not assume the Red Sox are going to have a chance to win it at Fenway next week. If you want to see them win their fourth championship of this century, you’d better fly to LAX and follow directions to Vin Scully Way. It’s only 2,588 miles from Yawkey Way, er, Jersey Street.