See if this sounds familiar:
The Lakers are the glamour team, the team with the huge stars in the prime of their career. The Lakers have steamrolled the West on their way to the finals and were the betting favorites. The Celtics have some name players too, but they were injured and generally considered too old by the pundits. They had finished fourth in the East, then surprised everyone in the playoffs. It all came down to one game for the NBA title — a Game 7 in Los Angeles.
Sound like 2010? Try 1969.
The year men first walked on the moon. The year of Woodstock — the real, first Woodstock with Jimi Hendrix, not some 90s ripoff that would let Sheryl Crow play. The year the Beatles played their last public concert. When long hair and anti-war protests were the rage. When gas was 35¢ a gallon. Even then it was still Lakers and Celtics.
The Lakers had three of the game’s all-time greats on the roster: Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain Elgin Baylor. The Celtics had stars like Bill Russell — who was the player coach — and Sam Jones, but they were both injured.
It had been one great finals just to get to a Game 7. West went off for 53 in Game 1, John Havlicek answered with 43 in Game 2. The whole series had been like that, punches and counter punches.
It all came down to a Game 7 at the Fabulous Forum. No home team had ever lost a Game 7 in NBA finals history, which meant Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke was feeling cocky. He thousands of balloons put in the rafters to fall when the game was over, and he had choreographed what the band would play.
What he did was motivate the Celtics, who were angered by the balloons. (Not as angry as West, who was livid.) In his great book “Jerry West: The Live and Legend of a Basketball Icon,” Roland Lazenby has this quote from Bill Russell on the game:
I was the coach and I said to my players, “It may be a better show to watch them take those balloons down one at a time.”
Boston came out hot, hitting 8 of their first 10 shots. The Lakers got it close, even tied it in the third quarter, but on this night they had no answer for Jones. West had tweaked hamstring and while he could still shoot — he had 42 points — but Jones was hot and had 24 of his own.
So was Russell, who was attacking Chamberlain and got him in foul trouble. Wilt had five fouls then tweaked his knee with 5:45 left in the game. Chamberlain asked out to rest it. With three minutes left, Chamberlain leans down to coach Butch van Breda Kolff and asked to go back in. Coach says, “We’re doing well enough without you” and leaves him on the bench. Really smart.
It’s a one-point game with little more than a minute left. Jerry West knocked a ball loose but it bounces to Don Nelson — yes, that Don Nelson — who is standing near the free throw line and he throws up a rushed shot from the free throw line that hits the rim, bounces straight up to about the top of the backboard then falls right back through the basket.
That ended up being the winning shot.
The Celtics celebrated winning a title on the Lakers home floor. It was the Celtics 11th title in 13 years. It was also the last one for that dynasty. Jerry West was named MVP in a losing cause.
We’ll see if history repeats itself Thursday.