Thursday, April 3, 2008

Bark Back Sports: Celtics' 60th Win Conjures Up Memories of Bird Era Excellence

Posted by Scott Cavanagh
The Boston Celtics picked up their NBA-best 60th win last night. The victory is significant for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it sets a league record for biggest one season turnaround. It's also the first time any Eastern Conference team has won 60 in a decade and the first time that the storied Boston franchise has won as many as 50 games since the retirement of Larry Bird 16 years ago. They last won 60 (67 to be exact) in the championship season of 1986.

The sudden rise from 24-win doormat to title favorite can be directly attributed to the off-season acquisition of star forward Kevin Garnett, whose arrival immediately changed the fortunes of the Green and White and made basketball matter again in Beantown. Ironically, it was the arrival of Bird from Indiana State in 1980 that had produced the league's previously largest 60-win turnaround. That year the rookie forward led a team of castoffs and veterans that had won just 29 games in '79 to a league-best 61 wins and the conference finals.

With 60 already under their belt and seven more games to play, the 2008 Celtics will certainly win more games than the 1980 model and are expecting bigger things than the conference finals, but they will be hard-pressed to come near the amazing run of excellence produced during the Bird era.

Following up Bird's 61-win rookie campaign with a 64-win championship season in '81, the Celtics would AVERAGE 63 wins a year for the next six seasons. In Bird's first seven seasons, the Celtics won sixty or more games six times. In his first nine seasons, the Celtics won eight division titles, reached the conference finals eight times, the league finals five times and won three championships--all while playing in the same era as the Dr. J/Moses Malone Sixers and the Showtime Lakers. In 12 seasons (he sat out all but six games of the 1988-89 season) the Bird-led Celtics averaged 61 wins every year.

Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen have produced an incredible regular season, but as the numbers and banners show, they have a long way to go to become real Boston legends. Don't even get me started on Bill Russell.

Bonds Still Sitting
He can still hit home runs. He can still get on base more regularly than most all stars. He can still draw more walks (intentional or otherwise) in one month than anybody else can in three. So why is Barry Bonds still looking for a place to ply his trade a week after opening day?

Well, we all kinda know why, but do we really? Is he not signed because teams are worried about losing him to his possibly impending perjury trial, or is it because of the distractions a Bonds signing would cause a team--trial or otherwise? Is it because his creaky knees won't allow him to play the outfield, or the added expense of creating appropriately sized caps to fit his giant and ever-growing coconut? Is it his advanced age, or the advance knowledge that his permanent locker room equipment includes a recliner as big as a Hummer?

Regardless of the reasoning, one thing is for sure. If Barry is not signed by any team this season-- or ever--and his trial either never materializes or does not produce a conviction, Major League Baseball and its owners will have collusion and right-to-work lawsuits on their hands that will force them to deal with Bonds for the next decade.
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