Where Have You Gone, Boston Garden

Christopher GabrielCGabriel.com

As the NBA Finals got underway with another historic chapter of the Boston Celtics versus the Los Angeles Lakers about to be written, I couldn’t help but notice one player that was missing.  Born on November 17,1928, he lived an event-filled, historic life before his passing on September 25, 1995.  The player I’m speaking of: Boston Garden.  My fondness for this great arena goes back to when I was a kid in Chicago.

Growing up, my sports-watching days were spent at Chicago Stadium, Comiskey Park and Wrigley Field.  The latter, to watch the Bears before their eventual move to Soldier Field.  Back in the day, you pretty much had to show up at the ballpark, arena or stadium to watch your favorite team play because televised sports, when games were broadcast at all, were confined largely to weekends.  And even then, it was in the Game of the Week format.

What those precious few broadcasts allowed fans to do was look through a two-hour window into the worlds of other teams: Their fans, the cities they represented and, most importantly for fans like me, their ballparks, arenas or stadiums. 

Seeing palaces like the Montreal Forum, Yankee Stadium and Maple Leaf Gardens for the first time was indescribable.  Hallowed ground, each of them, where some of the greatest players of all time called home.  But of all the great sports shrines fans from my generation grew up with, Boston Garden was the one I longed to see over all the rest. 

Maybe it was the greatness of the Celtics and the aura of dominance surrounding them that had my adrenaline flowing the first time I saw it.  Maybe it was the way I heard Boston Bruins crowds described by Lloyd Petit, the former play-by-play announcer for the Chicago Blackhawks; he painted a picture of rabid, deafening crowds which immediately resonated for me since that’s what I was used to with the Hawks at Chicago Stadium.  Whatever it was, even at a very young age it was only too clear there was something that set Boston Garden apart from all the others I saw on television. 

Boston Garden got its name from the building it was modeled after, Madison Square Garden in New York.  Garden owner and boxing promoter Tex Rickard, after deciding to build a similar boxing arena in Boston, originally named it Boston Madison Square Garden.  Not too long after it opened, however, the “Madison Square” was dropped.  Smart move.  Considering the love Boston and New York fans share for one another, it was arguably the best decision ever made in American sports.

Even the parquet floor has a fascinating history.  Because of lumbar shortages after World War II, the East Boston Lumber Company constructed the floor in a parquet style where small pieces of wood are carefully pieced together.  What was born out of necessity turned into the most famous basketball floor in the world.

Watching a game in Boston Garden was usually an ear-splitting, muggy, intense experience.  The fans were incredibly close to the court or ice.  You could be in the last row of the upper deck and if you yelled at a player, he’d likely hear you.  Case in point, I once attended a playoff game between the Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens.  Before a face-off at my end of the ice, and sitting in the next-to-last row of the upper deck behind the goal, a fan a few seats to my right yelled a “greeting” to Montreal tough-guy Chris Nilan.  Nilan, no love lost with Bruins fans, turned his head without moving any other part of his body and yelled back “kiss my ___!” 

There was no air conditioning in the Garden and a number of seats were obstructed by large concrete pillars.  I sat in obstructed-view seats on many occasions but it never hindered my enjoyment of experiencing a Celtics or Bruins game.

Boston Garden, when filled up with Celtics or Bruins fans, was practically a microcosm of Boston itself.  No matter where you were in the Garden – sitting in the stands, standing in the aisles or walking through the concourses – it was not a lot different than moving about the city.  Boston is cozy, charming and loaded with history; that pretty much summed up the Garden.

Today’s sports landscape is filled with an abundance of pleasure-palaces for the well-to-do.  Most of them are stunning to look at, both inside and out.  You’ll find every amenity, every type of food and every comfort you could ever ask for at a sporting venue.  They also have state-of-the-art scoreboards telling you when to cheer, when to make noise and what to buy . . . endlessly.  Rather than the simple, understated organ, we now have sound systems blasting out music and sound effects synchronized with HD video screens, the whole thing looking like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were at the controls.  At every timeout there is an array of sideshows including cheerleaders (dancers), jugglers or mascots flying off trampolines as they attempt to dunk an undersized ball.  You go to an NBA game and a Renaissance Festival breaks out.

Boston Garden, and how it was operated, was the epitome of why “less is more” was such a perfect concept.  You went to a game to see the game.  Period. 

Watching the Celtics and Lakers in game one the other night was quite a sight to see: Celtics green, Lakers purple, Bill Russell in attendance . . . for NBA purists, it was as it’s supposed to be.  There was something in the air you could almost taste that elevated this series, between these two franchises, far above anything else the NBA has offered in quite some time.  It was a throwback rivalry to the NBA’s greatest days. 

All that was missing was the NBA’s greatest arena.

boston garden photo, courtesy railpixs.com; parquet floor photo, courtesy hoopsaddict.com

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Filed Under: MassachusettsNBANew EnglandNew YorkNHLSports

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About the Author: Christopher Gabriel is the host of the cleverly named Christopher Gabriel Program on AM 970 WDAY in Fargo, North Dakota. You can hear him weekdays from 9 to Noon. As a writer and humorist, his work has been been published online by the Chicago Sun-Times, Reuters and publications within the Sun-Times News Group.

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  1. Jeff Glucker says:

    I am looking for any video footage from the “A Night to Remember” held at the Garden on September 29, 1995. Do you know of any out there?

    My buddy and I attended the event, snuck up on stage at the end (right behind CityYear) and got to shake Larry Legend’s hand!!

    Then as the credits rolled, the camera was fixed on my friend and I as we popped the balloons falling from the ceiling…

    His mother recorded it for us (as they broadcasted the event on TV) but somehow it got recorded over as the years passed.

    …bummer…

    Anyway, Go Celtics tonight!!

    [Reply]

  2. Tamina park says:

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    [Reply]

  3. Andrew says:

    Great article, you really capture how important the Garden was to the sporting world. I think that the TD Banknorth Garden doesn’t have the same feel and part of it stems from the name.

    TD Banknorth or Commerce Bank or whoever owns the naming rights need to think about the Boston Fans. I believe the fans can change the name and have a say. Check out this campaign to change the name back to the Boston Garden: Give the Boston Garden Back to Boston.

    There is no better time to do this, the Celtics just won their 17th championship and the renaming process is already underway. Thanks

    [Reply]

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