The Dynasty Years

by Jennie Kaufman

 

I guess there is a time in all our lives that we look back on with squinty curiosity: A time so hazy and faraway that while we can match it up with memories, we have to wonder: Was that really me? Was I drunk the whole time?

Probably, in the name of decency, we should leave the murky past alone.

For me—for I can leave it alone no longer—it consists of the years when I was the cornerstone of the Boston Celtics’ dynasty of the 1960s. Now, I realize it’s hard to remember—it’s hard for anyone to remember what NBA defense used to be, before I revolutionized it with my uncanny shotblocking. But this is the crux of my problem: that part of my life is uncanny to me, too. Others may shake their heads in wonderment and then eject the Sports Illustrated Highlights in History tape and go about their lives. I cannot.

Although not everyone spent his or her young adulthood winning eight consecutive NBA championships, I believe it’s common to find life more complicated and difficult as one grows older. Of course, maturity brings its own rewards. Children, home equity, the ability to accept failure, a few friends who don’t abandon you—spiritual riches.

But spiritual rewards are earned through faith and hard work, abiding love and sacrifice. Those winning seasons slid down like raw eggs. How’d we do it, when everything is so damn hard now?

In those days, I’d slip into a groove and end up with forty or fifty rebounds in one game. I’m sure I tried, but I can’t actually remember trying. Whereas today it takes two or three tries to clean my glasses. It gets on my damn nerves. I keep wiping them with their special chamois, but every time I think they’re clean, they are, uncannily, not.

Once I settle down in my chair with my newspaper and glasses and chamois, I find I’m deeply troubled by the our economic quagmire, partisan pettiness, profound income inequality, and unsustainable practices. Just getting through the paper is almost more than I can do every day. But the Sixties weren’t exactly a cupcake party. Let’s remember: assassination, assassination, assassination. All those race riots and shooting at students. All that folk music. So it’s not that times are harder now.

Looking back at my Sixties, though, you have to marvel at the way we showed people that basketball is a team game. Wilt, he was formidable, but he couldn’t beat us with all his Philadelphia Warriors, because we had the transcendent teamwork of a colony of ants or bees. I was, and am still, credited for making the players around me better. I’m not trying to say the teamwork was all my doing, but isn’t it uncanny that I was such a catalyst for cooperation when today I can’t get twelve people to come to a party?

It’s not a problem of lost youth, exactly, but why is it that I have so little genuine recollection of the prime of my life? Facts I can come up with. For instance, these were the years when America found itself in potato chips, when per capita consumption rose from 6.3 pounds to 14.2 pounds (1958 to 1966). But I just remember skinny people. Except Mama Cass.

And now the NBA season lasts an eternity, yet before I know it, it’s over, and I haven’t watched one damn game. How can eternity itself have changed so much in forty years?

Blocking a shot must have been like transforming myself into a missile, or rather, a kind of shield-missile. But how did I manage to position myself there in the first place, how did I time my jump, how did I avoid fouling? Just how big was I?

Aw, who am I kidding?

You’ll never block a shot by checking off a list like that. You have to know all those things so that you can forget them utterly, and then it’s so simple that you can’t remember ever needing to learn it. Which, of course, I can’t.

I definitely felt a surge upon winning that first championship. Maybe that cocktail of adrenaline, dopamine, and crushed ice gave me brain damage. Because what did it feel like to win the fourth one? Honestly? No idea. How did it feel when we lost a game? What the hell did I do with myself in the offseason? It’s gone. Where did I live? Nothing to do but clean my glasses again and go down to the basement to look at the scrapbooks.

It’s got to be unhealthy to dwell on this. But something does not fit, some explanation is stubbornly missing. Was I just enjoying myself so much I forgot to pay attention? I hope that’s what it was.

Wow! Was that my car? And who is that woman?

 


Some memories have been augmented courtesy of the NBA, ESPN.com, and American Chronicle by Lois & Alan Gordon.

 

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