Team theme: Take it away

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Staff / June 11, 2008

LOS ANGELES - Are you going to be OK if the Celtics win the championship on the West Coast, 3,000 miles from home?

It's a possibility. And a pattern.

The Celtics went into last night's game at the Staples Center needing two wins in three games to close the deal on Banner No. 17 in Los Angeles. Not that they're greedy, but I'm wondering if some fans (Garden ticket-holders, perhaps) might be hoping for one or two losses in LA.

Winning championships away from home has become something of a Boston specialty. Something tells me Mayor Menino kind of likes it this way.

The Red Sox have won two of the last four World Series, and both were clinched on the road.

In 2004, after 86 years (and way more than 96 tears), the Sox won the World Series in St. Louis. Near the Arch. Under a blood-red moon. A lot of Sox crazies made the trek to Missouri, but it wasn't the way it would have been had the Olde Towne Team broken the Curse at Fenway.

Eight months ago, it happened again. In Denver. Sox sweep. Rocky Mountain High. Rare air for the Nation. But again, no home cooking for the finale.

Football championships are pretty much all like that. Patriots fans got to dance in the streets of New Orleans, then in the urban sprawl of Houston ("too close to New Orleans," according to Bill Walton and the Grateful Dead). In 2005, Patriots yahoos were forced to whoop it up in the bait shops and trailer parks of Jacksonville. That's just the way it works with the Super Bowl.

The Bruins won their last Stanley Cup (1972) in Madison Square Garden. That was two years after they won it at home when Bobby Orr flew through the air after potting the winner.

The last Boston team to win a championship at home was the 1986 Celtics. The '84 Celtics also clinched at the old Garden. But more than any team, the Celtics have mastered the art of winning championships away from home. Part of this is owed to sheer mathematics. It would be pretty hard to win 16 championships all on your home court.

A whopping seven of the Celtics' 16 banners were clinched on the road. They won in Houston, Phoenix, Milwaukee, Los Angeles (thrice), and Minneapolis.

Road-tripping championships inspired some small but great moments in franchise history.

When the Celtics won in Houston, Larry Bird was famously photographed (by the Globe's Frank O'Brien) flashing the "V for victory" sign with a cigar in his mouth. Bird had plucked the stogie from Red Auerbach before the photo was taken. Later that night, the Celtics partied at the Stouffer Hotel and Bird tossed cheese balls into the open mouth of teammate Rick Robey, who'd fallen asleep on a couch.

In 1976, the Celtics won in the desert, but Globe beat guy Bob Ryan doesn't have many memories of the victory party at their Arizona hotel. Ryan and coach Tom Heinsohn were feuding, and Ryan stayed in the home of Suns All-Star guard Paul Westphal during the series (sort of like me living with Kobe and Vanessa this week).

After the Celtics beat the Bucks at the Mecca in '74, fiery center Dave Cowens returned to Boston and fell asleep on a bench in the Public Garden. Must have been quite a flight home from Milwaukee.

But it's the Lakers who bring out the best in Boston road championships. If the Celtics are able to close out the Finals this week, the Staples Center will become the fourth home court on which the Lakers lost a championship series to Boston. The Celtics wiped out the Lakers at the Minneapolis Arena in 1959, at the Los Angeles Sports Arena in 1963, and at the Forum in 1968 and '69. Got to be a record.

Red's guys didn't bother with champagne toasts in the early years. Maybe it was just too easy. When the Celtics beat the Lakers in Minnesota to complete a four-game sweep in '59, the finale extended Boston's winning streak over the Lakers to 22 games. Imagine having a 22-game winning streak over a team you beat in the Finals.

The championship of 1963 featured Bob Cousy dribbling out the clock at the Sports Arena. It was the last game of Cousy's career, and Frank Ramsey celebrated with a bottle of Kentucky bourbon on the flight home.

John Havlicek scored 40 in the series-clinching win in 1968. Nobody remembers much else. By then, beating LA in LA was routine.

Then came 1969, and Jack Kent Cooke and the balloons. Don Nelson made the shot that bounced high off the rim and back through the basket. Sam Jones and Bill Russell walked off the court winners for the final time. The Lakers' season ended in disgrace, with Wilt Chamberlain fighting coach Butch van Breda Kolff and Elgin Baylor lamenting, "We carried that champagne from coast to coast. By the time we lost, the labels had come off the bottles."

The Celtics have a chance to win the NBA championship. In Los Angeles. Again. You OK with that?

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