Friday, February 23, 2007

Johnson Will Live Forever In Pistons Fans' Memory Banks

It was like my Kennedy assassination.

I remember where I was, who I was with, and what was happening around me when Dennis Johnson laid a basketball into the hoop at Boston Garden, after Larry Bird's steal, sealing Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals for the Celtics over the Pistons.

My friend Dan Silva and I were at a bar on Wayne Road, south of Warren, in Westland. It was one of those Irish joints. The game was on the big screen. We were in a room, away from the main floor, of maybe 50 people.

The final moments of that game are well-documented. Pistons clinging to a one-point lead. Series tied at two games each. Larry Bird thumping the basketball, biding his time, waiting for the moment to attack the basket. And everyone in the place, and all of us watching on TV, knowing that that's the way it's going to be.

Bird made 0ne last look up at the clock, then did his thing. And for a millisecond his path to the basket was open. But then Dennis Rodman, the Worm that he was, came from nowhere and swatted away Bird's floating shot with a vengeance. There was a scramble. The ball went out of bounds. From our vantage point, it looked like it was off a Celtic player.

The refs agreed. Deeeetroit basketballllll!

The ball had been knocked off the body of Boston's Jerry Sichting. Only a few seconds remained. The crowd in the bar started high-fiving, hugging, dancing, hooting and hollering. They figured the Pistons were now leaders in this series, 3 games to 2. And with Game 6 in the unusual yet friendly confines of one of the corners of the Pontiac Silverdome.

But I wasn't a high-fiver. I hugged no one. I certainly didn't dance, and I didn't hoot. But I did holler. Because these were the Celtics, and this was Boston Garden, and I'd seen some pretty strange things happen there to teams in road jerseys.

The thing that I hollered was this: "IT'S NOT OVER! IT'S NOT OVER!," literally trying to quell the madding crowd with my arms akimbo, like a quarterback trying to quiet the 12th man at the line of scrimmage. I stood in the middle, trying to be heard. Trying to encourage cooler heads, until the final few ticks ran off the clock.

Then it was the bar crowd's turn to holler. As I pleaded for sanity, there was an awful sound, kind of like 50 people being slugged in the gut at the same time.

I looked at the big screen. And there was Johnson, laying the ball in. I hadn't even seen Bird's steal, until the television replay showed it to me, in all its big screen horror.

One second remained, and a desperation heave by the Pistons finished the game. And, essentially, the series, even though the Pistons showed remarkable resolve to win Game 6 and darn near win Game 7.

I was inconsolable after the play. For the rest of the evening, and for the ride home, I spoke not one word. It was so bad that even my friend Silva, who was like a pallbearer himself after such things, was trying to cheer me up. But I would have none of it. I literally said nothing.

GM Jack McCloskey once said, before the Pistons would win two championships themselves, "On my death bed I'll probably say, 'We shouldn't have made that pass.'"

Dennis Johnson is gone now, dead suddenly of an apparent heart attack at age 52. He's the first of the protagonists in that '87 conference final to leave us. And doubtless none of the remaining ones will ever forget their role, however insignificant, in that play.

I'm telling you, it was bad enough having to watch it.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

What a great tribute to an NBA legend. Allow me to summarize:

"I...I...ME...ME...I...I...dennis johnson...I...I...ME...ME...I...I...ME."

Signed,
The Friends of Greg Ego

Greg Eno said...

Anonymous (from Denver):

Actually, I wish I had thought of the Greg "Ego" thing...kind of clever!

:-)

Anonymous said...

Well, friends of Greg Ego, sounds to me like you are a little jeal-ass. That isn't a typo either. Sounds like sour grapes about someone who hasn't any talent and has to put someone else down to make themselves feel better. Too bad you don't have any talent yourself. Oh well, that's life.

Friends of the talented Greg Ego!!

notkentbenson said...

This may be in poor taste, but it's true. As a Pistons fan, it's sad because DJ was the one guy on those Celtics teams I didn't want dead.

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