I Beat LA

Split my Saturday between trying to fix the nutty sliding glass door (and failing miserably), and taking the kids to teeball. Whilst I was messing up the door, I listened to WEEI and the endless Celtics talk. Suddenly, the “Beat LA” chant has been resurrected from the dustbin of sports history. People are texting it to each other. So weird. I smile every time I hear it though, because I was there when the chant was born. And I have the ticket stubs to prove it.

Check out the price. Of course, we didn’t pay that. We paid the astronomical price of $40 a ticket.

Game F was Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals vs. the Sixers, my first Celtics game at the Garden. The REAL Garden. Game G was the “Beat LA” game.

May 23, 1982. I went with my dad, who had bore firsthand witness to the ’60s dynasty. Dad had connections with a ticket agency down the street from the Garden so we could (almost) always get seats to big games. They weren’t always great seats, but at least we were in the building.

For this game (and Game 5, which was a joyous time), we had obstructed view seats, under the balcony. While it felt like we were close to the action, we couldn’t even see the rims, only the bottom half of the nets. Kind of like this.

So there was the incredibly weird experience of seeing a guy launch a shot, having the ball disappear for two seconds, then seeing it come through the net. Or if the guy missed all we saw was the players jump up out of sight to where we thought the rebound must have gone. This is a pretty agonizing way to watch a Game 7, with the season on the line. A Sixer would launch a shot and I’d hold my breath hoping not to see the net swish. In the end, way too many Sixer swishes led to a 120-106 Celtics’ loss, ending the season.

Here’s the box.

The things that stand out in my memory are

1. A leather-lunged woman to our right screaming “DE-FENSE!” so loud it scared me. Her rooting rage was such that I think she actually wanted to attack the Sixers physically. The Garden in a game like this was where you FELT noise more than heard it. The effect of all those human beings crowded on top of each other, screaming their lungs out was incredible. The air vibrated all around. It made your skin tingle. You could scream until you lost your voice and you would never hear yourself. Don’t think I’ll ever have that experience again.

2. Sixer guard Andrew Toney hitting shot after shot after shot. It felt like he never missed. How I hated him with every fiber of my 13 year old being. He seemed so fast, so perfect, like he wasn’t human. 34 points. He broke my heart that day.

3. The “Beat LA” chant starting up. When it was clear the Celts were done for, there was that first sadness. Your mind races, trying to think of a way out of defeat: “We make three half court shots, immediately foul them, they miss all the free throws…” And then the denial breaks apart, and you fall back into your seat (for the first time since half time). My dad said something to put it in perspective, like we had all the banners, and the Sixers played better and deserved to win.

And then there was the sound of the chant. Somebody in that room took the pain of 15,320 people, and turned it inside out with two words. Defeat turned into pride. Sadness turned to smiles. All the energy that we wanted to pour into a victory celebration had no outlet until that chant started.

And when it did start, it went like lightning through the room. It was exhilarating. EVERYONE “got it” instantly. This was badass sportsmanship. We knew the Sixers deserved to win, and gave them credit.

We also all respected and identified way more with Philadelphia and their team, than those sissies on the west coast. Boston, New York, Philly, we all hate each other in sports, but it’s a brotherly hate. LA might as well be a different country. And we now wanted to see the Sixers crush the Lakers and legitimize our defeat.

So I joined in with every last bit of my hoarse throat. I don’t know if any sound came out, but I tried as hard as I could. I don’t remember if my dad chanted or if he just smiled.

It has to be the most satisfying feeling following a loss ever. Better than 99% of all the victories I’ve ever witnessed. Not happy, but cathartic. That chant cleansed us of all the bad vibes. It kept coming back as we all filed down the ramps and out of the Garden. Yes, it sucked to lose, we wanted back-to-back championships. We were sure that the Celts were going to come back from being down 3-1, just like the year before. It wasn’t to be. But if we had to lose, being part of that unique moment in sports history, being one of the voices in that first “Beat LA,” is still pretty damn cool.


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