How Ex-Lakers Enjoyed Banner Day From Afar : Hawkins Dressed for Occasion, and Schaus Weeded Through It--As for West and the Rest . . .
If you think the Lakers were celebrating Sunday after exorcising the ghosts of NBA championship series past by beating the Boston Celtics in Boston Garden, you should have been in Tommy Hawkins’ living room.
Hawkins, a forward on the original Los Angeles Lakers, the 1960-61 edition, couldn’t stand the tension as he sat and watched Game 6 with his girlfriend, Gretchen.
“I really got into it,” Hawkins said.
He’s not kidding.
In the fourth quarter he actually went to his closet, wiped away nearly two decades of cobwebs and pulled out his own Laker uniform. He proceeded to suit up and watch the rest of the game in jersey, shorts and socks.
We’re talking serious fan here, folks.
“In the final two minutes, I was jumping around and moving back and forth,” said Hawkins, now a sportscaster after personally suffering through four championship series defeats to Boston during his years with Los Angeles. “I didn’t want to see a seventh-game situation. That conjured up too many negative things from the past. The past weighed heavily on me. There was a monkey on my back, just as there was with everyone else who ever played on the Lakers in that losing tradition. People in the East were saying we’d never beat them.
“You know, it reminds of that talk Martin Luther King made where he said he had a dream. This was my dream. When the Lakers walked out of Boston Garden with a victory, we were free at last, free at last. It felt like two tons of weight had been lifted off my chest.”
One of Hawkins’ old coaches, Fred Schaus, was surprised when told of his forward’s actions Sunday. Not surprised at what he had done. Just surprised that Hawkins could still get his jersey on.
Following is the reaction of other former Lakers to Sunday’s victory:
The former Laker coach is now athletic director at West Virginia University.
He heard bulletins on Sunday’s game while pulling weeds in his yard. It’s not that he doesn’t have a television set. It’s just that he couldn’t bear to watch it. So he relied on updates from his wife. And all the while, he yanked weeds--weeds he probably had named Red, Russell, Hondo. . . .
“I was too nervous to watch. I got madder than hell every time the Celtics made a run. Over the six games, I didn’t watch one for the full 48-minute stretch. I couldn’t. But when it was over, I knew we had them all the way,” Schaus said with a laugh.
“I don’t know Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar), but I was happy for the big guy. He proved a point. It was very satisfying. I was happy for Jerry (West), Pat (Riley), guys I was involved with. I was happy to see the Lakers win. I’m always happy to see the Celtics lose.”
Four of the eight times Los Angeles lost to Boston in the finals, Schaus was head coach.
“I never believed in the law of averages in athletics,” he said. “That is hogwash. If you execute, you get it done.”
Schaus had some words of praise for at least one Celtic.
“I enjoy watching Larry Bird who has got to be one of the great players of all time,” he said. “I tried to recruit him while I was at Purdue, but I couldn’t get him.
“And I enjoyed watching Red (Auerbach, team president and former coaching rival of Schaus’) walk out without that lit cigar. I enjoyed that.”
Although he is the team’s general manager and built this club, West couldn’t bear to return to the scene of so many of his heart-breaking losses as a player for fear that he’d be a jinx.
So he sat home, actually stood home, and paced in front of the set.
“When you’re home, you can get up and walk around,” West said, “and break things if you want.”
The only thing West saw broken was the jinx.
“I was thrilled,” he said. “These are very special times, especially for someone who has been involved like me. And, especially for the people of Los Angeles. It’s something they will remember for a long time.
“But there are still some agonizing moments from the past if you go back and think about them. I’m not sure this one makes up for all the others, but it is a significant victory and I’m delighted for all these players.”
West also enjoyed watching the reaction of his old tormentor, Auerbach.
“I loved the look on his face when he walked off,” West said. “And I loved his comments afterward (that the best team had not won). That was typical. I wonder if he thinks the best team won last year.”
This former Laker, considered one of the NBA’s greatest players, watched Game 6 in Las Vegas where he was attending an awards ceremony.
To him, this was 1985. Nothing more. “I never even thought about all those past games,” he said. “That’s history. I hold no personal grudges. I’m not superstitious. They had a better team than the Lakers in the past just like the Lakers had a better team this year.”
Still, the feelings this time weren’t the same.
“It’s different,” he said, “if you were a player. But I thought they’d win and I’m very happy that they did, for the Lakers and the fans.”
“I was delighted,” said the former Laker forward who was on the club its first seven years in Los Angeles. “I thought the most gracious thing I ever read was the comments by Magic Johnson and Kareem about the old Lakers sharing in this. It was really nice. I was very touched. That was their moment. They didn’t have to dredge up the old guys.”
Like many of his former teammates, LaRusso singled out Auerbach as a focal point of his joy.
“I liked seeing Red lose,” LaRusso said, “because he is the worst winner in the world. He loves to rub it in. He was very ungracious, particularly with L.A.
“I remember one time when they were having this All-Star luncheon in the old Coconut Grove and Chick Hearn gets up and says something about Los Angeles being the sports capital of the world. When Auerbach got up to the mike, he said something like, ‘Who did they ever beat? Who do they think they are?’ He was very offended. He took personal offense at that.”
In LaRusso’s mind, the picture on the tube Sunday was occasionally replaced with horror movies from the past.
“I know what that floor was like,” he said. “I know what the fans are like. I know what playoff games are like. It turned out to be a tough place to play.”
JACK KENT COOKE
For Cooke, the balloons finally came down.
The man who sold the team to Jerry Buss in 1979, Cooke had been prepared to celebrate the Lakers’ first series win over Boston in 1969. He put balloons on the Forum ceiling for Game 7, but they never left their perch as the Celtics prevailed.
“Next only to our win in the Super Bowl,” said the owner of the Washington Redskins, “this was my best experience. There was a visceral happiness, mental as well as every other way. I don’t forget my alma mater.”
Cooke said he tried to get through to the Garden locker room to personally congratulate Buss, but never made contact.
“There was too much pandemonium there,” he said.
If Cooke’s balloons are down, so too is that 15-foot jump shot that has hung on the Garden rim for nearly a quarter century. Selvy, who once scored 100 points in a college game, is perhaps best remembered for his jumper that could have won Game 7 of the Laker-Celtic 1962 final in the closing seconds. Instead, the game went into overtime where guess who won?
Selvy, now a salesman in South Carolina, was on vacation Sunday in Hilton Head, S.C., but managed to get to a television set for the fourth quarter.
“I felt they would win it this time,” he said. “It was good to see Red walk out without his cigar.”
Does he feel like his shot has finally gone in?
“Maybe it has,” he said. “I really don’t know. People keep asking me that.
“I don’t know if there was a jinx there. It was a hard place to play. When we went in there, they had a guy named Bill Russell. I don’t think anybody had much luck against him.”