Revisiting Boston Garden, ‘The Old Barn on Causeway Street’

The building was forty-one years old [in 1969]. Hard years. In a cramped and shopworn corner of the city, one flight up from the train station, surrounded by elevated subway tracks and an elevated highway that kept sunshine and clean air at a distance, the place was sports’ version of an Edward Hopper painting . . .

If the Fabulous Forum was time travel into a Tomorrowland kind of Disney future, the Garden was a walk down the stairs into a cluttered carnival past. Or up the stairs. Up a bunch of stairs . . .

Leigh Montville, Tall Men, Short Shorts

Especially the Stairway to Nowhere, which went from the balcony level to, well, nowhere. That was the place my pal Rob and I went to split a joint at halftime of the Boston Celtics games we frequented in the late ’70s, at which time we witnessed up close and personal The Great Sidney Wicks/Curtis (Skid) Rowe Dumpster Fire of 1977-78.  As best I can recall, in that 32-50 regular season, the only thing the Celtics led the league in was getting hit in the back of the head with the ball.

Rob and I were up close and personal only because of the anemic attendance at the Garden back then. We’d buy the cheapest balcony tickets available – two or three dollars – then gradually work our way down to the good seats that were largely unoccupied.

Sometimes we’d sit right behind Celtics legend Red Auerbach in his customary seat in Loge 12, Row 7, Seat 1. We’d be pretty quiet then.

Other times we’d migrate elsewhere in the pricey seats and be more raucous.

Back then, believe it or not, fans could walk around the perimeter of the Garden parquet during halftime, which Rob and I would do on a regular basis. I would also approach the totally cute Garden Gal distributing mimeographed stat sheets to the press corps and ask her for a copy.

Our conversations would go something like this.

How’s it going – can I get one of those?

No. These are for press.

Hey, I’m press – I’m a correspondent for Nightfall.

What’s that?

Only New England’s leading entertainment, arts, and culture magazine.


Seriously. I’m legit – I interviewed Red about his book last year.

Fine, here. Just take it someplace else.

Back in April of 1976, Auerbach was flacking a new book – Basketball for the Player, the Fan and the Coach – so he would pretty much talk to anybody, which happened to include even me.

About 15 minutes into the interview, Auerbach let me know it was over by starting to go through his mail.

Death by letter opener.

Postscript: The Wicks/Rowe debacle didn’t turn out to be a total loss: After the ’78 season, Wicks got shipped to the San Diego Clippers in return for Nate Archibald, Marvin Barnes, Billy Knight, and two second-round draft picks.

One of those draft picks turned into Danny Ainge, who would become a fixture at the Boston Garden in the coming years (as would Tiny Archibald).

• • • • • • •

In the fall of 1979, Larry Joe Bird swooped into Boston, the Hick From French Lick in the Hub of the Universe.



Not long after Bird’s arrival, I became Senior VP/Creative Director at a Boston advertising agency and decided that one of my fringe benefits should be an unlimited supply of Celtics tickets. Luckily, for reasons I’m still too discreet to divulge, one of the agency’s partners was wired like Con Ed, so he became the ticket master.

I subsequently found myself quite often sitting in Loge 20 at the Garden (see chart above), which was conveniently located behind the visiting team’s bench so that I could yell at Hubie Brown, the preternaturally unlikable coach of the New York Knicks at the time, for hours on end.

It got even better from there.

The Missus and I were at the Garden on May 23, 1982 for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, which promised to be a repeat of the 1981 Eastern Conference Finals when the Celtics came back from a 3-1 deficit to win Game 7 by one point.



In ’82 the Celtics also came back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the series. But Game 7 was not a repeat – the Sixers cruised to a 120-106 win that cemented Andrew Toney’s status as The Boston Strangler.



The Missus and I ruefully, but lustily, joined in the Garden-wide chant of “Beat LA.”

Two years later we were at the Garden for Game 5 of the 1984 NBA Finals, the legendary Heat Game between the Celtics and the Lakers.

Here’s the redoubtable Bob Ryan in a Boston Globe retrospective.

There were some hot nights in that old building over the years, but there was never one like the evening of June 8, 1984. The male fans wore shorts and short-sleeved shirts. The women wore, well, as little as possible. Halter tops proliferated. There was never a day or evening in the long history of that building when there was so much exposed skin.

CBS announced a game-time temperature of 97 degrees.

The Lakers did not like it, and Kareem disliked it most of all. He was 37, and fairly cranky to begin with, and playing a Finals game in 97-degree heat was not his idea of fun. He would shoot 7 for 25 and wind up sucking on oxygen (honest).

Meanwhile, a lobster-red Larry Bird racked up 34 points (on 15 0f 20 shooting) and 17 rebounds, Robert Parish had 13 points and 12 rebounds, and Kevin McHale notched 19 points and 10 rebounds.

Talk about your Big Three.

Magic Johnson? Ten points and five rebounds, although he did have 13 assists, as the boxscore notes.

By the second half, Garden concessionaires had run out of ice and the entire place had run out of paper products. No doubt Red had also cranked up the heat in the visitors locker room.

The Missus said, “I can’t believe they’re actually playing in this heat.”

But they totally did.



Back to Bob Ryan: “I play in this stuff all the time back home,” sneered Larry Bird. “It’s like this all summer.”


• • • • • • •

As the ’80s wore on, my fringe benefits at the ad agency started to depreciate, with Garden seats shifting from loge to mezzanine to the balcony, which afforded views like this one.



Eventually I began leaving the nosebleed section at halftime and cruising the walkway behind the loge seats for the rest of the game. Sometimes I’d be moving with the action, sometimes against it, but the walking provided a nice rhythm – and a better view.

On May 22, 1988, though, I was in the balcony with my brother Bob for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, which turned into a classic shootout between Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins of the Atlanta Hawks.


“It was like two gunfighters waiting to blink,” recalled Celtics forward Kevin McHale. “There was one stretch that was as pure a form of basketball as you’re ever going to see.”

The game was tied 86-86 with 10:26 to play when the teams’ respective stars took over. “They each put their team on their back and said, ‘Let’s go,’” said Hawks coach Mike Fratello.

Bird fired the first shot, a jumper with 10:03 to play, and went on to score nine points in a span of 1:58. But Atlanta stayed close and drew even again at 99-99 on a basket by Wilkins with 5:57 left.

Bird scored 11 points after that, including the go-ahead basket with 3:34 to play and a stunning three-pointer over Wilkins with 1:43 left. Wilkins matched Bird’s 11 points during that stretch, but it was not enough.

The whole thing was breathtaking.



And, for once, I was nailed to my seat in the nosebleed section.

• • • • • • •

I left the ad agency the following year and set up a one-man creative shop that, unfortunately, could not afford fringe benefits (not to mention I was wired like a space heater). So I never did get back to the Garden.

I did, however, have as one of my new clients Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, an engineering firm that oversaw the Garden’s replacement (then called the Shawmut Center, later called the FleetCenter, now TD Garden).

The project was decades in the making, given the complexities of doing anything significant in Boston. There were dozens of surface rights, scores of air rights, and even more underground rights to buy out, not to mention the endless succession of politicians that also needed to be bought out.

But eventually, it got done.

Construction began on April 29, 1993. Plans for the new arena stated that it would be slightly north of the old facility. The term “slightly north” ended up meaning that there were only nine inches (23 cm) of space between the two buildings when construction was completed. The site for the new arena occupied 3.2 acres (13,000 m2). It eventually cost $160 million. The ground was broken on April 29, 1993. In 27 months, quick by today’s standards, the arena was built. That included seven weeks of delay caused by heavy snowfall. The Shawmut Center opened on September 30, 1995.

Sometime after that, my VHB client took me, as a sort of bonus, to the new arena for a Celtics game. It was quite different from the old Garden (Leigh Montville: “Rats as big as rabbits could be spotted, bold as paying customers. The smell of the circus would linger for a good month.”)

I hated the new place.

But he was my (paying) client, so I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, “It’s so clean. And look at all the cupholders.”

I never went back for another game.

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Dead Blogging ‘Valkyrie Mumbet’ at MassArt Art Museum

Well the Missus and I trundled over to the Massachusetts College of Art and Design yesterday to catch Joana Vasconcelos Valkyrie Mumbet (through 2021; reservations required) in the recently renovated Stephen D. Paine Gallery and, say, it was swellbinding.

Renowned Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos premieres a new monumental site-specific installation. Known for her unprecedented multimedia works, Vasconcelos, in her first U.S. solo show, honors Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman, an enslaved woman whose court battle for her freedom in 1781 helped make slavery illegal in Massachusetts. The large-scale installation entitled Valkyrie Mumbet, is the newest in her Valkyries series, named after Norse female war goddesses, which pays homage to inspiring women.

(The National Women’s History Museum has a deep dive into the amazing story of Elizabeth Freeman.)

According to the website Lisboa Cool, Atelier Joana Vasconcelos features a team of 45 people “composed of artisans, seamstresses, electricians, carpenters, painters, architects, photographers to record Joana’s work, press officers to handle communication, the entire financial part of a company, and they also welcome trainees from various countries, whom Joana insists on paying.”

Here’s MAAM Executive Director Lisa Tung’s eye-popping curator tour of “Valkyrie Mumbet.”



Here’s a 3d tour that highlights all the spectacular details. But you really should see this monumental artwork in person. It’s a corker.

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So to Conclude: The Red Sox Were *Not* the Team o’ Destiny

But the Atlanta Braves still might be.

First, the sad demise of the Crimson Hose, as narrated by the Boston Globe’s resident darn-those-Sox scribe Dan Shaughnessy.

Red Sox ran out of karma, and it all started after the wristwatch taunt

HOUSTON — The Red Sox season ended Friday night with a 5-0 loss to the Houston Astros in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.

The Sox went down passively, losing three straight games after dominating the ‘Stros and even mocking them in a Game 3, 12-3 rout at Fenway.

The record will show that the Sox flatlined after Eduardo Rodriguez ridiculed Houston shortstop Carlos Correa (pointing at an imaginary watch — a patented Correa move that means “it’s our time”) while coming off the mound with a 9-3 lead in the sixth inning of Game 3. Alex Cora yelled at his young pitcher for poking the bear. But it was too late. Karma shifted. And so did the series.

The numbers were brutal: “After scoring 21 runs and hitting three grand slams in Game 2 and 3 routs, Boston was outscored, 22-1, over the final 26 innings of this series. . . . the Sox bats went cold (0 for 19 with runners in scoring position in Games 4-5-6). For three full games. They had nothing. They were two-hit in Game 6 and they hit .111 (10 for 90) in the last three games.”

Swat Caroline.

By contrast, in Hot ‘Lanta (tip o’ the pixel to the late, great Allman Brothers) the Braves shook off their 2020 collapse in the NLCS (up 3-1, lost three in a row to the Dodgers) and closed out the series last night with gritty 4-2 win.


Let the World’s Serious rumpus begin!

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The Wynton Marsalis Ad Jazz at Lincoln Center Should’ve Run

As the hardgrading staff noted yesterday, Jazz at Lincoln Center ran this totally unreadable full-page ad in the New York Times on Monday to celebrate Wynton Marsalis’s 60th birthday.

(The Missus rightly noted that Wynton Marsalis deserved far better than an ad nobody would read.)

And better was readily available in the form of this tweet that posted the same day.

Yo – that’s the ad, Lincoln Centerniks.

Full page.

Full stop.

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Hey, Jazz at Lincoln Center: Just Set Your Money on Fire

Yesterday was Wynton Marsalis’s 60th birthday, so the fine folks from Jazz At Lincoln Center took out this full-page ad in the New York Times to celebrate it.

Yeah, that’s what we thought.

Here’s a blown up section to give you an idea of the birthday greetings.

The print ad, however, is virtually unreadable and undoubtedly has David Ogilvy spinning in his grave.

For starters, there’s this quote from Ogilvy on Advertising: “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

Except the JALC ad doesn’t;’t have a headline. So, given the estimated $150,000 cost of a full-page d in the Times (color is extra), the Center just threw away at least $120,000.

Other Ogilvy recommendations (via The Castle Press) that the ad ignores:

Use eye-easy typography

Sans-serif fonts are particularly difficult to read

Reverse type is almost impossible to read

Which likely left this ad almost entirely unread.

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Hold On: Maybe the Atlanta Braves Are the Team o’ Destiny

Yesterday the hardlyrooting staff (which has been a Made Yankee Fan in Boston for 45 years, so draw your own conclusions) presented the case for the Boston Red Sox as this postseason’s Team o’ Destiny.

But now that the Atlanta Braves have managed their second walkoff win against the heavily favored Los Angeles Dodgers, we seem to have a bakeoff.

On Saturday night, after a Dodger baserunning blunder in the top of the ninth snuffed out a possible rally, the Braves put together a bloop single, a stolen base, and a walkoff line drive into the left field corner to grab the victory.

Then last night the Dodgers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, the Braves tied it in the bottom of the fourth, the Dodgers came back with two in the top of the seventh, and the Braves matched them in the bottom of the eighth.

(All the action is here via MLB.)

And in the bottom of the ninth there was this.


Best case scenario: The Sox and the Braves (former Boston abutters, as Garry Brown noted at MassLive) meet in the World’s Serious.

Save us a seat, yeah?

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Beacon Hill Inactivity Turns the Bay State Into Laxachusetts

Wiser heads than the hardworking staff undoubtedly already knew this, but it turns out the Massachusetts legislature has a batting average well south of Jackie Bradley Jr.’s.

Axios Sneak Peek crunched some numbers published in a new analysis from Quorum and came up with this helpful chart.

So, according to those numbers (and if our math is correct, no sure thing), the 200 Massachusetts lawmakers – 160 House, 40 Senate – introduced 6960 bills this year and passed 60 of them.

Batting average: .oo8.

For those of you keeping score at home, JBJ finished the season at .163.

Then again, thank God for Minnesota!

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Let the Wild ‘Team o’ Destiny’ Rumpus Begin!

Jonathan V. Last, the in-house hardball geek at The Bukwark, totally nailed it last week in his daily newsletter, The Triad.

When it comes to the World Series, there is nothing I love more than a Team of Destiny. You can win 106 games and be utterly dominant. You can have the biggest payroll and the best starting rotation.

But if you’re up against a Team of Destiny? Forget about it.

A Team of Destiny doesn’t appear very often. Most years, the best team wins the World Series and that’s that.

But watching a Team of Destiny emerge, out of nowhere? There is literally nothing more exciting in all of sports.

JVL’s pick?

The Boston Red Sox had a torrid first half of the season, then an All-Star collapse, and then a last-minute, gut-check run to sneak into the playoffs.

Then they beat the Yankees in the one-game Wildcard. Got one of the flukiest breaks you’ve ever seen in the 13th(!) inning of Game 3 against a superior Tampa team. And then they walked-off back-to-back games to advance to the ALCS.

Could they be a Team of Destiny? Stay tuned.

(As a special bonus, he included “this production on the Greatest Team of Destiny Evah.”)

After blowing a Game One that they arguably should have won. the Sox blew out the Houston Astros 9-5 yesterday, launching two – count ’em, two – grand slam homers.



As Boston Globe scribe Dan Shaughnessy notes in today’s edition of the stately local broadsheet, “Red Sox are unbeatable after a loss in the postseason under manager Alex Cora.”

But . . . lose one, win one?

If math is destiny, that won’t add up.

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Why the NYT Is a Great News Organization (Exhibit Umpteen)

Say what you will about the Grey Lady’s shortcomings (looking at you, Caliphate), but when she’s good, she’s very very good.

Case in point: Yesterday’s edition of The Daily, the wildly popular New York Times podcast.

When the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August, our producer started making calls.

With the help of colleagues, she contacted women in different cities and towns to find out how their lives had changed and what they were experiencing.

Then she heard from N, whose identity has been concealed for her safety.

This is the story of how one 18-year-old woman’s life has been transformed under Taliban rule.

The podcast – produced by the redoubtable Lynsea Garrison and Stella Tan – tells, in her own words, the heartbreaking story of a young Afghan woman whose family’s male members (father and two brothers) wanted to force her – as in beat her with pipes – into a marriage to a Talib in the hope that it would save their sorry asses.

The audio of her phone calls to Garrison is gut-wrenching, especially since N absolutely adored her father, who turned out to be the most craven of the lot.

Spoiler alert: N eventually did escape. Sadly, there are an infinite number of other Ns who will not be as lucky.

Or as dramatically profiled.

And that is a tragedy for which America is more than a little responsible.

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Remembering Tommy Ashton, Murdered 20 Years Ago on 9/11

My cousin Tommy Ashton was 21 years old on September 11, 2001, working his second day as an apprentice electrician at the World Trade Center. Tommy was on the 95th floor of the north tower when American Airlines Flight 11 flew into floors 93 through 99 at 8:46 AM.

From the great Portraits of Grief series in New York Times.

In the weeks after the terror attacks, the Ashton family confronted the tragedy head-on, as this October 3, 2001 post detailed.

Kathy Ashton is relieved her son was not alone when the World Trade Center collapsed. Though Thomas Ashton’s body has not been found, his family has chosen to accept that he died that day, rather than endure the continued agony of hope.

By Friday, after providing DNA samples, filing a missing person’s report and exhausting a two-week search for some sign of Thomas Ashton, his parents took on the dreaded task of applying for their 21-year-old son’s death certificate.

“We had to say, it’s over. And how do you say that about your child? How do you give up hope?” said his mother, Kathy. Ashton’s father, John, had frantically searched city hospitals after the terror attack on the World Trade Center. An uncle, who is a retired New York firefighter, and a cousin ran to the rubble that day and started digging.

Beyond that, “Ashton’s two sisters, Colleen, 25, and Mary, 18; and Jackie, his girlfriend of 6 years, gathered with his parents to try to come to grips with the reality that the introspective and athletic young man would not be found alive, if at all.” And so the family planned a “memorial wake” for October 6th.

According to published reports, out of an estimated 2974 people killed at the World Trade Center, fewer than 300 corpses were recovered.

Tommy’s was one of them – found three days before that planned memorial wake, which miraculously turned into a funeral service.

•  •  •  •  •  •

Everyone who suffers a tragic and untimely loss of somebody dear to them has to come to grips with it in their own way. Take, for instance, the McIlvaine family, profiled in this beautifully written piece by The Atlantic’s Jennifer Senior.

Bobby McIlvaine, 26, died in the World Trade Center collapse. In the aftermath of his death, his mother, Helen, bottled up her grief for years, turning her, in her own words, “cold, distant, strange.” Bob Sr. become a celebrated 9/11 truther, preaching the Gospel of the Inside Job. Younger brother Jeff had four children so that, he said, none of them would ever lose an only sibling the way he did.

Their story, as Senior recorded it, is alternately heart-wrenching and heartwarming.

As for the Ashton family, in 2003 John and Kathy dedicated the intersection of 60th St. and 47th Ave. in Woodside as Thomas J. Ashton Way in a ceremony that Ayala Ben-Yehuda documented for

A young electrician who was killed during his second day on the job at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 was honored Saturday when the street in front of his family’s Woodside apartment was renamed in his honor.

Tommy Ashton, 21, was remembered on 47th Avenue in the Big Six Towers apartment complex by family and friends as an accomplished athlete and youth mentor at St. Sebastian’s Church and Archbishop Molloy High School, his alma maters.

“Tommy truly was a gift to us,” said his older sister, Colleen Ashton, recalling her brother’s honesty, sense of humor and devotion to family.

“He truly inspired me to be a better person,” she said.

Here’s the street map pinpointing Thomas J. Ashton Way.

And here’s the street sign.

Around the same time, Colleen and younger sister Mary established the Thomas Ashton Foundation, dedicate to “[providing] charitable donations in the name of Thomas Ashton to institutions, organizations, worthy causes and individuals, including contributions to philanthropic endeavors and to community enhancing activities.”

For 13 years Colleen and Mary hosted the annual Tommy Ashton 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament, which raised over $285,000 for worthy charitable organizations and local projects in Woodside.

Truly remarkable.

•  •  •  •  •  •  • 

The Foundation is now gone, but Tommy’s memory lives on in numerous places. The Voices of September 11th Living Memorial Project has a page with about a dozen links to memorial sites dedicated to Tommy.

Branka Kristic, a family friend, posted a lovely tribute on the Hofstra Parents, Hofstra Pride website on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

We Remember

Peace and early morning sunshine have descended on a usually very busy Calkins Hall green at Hofstra. For the past week, students and staff have have been planting hundreds of American flags in remembrance of the heroes of 9/11, in the shape of our great country. We all know where we were on that day, on that moment.We remember the loved ones lost and the heroes who helped in recovery.

I planted a flag to honor Tommy Ashton who died under the debris of the Twin Towers on 9/11/01. My daughter’s friend, this 21-year-old came to his second day on the job in the World Trade Center. I will always remember his youth, exuberance and the pride in his parents’ eyes when they watched him compete in swimming. It is an honor and pleasure to have known you, Tommy.

In a note to me back then, Branka said, “It was an honor and privilege to have known Tommy. He, Colleen and Mary swam on my daughter’s swim team, Flushing Flyers. Sweet young man, fast swimmer, leader, captain of his team.”

(I remember Tommy when he was just a tadpole, splashing around my parents’ swimming pool in Connecticut.)

Tommy’s memory also lives on at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

Rest in peace, Tommy. You are never forgotten.

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