"Everybody involved with Reggie loved him, from reporters to teammates to people in the city," says Murphy. "For everybody involved, and I mean everybody, it had to be the darkest moment of their careers. I mean, the guy died. I remember all of us standing around that day, waiting in the basement of that hospital, waiting to see if Reggie was dead or not. Somehow that got lost in everything after, but I won't ever forget waiting in that basement."
A murky future
Since then the wheels have come flying off. New majority owner Paul Gaston, son of Don, pushed Gavitt out and hired former Celtic M.L. Carr to run the team, a move incomprehensible to insiders. Carr had spent the previous seven years serving as the team's director of community relations and running three separate private business. A friend of Gaston's who'd gained the owner's confidence, Carr was entirely out of touch with everyday life in the NBA. Carr handed out huge contracts to Fox, Dino Radja, and washed-up free agent Dominique Wilkins and the team struggled to 36 wins last year, barely making the playoffs. Over the summer, Wilkins left to play in Greece, but Carr quickly spent the freed-up salary-cap money to sign free-agent point guard Dana Barros - $20 million for six years - without trading incumbent Douglas first (although the team finally did unload him last Sunday to Milwaukee). Add this to the fact Carr fired Chris Ford and appointed himself head coach in June.
"I think it's pretty astounding for an organization as hallowed as the Celtics, were to fall so fast," says Vecsey, who refers to M.L. as "Minor League" Carr in his biting New York Post columns. "They turned the team over to an impostor. It's unbelievable! M.L.'s an absolute joke with the other GMs. The sooner Boston gets rid of him the better."
Few teams in the league have bleaker futures. The NBA's new collective-bargaining agreement loosened the rules on free agency, so every season younger and younger veterans can bargain with any team. Yet the Celtics have tied up their $23-million salary cap with long-term deals to Radja, Fox, Brown, and Barros, all role players, none of whom could ever anchor a championship team. Only by bottoming out and getting high draft picks for the next few seasons could the Celtics turn things around.
"I think Gaston knows business, but I don't think he cares that much about basketball," says MacMullen. "I talk to other front-office people in the league all the time, and they're always asking me, 'What are they doing up there?' They're incredulous about what happened."
All that remains now are the championship banners, the grainy videotapes, the uniforms - the green and white that Havlicek and Bird and Russell used to wear - and the memories. Even the hallowed Garden is gone, to be torn down over the next two years, brick by brick.
"People ask me sometimes if we're snakebitten," says Volk. "I mean, when you're in the fray, you take it one hit at a time, but you don't look at it in an overall sense. Yeah, we've had some bad luck, but this is a proud franchise. I still believe luck is the residue of design and hard work. I don't think we're snakebitten."