April 29, 1981 was a perfect spring day. I had skipped my Wednesday afternoon college classes to indulge my modest basketball ambitions at the local playground. The Sixers held a 3-1 lead over the Celtics in the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals. Right before our pickup game began, I was approached by three kids who asked, “Are you gonna win tonight?”
“Is who gonna win?” I asked.
“You. The Celtics. You’re Chris Ford, right?” One of them shoved a notebook and a pen at me and asked for an autograph.
For a moment I impishly considered assuming the role, because I did bear a passing resemblance to the Celtics’ shooting guard. We were about the same height and sported longish brown hair and bad mustaches. We were slender if not overly athletic. But I couldn’t lie. I handed the notebook back to the disappointed kid and told him I hoped he would enjoy Game 5, which was set to begin across town in just a few hours. Playoff fever, though dwindling, was still in the air.
And it was hard not to sense it. The Bird/Parish/McHale juggernaut was up against a Philly team that included future Hall of Famer Julius Erving and Darryl Dawkins, aka Chocolate Thunder, who allegedly hailed from Planet Lovetron. Dawkins’ array of dunks included the “Look Out Below” and the “Turbo Sexophonic Delight.” The dreaded Andrew Toney came off of the bench and I don’t think he ever missed a shot. You can look it up. They were a great team but couldn’t withstand the Celtics. Boston rallied to take the series and went on to win the 1981 title. The rivalry lasted another couple of years, but it hasn’t been the same since.
So here’s to a revitalized basketball antagonism between Boston and Philadelphia.
Maybe Paul Pierce and Andre Iguodala can square off during a game, as Larry Bird and Doctor J did. It’s fun to picture Spencer Hawes shattering backboards with nicknamed dunks and Jodie Meeks hitting every shot he ever took and terrifying the Boston fans. It would all make for a memorable series, even if no one mistook me for a Celtic. If the Green would only rehire Chris Ford as an assistant coach in the next few days, well, that would push it right over the top.