Anyone who was a fan of the Celtics prior to 1990 would recognize the raspy voice of Johnny Most. Johnny was the voice of the Celtics from 1953-1990. He passed away on January 3, 1993, but he leaves lasting memories of his love of the Celtics and his unique style of calling the games. Most never pretended to be objective: his Celtics were near-saints who could do no wrong and anyone not wearing the green was the enemy and the scum of the earth.
Fiddlin' and Diddlin', the phrase I use title the news and links columns on this blog, is a tribute to Johnny Most. Johnny used the term fiddlin' and diddlin' originally to describe how Philly point guard Maurice Cheeks dribbled the ball for 4 or 5 seconds as he waited for the Sixers to set their offense but he ended up using that expression to describe the play of DJ and Ainge. They weren't true fast break style PG's and would dribble the ball up the court when waiting to set up the offense. They'd dribble the ball to one side of the court and then dribble the ball back to the middle. Rather than describe all the ball handling for 5 or 6 seconds at a time, he would use the phrase fiddlin' and diddlin' to describe their dribbling around.
Born to Jewish parents, Most began his career in the 1940s mentored by Marty Glickman. He called road games for the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers baseball teams as well as the New York Giants and Army football team. In 1953, Boston Celtics owner Walter Brown and Red Auerbach hired him to replace Curt Gowdy as the team's radio play-by-play man on WBZ radio. He always referred to his perch at Boston Garden as being "high above courtside."
Most was never shy about criticizing the other team's players. One time Most described the Los Angeles Lakers' Kurt Rambis as "something that had crawled out of a sewer." He also nicknamed Washington Bullets players Rick Mahorn and Jeff Ruland as "McFilthy" and "McNasty." Kareem Abdul Jabbar was "Kareem Puff" and Isaiah Thomas was referred to as "Little Lord Fauntleroy." He called Magic Johnson "Crybaby Johnson" when he challenged a referee's call. Most's pro-Celtic descriptions could turn shoving matches into "bloodbaths" and minor fouls into "vicious muggings" and once during a game in Detroit, he loudly proclaimed, "Oh the yellow, gutless way they do things here." When a player such as Xavier McDaniel would come to the Celtics after being a favorite target of Most's venom, he would suddenly be rehabilitated into a wonderful guy.
Johnny's most famous call came the closing seconds of Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals between the defending champion Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers. The Celtics' lead had shriveled to 110-109, and Philadelphia regained possession with five seconds left after an inbounds pass attempt by Boston's Bill Russell hit one of the wires that ran down from the ceiling of Boston Garden and helped support the baskets in those days. Hall of Fame guard Hal Greer prepared to toss the ball inbounds under his own basket. The logical target seemed to be Wilt Chamberlain in the low post, but Russell fronted Chamberlain and took away that option. K.C. Jones, guarding Greer, leaped along the baseline and frantically waved his arms to distract him as the five seconds ticked away.
To get a better view of the court, Greer jumped up and spotted high-scoring forward Chet Walker, seemingly open beyond the key. But Boston's John Havlicek had taken a position several feet off the direct line between Greer and Walker, making it look like Walker was open when he really wasn't. After counting off a couple of seconds in his head, Havlicek sneaked a peek over his shoulder at Greer just as he prepared to release the ball. He moved into the passing lane . but let Most tell it:
"Greer is putting the ball into play. He gets it out deep," Most intones, before his voices rises into a frenzy. "Havlicek steals it. Over to Sam Jones. Havlicek stole the ball! It's all over! Johnny Havlicek stole the ball!"
The call has been played and replayed through the years, representing a high point for Most while transforming him into a cultural icon.
The 1969 series between the Lakers and the Celtics was a classic that pitted Bill Russell against Wilt Chamberlain for the final time. When the Celtics arrived at the Forum for Game 7, they were surprised to see that the Lakers' owner was so confident of a Laker victory that he’d arranged for thousands of balloons to be tied to the ceiling. He’d also brought in the USC Trojan Marching Band. Cases of champagne were stacked high outside of the Laker locker room. The media were handed press releases before the game which began: “When the Lakers win the championship…”
All of this gave added motivation to the Celtics. The game became famous for Wilt’s phantom injury, and his coach’s refusal to let him re-enter the game. Don Nelson launched the shot that hit rim, bounced straight up, and dropped cleanly through the net. A jubilant Johnny Most was beside himself and in true Johnny Most form announced:
“We busted their balloons! The USC Band is packing their instruments and all the champagne has suddenly gone flat. And then there’s poor Wilt, who probably is icing his boo-boo right now while picking up a crying towel.”
Johnny's dislike of Chamberlain was legendary. He viewed Wilt as a stat monger, more concerned with getting his points than winning titles. Johnny used every opportunity to take a jab at the Laker's big man. “Wilt the Stilt” was a nickname that bothered Chamberlain a great deal, and Most constantly referred to the seven-footer as The Stilt.
One time when Sixers Julius Erving and Moses Malone attacked Bird out of frustration, Most unleashed a scathing a torrent on Malone, whom he saw as a coward for his role in the whole thing. A sampling of that 1984 broadcast shows how excitable Most could be at times like this:
“I want to see him [Malone] fight Bird face-to-face…because he won’t fight anybody face-to-face…Malone came up from behind…a real, yellow, cowardly act…Malone is a coward – I mean I say that irrevocably – Malone is a coward!”
Another of Most's famous calls (and my personal favorite) came in Game 5 of the 1987 playoff series against the Detroit Pistons, the series tied at 2-2. Detroit had a one-point lead late in the game and needed to inbound the ball to secure the victory and take a 3-2 Series lead with Game 6 on their court. Isiah Thomas was inbounding the ball to Bill Laimbeer, who was in the backcourt. But in the words of the immortal Johnny Most:
"Now there's a steal by Bird! Underneath to DJ! He lays it up and in!! ... What a play by Bird! Bird stole the inbounding pass, layed it up to DJ, and DJ layed it up and in, and Boston has a one-point lead with one second left! OH, MY, THIS PLACE IS GOING CRAZY!!!"
You can hear it for yourself on the clip below.
But perhaps his most memorable on air moment wasn't the call of a play, but was when he dropped a lit cigarette into his lap, setting his pants on fire while he was on the air. One of my favorites was when the Celtics played the European teams in the 80's and Most had so many problems pronouncing the names, he resorted to calling it on the players' appearance:
"in to...the lefty, now inside to the big guy, passes it, now its the little fella...over to the big blonde guy.."
On October 10, 1990, Johnny Most, who was a lifelong smoker announced his retirement due to health concerns. On December 3 of that year, Most was honored with the permanent installation at Boston Garden of his microphone, silver-plated and encased in a Celtic-green frame. The microphone was attached to the façade of the vantage point that Most always described as "high above courtside." On January 3, 1993, Most died at the age of 69 of a heart attack in Hyannis, Massachusetts.
Shortly after his death, Johnny Most was awarded the prestigious Curt Gowdy Media Award by the Trustees of the Basketball Hall of Fame for his contribution to basketball. It was very ironic, considering that Most replaced Gowdy as the Celtics' play-by-play announcer. On October 4, 2002 (almost ten years after his death), Most was inducted into the media category of the New England Basketball Hall of Fame at the University of Rhode Island.
Johnny Most is fondly remembered by any Celtics' fans fortunate enough to have listened to his broadcasts. There was never a doubt that Johnny Most loved the Celtics and was an unashamed and self proclaimed homer. It was evident in his absolute defense of the Celtics and in every call that he made. He was truly one of a kind and is very much missed. I can't help but think of Johnny as we get ready for this season with all of the hopes and excitement following our new look Celtics. Johnny would embrace all of the players who had recently been the enemies and I can only imagine his excited calls as these Celtics push for Banner 17. As this season unfolds, I will think of Johnny often and imagine him "high above courtside" looking down on these Celtics and smiling.