Back in the early days of the Celtics, Red Auerbach would light up a cigar on the bench whenever he felt like the Boston Celtics had assured themselves of another victory. He had been doing it for years, humiliating and angering the other teams in the league. Nobody had ever come back to win once the cigar had been lit. Only once had that record come close to being broken.
In Red's final season, 1965-66, the Celtics had taken a 3-games-to-1 lead in the series. The Celtics' eighth straight championship seemed inevitable. Then the Lakers won games 5 and 6 but there was a game 7 in the Garden. No one had ever beaten the Celtics in a Game 7 in Boston. Game 7 started out with the Celtics jumping out to a big lead as the Lakers' stars struggled. But then the Lakers started coming back.
With the Celtics up by 6 with 20 seconds left, Red lit his last victory cigar, feeling fairly certain his team would hang on and win their eighth straight title. But the Lakers weren't done, and they cut the lead to just 2 with 4 seconds to play. For the first time, Red's victory cigar was in jeopardy of being premature. Then, with 4 seconds still to go, the Celtics fans rushed the floor, thinking the championship was over. After all, Red had lit his victory cigar. Bill Russell was knocked to the ground, an orange juice bucket on the Celtics bench was knocked over, and officials had to scramble to clear the floor so that the teams could play out the final 4 seconds of the game.
When order was restored, the Celtics were able to inbound the ball and dribble out the clock, indeed winning their eighth straight title. Red's cigar stayed lit and his record of never losing after the cigar was lit was intact. Several of Red's players have since admitted to hating his Victory Cigar tradition because it put a lot of pressure on them as teams doubled their effort in the face of this perceived slight by the Celtics coach.
Now, we often hear references to lighting a victory cigar in all kinds of contexts. For several years, we heard references to the newest Celtic being referred to as the human victory cigar when he was with the Pistons, as the only time he got into games was when the game was well in hand. But, let's go back to the 2007-08 Celtics championship season. Red was no longer there to signal the victories by lighting his cigar. Cue Gino.
When things were going very well for the Celtics that season, they began playing a clip from disco-era American Bandstand. The clip has a lot of dancers, but one in particular caught everyone's attention. A bearded white guy in a snug Gino Vannelli tee shirt stands out. This became the Celtics "Victory Cigar" that season and continues to be a Garden staple when games are well in hand. There is no bigger fan of "Gino" than Kevin Garnett, who can be seen dancing along with "Gino"
or laughing and having fun with the clip as it shows on the jumbotron. It will be fun to watch KG introduce the young guys to "Gino" as the Celtics dominate their opponents this season. I love this video. These are the Raptors' announcers talking about "Gino Time" and how KG enjoys it. They also mention they remembered it from the last time they were at the Garden, like it was something they do every game. I guess it escaped them that the only reason they see it every time is because the Celtics blow the Raptors out every time.
The Celtics organization tried to search for the man fans affectionately know as Gino throughout that season hoping to bring him to the Garden for a game. The Wall Street Journal reported on the search for the man in the Gino shirt. Dick Clark Productions agreed to try to help locate the man. They reviewed old tapes and talked to former dancers to uncover the mystery. One dancer recognized "Gino" as Joe Massoni. When they finally tracked him down, the news was sad. Mr. Massoni had passed away 18 years previously from pneumonia, at the age of 34.
Kevin Garnett wasn't a big fan of finding the real "Gino" because, in his words, "That would ruin it He could be old and bald and fat now." As it turns out, Gino Vannelli, the singer whose shirt the dancer wears, isn't all that big a fan of the Celtics using him as a "Victory Cigar", either. As reported in the Welland Tribune,
In recent years Vannelli has earned new fans the weirdest way possible – the Boston Celtics. During home games, if the Celtics are blowing their opponents out, the Jumbo-Tron plays a vintage ‘70s clip from American Bandstand accompanied by disco music. One of the dancers sports a vintage Vannelli tour shirt, earning him the nickname ‘Gino’ to Celtics fans.
The real Gino is ambivalent about the whole thing.
“I had maybe a half-smile on my face,” he says, describing the first time he saw it. “When I see the iconic picture that came out of that photography session, and people using it all these years after, it’s almost like, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’”
It seemed as though we didn't see "Gino" nearly enough last season. I'm looking forward to seeing him a whole lot more this season. How about you?
[Discuss on CG Forums!]
Still remember the day I opened my electronic copy of the WSJ to findo out the dancer had died.
As for this year's victory cigars, I also hope we see more of those.
I am expecting a better winning percentage, and looking forward to watching the team come together.