Long locked in storage, the original Celtics’ championship banners come to light


It’s the story of how they went from an indescribable corrugated iron storage room north of Boston to being displayed in full glory in the BPL, just a complete pass from Red Auerbach’s old apartment. at the Lenox hotel.

Celtics vice-president of media services Jeff Twiss carries some original banners in front of sections of the floor of the former Boston Garden.Stan Grossfeld / Globe Staff

Celtics VP Media Services Jeff Twiss waits outside the building. It’s almost exactly the 40th anniversary of his hiring and he’s thrilled that fans can see some of the Celtics’ history for free.

“It is truly a privilege to share them with the general public in a setting unique to Boston, the BPL, and for the first time where everyone can see and fully appreciate them,” Twiss said.

Red Auerbach thought the banners had charisma.

“Every baseball player you talk to talks about two things first – those banners and our floor,” Auerbach said in Dan Shaughnessy’s book “Ever Green”.

When the Celtics won their first championship in 1957, Auerbach and his owner Walter Brown contacted New England Flag and Banner, which made the flag for the World Series when the Boston Americans defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1903. Auerbach wanted to large banners, 8 feet by 12 feet, and 100 percent hand-sewn cotton.

“A traditional look,” according to Ned Flynn, president of New England Flag and Banner.

After this first championship, it was almost an annual order. The Celtics have won a record 11 championships in 13 years, arguably the greatest achievement in professional sports history.

“[Auerbach] was just smarter than anyone, ”said Hall of Fame point guard Bob Cousy, who was responsible for running six of those championships.

Cousy says the banners were one of the many mind games that Auerbach played.

“Yes, the flags were part of having a psychological impact,” Cousy says. “[Auerbach] used to tell us in warm-ups never look down on the opponent who is warming up, let him watch you. [He] didn’t want us to shake hands before a game because it made them feel comfortable. Don’t let them feel comfortable, we want them to know that we hate them. Then when you have four or five banners up there, oh my God, I don’t care about the experience of those teams coming in, that was part of our advantage on the pitch.

In the 1970s the pattern was lost and when the Celtics won in 1974 the switch from cotton banners to more durable nylon was made. At the time, they cost $ 475 each.

Jill Maneikis, Associate Director of Special Events at the Boston Public Library, watches the banner installation.
Jill Maneikis, Associate Director of Special Events at the Boston Public Library, watches the banner installation.Stan Grossfeld / Globe Staff

When the Celtics moved into the FleetCenter in 1995 (now TD Garden), they had the larger 10ft by 15ft nylon banners installed.

“It was decided that when they went to the new facility, the old banners were too small,” says Flynn. “They looked like bath towels.”

The Celtics have put up the old banners in their training center in Waltham. When they moved to the center of Auerbach in 2018, they moved them to a warehouse.

There have been too many incidents of theft of these sacred scrolls to risk listing the name of the facility. Looks like the kind of place where you can put grandma’s old furniture after her death.

When Twiss’s support team arrives, they unlock the unmarked door. Behind the bubble-wrapped frames, a desk, a sofa, and a few chairs, is perhaps the most unusual find since they began to conjure up Titanic silverware. The original Celtic banners are hidden behind piles of the original Boston Garden flooring. Of the 16 cotton streamers hanging from the antique rafters of the Boston Garden, only five have survived, the rest being nylon replacements.

Mike Marcucci of Flagraphics, Inc., Peter Fayette, Celtics COO, and Twiss load the long banners into a new van and Marcucci drives them on Interstate 93 to their next stop, New England Flag and Banner in Woburn . There they will be ironed, repaired and prepared to go to BPL.

Celtics fan Marcucci admits he was first shocked when he saw the parquet floor and banners in the storage area and then feared he was responsible for his transport.

“I was very nervous,” he says. “I knew these were the originals and it made me a little more aware of what was on the road. We knew what the story was in there and wanted to make sure the banners were well protected.

Flynn greets the banners like lost family members. When he goes to Celtics games he looks more at the banners than the game, annoying his wife by pointing out imperfections caused by gravity and the weather.

“It’s great to have the old banners here,” he says. “The Celtics donating these banners to the city of Boston for people to enjoy is fantastic. “

Ned Flynn, president of New England Flag and Banner, unloads relics of past dynasties.
Ned Flynn, President of New England Flag and Banner, unloads relics of past dynasties.Stan Grossfeld / Globe Staff

Flynn gathers his workers as they place the banners on a long table.

Old banners are fragile, he warns.

“Don’t pull too hard – pin them, stretch them and iron them, and leave them for a few days,” Flynn tells them.

“Be very careful.”

Some are yellowed by time or by Auerbach’s cigar, or by the marijuana smoke rising from the ground during a Grateful Dead concert.

There are god knows what stains. The 1968 banner features several brown spots of a mysterious nature.

“I think it’s monkey poo,” Flynn laughs. When the garden was demolished in 1998, workers found a petrified monkey in the rafters that apparently abandoned the circus. The Celtics believe it to be water, oil, or grease damage.

“We can ask the FBI to step in and do a DNA analysis,” says Flynn.

New England flag and banner seamstress Terry Wu re-passes the 1962 championship banner in weathered cotton.
New England flag and banner seamstress Terry Wu re-passes the 1962 championship banner in weathered cotton.Stan Grossfeld / Globe Staff

A masked Terry Wu takes off his shoes, puts down a cloth blanket and climbs onto the massive table. The veteran seamstress begins to iron the 1962 title banner, the oldest original, won by beating the Lakers at home in overtime in Game 7.

Flynn checks the iron settings.

“Not too hot,” he warns.

Up close there is a lot to see. There are thousands of dots in double-sided banners. The Celtics’ first, from 1957, is not an original. It is believed to have become worn away from wear and tear. Three numbered retired banners with 23 names and numbers are also on display.

In 1998, the new eight-panel banner, half filled with the numbers of Bird, Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson and Reggie Lewis, disappeared. The Celtics offered a reward of $ 5,000 and set up a tip line. A call came in, and the police and the FBI flocked to Melrose.

“There he was in full view,” says Twiss. “A teenager got it. But how he pulled out an 8-by-12-foot banner from the Garden, we have no idea.

According to two different sources, some of the other originals were damaged in a fire in the 1970s when the banners were temporarily removed for the circus or a concert of The Who.

Time - and who knows what else - has soiled and damaged the old banners.
Time – and who knows what else – has soiled and damaged the old banners.Stan Grossfeld / Globe Staff

“A bunch of banners were damaged beyond repair,” says Flynn. The garden staff called in panic.

“Oh my God, our heads are on fire, we have to replace them because the Celtics are coming back,” said Flynn.

For the 2008 banner, Flynn had a “lucky penny” inserted in one corner. He might not want to start over – the Cs haven’t won since.

Cousy says he’s thrilled that fans can see the banners in person.

“One of my proudest moments is that the banners are intertwined in a moment that will not be reproduced in American sports history,” he says. “To play a part in this unit from 57 to 69, doing something that will never be done again. I would like the city of Boston to appreciate what it has had over these years and the legacy it has. left. That’s what I like the most.

Le Cooz, 93, says he “still has his marbles,” but his legs aren’t that good. He hopes the banners don’t get a cosmetic facelift before they meet the public.

“Tell them to leave the blood on the banners, not to clean them, that adds authenticity,” he says. “It’s like the painting ‘Spirit of’ 76 ‘, with the injured guy waving the battered old flag. You knew they had been through wars and deserved it.

“The same applies, hopefully, here. “

You can reach Stan Grossfeld at [email protected]

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