Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter Sunday and the Boston Celtics

I developed a passion for the Boston Celtics in the mid 60's. They got a lot of television exposure in those days. That's how I "found" them. They were a great team. My dad "sort of" liked them, and they played on a cool, parquet floor. To say I loved them is not an understatement. The 1974 team is my all-time favorite.

A year and a half into my career as a professional photojournalist in Macomb, Illinois, the light "went on" in my head, and I decided to try and use my position in an attempt to get photo credentials to shoot a Celtics game. I'd shot a few Cardinal football games in St. Louis, and felt it was time to branch out to another sport. 

A Bulls vs. Celtics game in Chicago was the obvious location choice. Logistics and cost made it a no-brainer. Chicago Stadium was pretty cool too. It was built in 1929. Only Boston Garden, built in 1928, was older, and had more character. 

Using Macomb Daily Journal letterhead, I composed a request to Bulls media man Tim Hallam, to shoot a game when the Celtics would visit. Tim responded with a call. I know it was by phone, because I remember his words. 

"Naw. Unless you have a player of local interest, I can't do it. I'd have to have a good excuse to justify it, if one of the big boys ran over you."

Strike one. 

Four years later,  I worked in the Chicago market. I dealt with Tim for ten years while covering the Bulls. He's a nice man. He was just doing his job. And I never have told him this story. But at the time, I wasn't happy with him. 

Not to give up, I figured "what the hell?" I'll put the same request in to the Celtics. How cool would it be to shoot them in the fabled "garden?" I mailed a nearly identical request to Jeff Twiss, the media man for the Celtics. 

No more than three days later, I got a call on the intercom that connected the darkroom to the newsroom. "Kent, come down here. You have a phone call."

"Hello," I said. A man spoke. "Kent, this is Jeff Twiss." "Who," I asked? He responded. "Jeff Twiss, of the Celtics." "OH!" was my reply. The letter had made it through the mail in record time, and Twiss responded in record time. Also with a call. I wasn't expecting to hear anything that soon. His call caught me off guard. 

"I got your request here," he said. "What game would you like to come out and shoot?" At this point, my jaw was on the ground, and I was dancing around the newsroom, tethered by the phone cord. He gave me my choice of a game with New Jersey, or one with the Knicks. Remembering the rivalries between the Celtics and Knicks in the 60's, I chose the Knicks. 

The game date was Easter Sunday, 1985. Not sure how I'd get there, or pay for the trip, I was going to go. If I had to drive. If I had to hitchhike. 

My annual salary was around $12,000. I had to fly. But it wasn't going to be first class. I looked for a bargain. 

People Express was a no frills, discount airline. Passengers paid their fare by cash or check while in flight. Don't believe me? Look it up. Unbelievable in today's world. I booked a round trip from O'Hare, to Logan International. 

On the flight east, the attendant came around to collect. I got out my checkbook. She was polite, but asked, "Do you have a major credit card?" Having ANY credit card was "major" to me at that age. "Yeah," I told her. "I've got an Amoco card." She laughed and said, "Well, if this check bounces, we''ll just throw you out the door on the flight home."

The money saved flying a discount airline was lost on the choice of lodging. The Logan Airport Hilton. I'm not a Hilton kind of guy. But the flight got in late, and the hotel was right there at the airport. A shuttle, or cab ride away. 

Staying at a Hilton had perks. It was the first time I'd ever seen a stocked mini fridge. I thought, "Ahhh, this is awfully nice of them." I helped myself to a Hershey's bar and Heineken. The next morning at checkout, I found out I had to pay for that stuff. 

I woke early on Easter morning. I had packed light for a one night stay. One bag of clothes, and my camera gear. I'd be heading back to the airport immediately after the game, and had to drag everything along that morning. Taking the metro train, I wound up downtown.

With time to kill, I caught a few sights. North Church. The U.S.S. Constitution. It was a warm, sunny morning. People were out, and they were friendly. "Happy Eas-tah to ya," they greeted me in their Boston accents. 

Finding my way to North Station and Boston Garden, it was difficult to get an good exterior shot of the building. It wasn't as open and free standing as Chicago Stadium, or The Arena in St. Louis. There were other structures around it. 

I presented my credential and was through the turnstiles. Walking into the home of a sports dynasty. Bill Russell played here. Dave Cowens played here. Larry Bird was playing here. 

My photo credential
Right there along the baseline of that famous parquet floor, a spot had been reserved for me. "Kent Kriegshauser/Macomb Daily Journal." I looked around the place in awe, and with reverence. I wished dad could have seen this. 

A game is a game, is a game. This one was just another game during regular season. Of no real importance to anyone other than me. I made pictures on the 4-5 rolls of slide film, and no more than 2 rolls of black and white film, I'd brought along. At the other end of the court, I spotted legendary Celtics photographer Dick Raphael. A big man, he was shooting too. Not from the floor, but sitting on a milk crate. 

Just before halftime, I left my spot and climbed the steps to the upper section. There, I photographed down on the floor below, and all those championship banners above. 

The game passed way too quickly. I hoped for overtime, but it didn't happen. The Celtics won. 

I packed up, took a cab to the airport, and was on my way back to Chicago. Halfway through a whirlwind trip. 

The earlier check hadn't bounced. I was not thrown off the plane on the way home. 

It was late when the plane landed in Chicago on Sunday night. I had to be back at work early the next morning. I wanted to be at work the next morning. I wanted my photo credit under a Boston Celtics photograph that day in the Macomb Daily Journal. Who needs the Associated Press? I'd just been to Boston!

It was a long drive home. Highway time from O'Hare to Macomb, took longer than air time from Boston to O'Hare. I was really tired by this point. There were a few tedious moments when the eyes closed, the head bobbed forward, and the wheels found the shoulder of the road. 

Rolling in around dawn, I'm not sure I even went home and slept. It was all adrenaline. Film was processed, prints were made. Photos I'd made of the Boston Celtics less than 24 hours before, were published in the Macomb paper. Sports editor Joe Stevenson joked and said the readers "Would probably think the photo credit was a mistake."

 I came to appreciate that Tim Hallam turned my request down. And Jeff Twiss did not.

The Boston experience remains a highlight of my photography career. And one of the biggest thrills of my life.

Thanks, Jeff. And happy Easter to you. 

Celtics Vs. Knicks. Easter Sunday, 1985.

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