Remember LeBron cramping in Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals? Well, it wasn’t the only game ruined by the power of AC. Or the lack of one should I say, since something even more dramatic happened thirty-six years ago.
On June 8, 1984, the Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers in what became known as “the heat game.” It was reportedly 97 degrees in the old Boston Garden— a building that didn’t have air conditioning since the arena was also used for hockey. Boston was suffering through a heatwave, and it made the building sweltering.
For all of the Celtics/Lakers storylines throughout history – Russell vs. Wilt, Bird vs. Magic, everyone in the city of Boston hating Kareem and then Kobe – no single game captured the gusto of the Celtics franchise like the Heat Game. In a pivotal Game 5 with the series tied 2-2, the Lakers came into the Garden, and the whole city (and mother nature) conspired to bring them down.
There were some hot nights in that old building over the years, but there was never one like the evening of June 8, 1984. The male fans wore shorts and short-sleeved shirts. The women wore, well, as little as possible - halter tops proliferated. There was never a day or evening in the long history of that building when there was so much exposed skin.
“I suggest that you go to a local steam bath, do 100 pushups with all your clothes on, then try to run back and forth for 48 minutes. The game was in slow motion. It was like we were running in mud.”
Kareem Abdul Jabbar
It was such a hot referee Hugh Evans had to stop at halftime due to dehydration. Grit, heart, whatever you want to call it – those Celtics had it. Kareem needed oxygen on the bench to get his breathing under control, but the hometown team withstood the heat. It’s the game that defines what the old Boston Garden was and what the 80’s Celtics were all about.
As far as the game itself is concerned, the Celtics came out with a 121-103 win over their longtime rivals. They took charge of a series they eventually won in seven games, winning a what later became a turning point of the series. Or a boiling point, whatever you prefer.
Larry Bird once again led the C’s. Kodak played 42 minutes, going for 34 points and hauling in 17 rebounds while shooting 15 of 20 from the floor. He had a lot of help, as four other Celtics scored in double digits, with Dennis Johnson leading the way with 22 points.
James Worthy was on top of Lakers’ box score, dropping 22 in 35 minutes of action. Historically great combo of Jabbar and Magic underperformed, combining for 29 points, going 10-for-24 from the field. I guess the unbearable heat took a toll on them the most.
Nevertheless, It was the supreme example of mind over matter on a basketball court, with the man deserving the first, second, and third stars being No. 33.
“I love to play in the heat. I just run faster and create my own wind.”
As expected, Bird didn’t complain. Instead, he took care of business and adapted to the situation. I bet he was even talking smack while doing it, not letting anything get in the way of beating the LA team.
That’s why “the heat game” is the epitome of uncompromising rivalry between two greatest NBA franchises, with ten guys drenched in sweat playing their hearts out in inhuman conditions. It wasn’t about basketball, but more about the pride. And if you’ve ever competed in anything, you know that’s what you hold on to the most.