'Don't celebrate too early!' Former Lakers' owner Jack Kent Cooke wished he had learned that lesson before Game 7 of the '69 NBA Finals.
With Boston Celtics coming into LA for a win-or-go-home game, the Lakers' owner at the time was so confident in his team winning it all that he had thousands of balloons with "World Champion Lakers" printed on them suspended from the rafters of the Forum. Flyers were placed in every seat stating: "When, not if the Lakers win the title, balloons will be released from the rafters, the USC marching band will play 'Happy Days Are Here Again,' and broadcaster Chick Hearn will interview Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, and Wilt Chamberlain in that order."
Instead, it was Jack Waldron, the president of the Boston Celtics, who did the postgame interviews. Sam Jones, Red Auerbach, and Bill Russell, that was the order. This was both Jones' and Russell's final game in the NBA, and what better way to cap it off then to win their 10th and 11th NBA title.
This is such a great bunch of guys and it's been fabulous the way they've played for me. I told these guys before the game, 'I don't care what happens, I wouldn't trade you guys for any guys in the world.' I just can't say enough about the guys.
It was reported that the Celtics found out about the flyers and even took one in the locker room, where they ended up having a pregame hype-up fest, using the flyer as their ultimate source of motivation. Jerry West was furious at the sight of hanging championship balloons, as he saw it as an unnecessary distraction and something that would only fuel the Celtics. And during the warmups, player-coach Russell let West know that that's exactly what they did.
Those fu*king balloons are staying up there.
Russell kept his promise, as the Celtics beat the Lakers 108-106 for their 11th title in a 13-season run. Jerry West ended up winning the Finals MVP, as he became the first and only player on a losing team to win the award. But for West, that was more of a consolation prize, that he'd change for an NBA championship in a heartbeat.
First, for obvious reasons - it's the NBA championship trophy. Second, to save his team from an-all time great embarrassment, courtesy of Jack Kent Cooke. Never celebrate too early!