The 1984 NBA Finals started long before the series tip-off. The Lakers came to Boston worried about facing Larry Bird, but their greater concern should've been the Celtics mystique, or, as Michael Cooper described it, "all that bullsh*t Red Auerbach did."
A master of gamesmanship
When the Lakers were in town earlier in the regular season, the team's head coach Pat Riley spotted a water container on a table during shootaround. He ordered that the container be emptied, scrubbed out, and refilled. “Who knows what the Celtics might have put in there to make us sick,” Pat said.
For all of his basketball genius, Auerbach's biggest strength as a head coach were all the tricks he had up his sleeve to throw opponents off. Phil Jackson' talked about it in his book Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success, describing the pioneer of modern basketball as "a master of gamesmanship."
"One of his trademark ploys was to light a cigar when he thought his team had won the game, which infuriated his opponents, especially when the score was still close."
Auerbach kept the same energy as a team executive. He might've even turned it up a notch. The end always justified the means, and the goal was always the same -- dangling as many championship banners as possible.
By 1984, the rafters inside Boston Garden hanged fourteen of them --seven of which were against the Lakers. After the Purple and Gold beat the Suns in the WCF, two years removed from their last Finals matchup, the Celtics got their chance to secure title No.15.
That's when the Celtics mystique entered the picture. And not only Auerbach but the whole city of Boston.
Sabotaging the Lakers
Because the Celtics finished the regular season with the league's best record, the first two games of the Finals were set to play in Boston.
Having just wrapped up the Conference Finals, the Lakers flew directly from Phoenix. But instead of regaining their energy, the Purple and Gold first had to wait for almost an hour for their luggage to arrive. When their bags finally emerged, half of them were unzipped.
“The message was clear,” Magic Johnson said. “It was just Boston’s way of letting us know we shouldn’t get comfortable here.”
The airport was filled with Celtics fans wearing green-and-white apparel. One of them, a teenager in a green shirt, approached Magic just as the Lakers superstar picked up his bag.
“This little old man comes up to me, all kinda hunched over, and he gets right up in me and says—hissing—‘Larry is going to kill you.'”
So now we get our bags and get on the bus and our bus driver is wearing a Celtics cap," Magic said. "And I’m thinking, ‘Are we going to make it to the hotel all right?’ Then we go to check into the hotel and everyone at the hotel— everyone!—is wearing Larry’s jersey and Celtic jerseys and mean-muggin’ us. Just being real nasty. And the lady behind the counter goes—hissing —‘Here’s your key!’ Just staring at me.”
The Lakers were staying in the Copley Marriott, a facility with twenty-four-hour room service and king-size beds in every room. The night before Game 1, the fire alarm system went off three times.
Lakers players even used fake names when checking into the hotel. However, an article in Boston Globe listing their whereabouts was enough for Auerbach and Co. to engage in their usual antics.
Going into the Finals, the Lakers knew what they were in for. Auerbach took pleasure in turning Boston Garden into a hell trap for opposing teams, and with their rival in town, so did the rest of the city.
The Lakers were able to laugh it off and keep their focus solely on the game. But it wasn't enough. Boston took home the championship after a seven-game series, Bird secured a Finals MVP and Auerbach ended up rubbing his hands with glee.
A lot of "bulls*it was done," but it worked.