The Spurs and Heat Played a Sweaty Homage to the 1980s Boston Garden

When a power outage sent temperatures soaring, it reminded everyone of the overheated Garden games of yore.

Associated Press

Associated Press

When a power outage turned up the temperature on the AT&T Center during Thursday night’s NBA Finals game between the Spurs and the Heat, it brought comparisons both apt and inevitable to the 1980s Boston Garden, where a lack of air conditioning had some of the NBA’s greatest players facing off in even swampier conditions. Magic Johnson himself sent out a string of tweets reminiscing:

The fact that LeBron James, giant target for Haterade that he is, left the game with a cramp in the final quarter did nothing to quell the cries of “this is nothing compared to the Garden!”

Last night wasn’t exactly nothing. It was quite hot. But Johnson and the rest of the internet are correct that the Celtics and their opponents had to consistently withstand conditions just like it. That means we had ample opportunity to gloat about our scrappy New England hardiness.

Consider the way we talk about Game 4 of the 1984 Finals between the Celtics and the Lakers. That day, 30 years ago this week, the game-time temperature hit 97 degrees. Columnist Bob Ryan recalled the occasion in a 2009 column:

The Lakers did not like it, and Kareem disliked it most of all. He was 37, and fairly cranky to begin with, and playing a Finals game in 97-degree heat was not his idea of fun. He would shoot 7 for 25 and wind up sucking on oxygen (honest).

“I suggest you go to the local steam bath with all your clothes on,” he said afterward. “First, try to do 100 push-ups. Then run back and forth for 48 minutes.”

Referee Hugh Evans had to leave at halftime, a victim of dehydration. Robert Parish sat out a stretch of the second half with leg cramps.

In Boston’s collective consciousness, the Celtics’ ability to power through this trial while the Lakers faltered is what earned us the title that year. Not only that, it was the kind of display that separated New England as tougher and more dedicated than the rest of the country. Ryan waxed on pretty hard about it, writing, “Here was the message: Watching a game in an old, cramped, steamy building and sitting on those hard seats, why, that’s what we do here in New England.” (Or that’s what we did, anyway, until we built tore the Garden down. Hey, no one said air conditioning wasn’t nice!)

With memories of the overheated Garden calcifying into a myth about what makes Boston great—our weather is both too hot and too cold, so there, L.A.!—you can imagine, then, how that might color a Boston fan’s watching of last night’s game. At the very least, in a series where we don’t have a big stake in the race, it gave us something to talk about.