Throwback Thursday: When the Celtics Almost Moved to Revere

Want your rent lowered? Threaten a move to the North Shore.

Photo by Jim Nachtwey

Photo by Jim Nachtwey

In 1982, the Boston Celtics, led by a 25-year-old Larry Bird, were still basking in the afterglow of their NBA Championship victory over the hapless Houston Rockets—the second team in NBA history to make the Finals with a losing record, who somehow found a way to steal two games from Bird, Danny Ainge, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and series MVP, Cedric Maxwell.

In the front office, meanwhile, then-owner Harry Manguarian was still eying a move north of the city to Revere. He first threatened a move in 1979, with hopes of convincing the Boston Bruins—owners of the old Boston Garden—to lower their rent. Wrote the AP on April 12, 1980:

Manguarian planned to meet today with officials of the Ogden Corp., which owns the Suffolk Downs racetrack in East Boston, to discuss an 18,000-seat facility that could be built for about $20 million.

“We are in the midst of the worst of economic times, which sort of throws a pall over everything,” Manguarian said. “But I’m still very optimistic.”

“We have worked very hard on this plan, and finally we have one that we think will work. If the Ogden people feel the same way after our meeting, they we could really have something.”

The Bruins had announced preliminary plans to move to New Hampshire, a proposal that eventually died in court, but rattled state officials in the meantime. Wrote the AP on January 26, 1981:

[Mass. Commerce Commissioner James] Carlin said he has had discussions with Boston Redevelopment Authority Director Robert Ryan about use of state-backed bonds to construct a $40 million, 15,000-seat arena behind the Boston Garden…

Gov. Edward J. King said there was no single action the state could take to keep the Bruins from leaving Massachusetts, but said his administration was planning a “series of actions,” all of which hinge on financing.

An entry from Boston magazine’s April 1982 issue titled “Arena Plan Alive and Well and Living in Revere” outlines Manguarian nagging desire to move the Celtics to the land of Kelly’s Roast Beef, with U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas of Lowell throwing a wrench in the works:

Celtics owner Harry Manguarian, speaking before a meeting of the Boston Chamber of Commerce’s Executives’ Club in February, said the Revere plans had been put aside only out of deference to the efforts of the committee organized a year ago by Senator Paul Tsongas.

“I thought we had the best situation at Suffolk Downs,” Manguarian told the executives, “but when the Tsongas proposal developed, we backed off. The competition would have been too tough.”

Tsongas had proposed a $56.8 million, 16,000-seat arena, financed by tax-exempt bonds. The naming rights were even sold to Sheraton for $2 million. But as Tsongas expected, the plan stalled in the State Legislature.

With the Tsongas staff now saying that the senator’s proposal will not survive another year without action, however, the move to Revere is beginning to appear a bit more attractive to the basketball team.

“Of course, those are Harry’s personal opinions,” commented Ted Rosensweig, the Celtics’ public-relations director, later. “But as far as other options, no. There really isn’t any if the Tsongas proposal dies. Other than staying in the Garden.” And Celtics staffers have consistently said that is not a viable option.

Tsongas’ proposal ultimately withered on the vine. Viable or not, the Celtics and Bruins stuck around at the Garden until the bitter end, even as power outages (very likely) cost Cam Neely and B’s the 1988 Stanley Cup. The Garden was demolished in 1998, after it had sat vacant for three years following the opening of the FleetCenter (now TD Garden) in 1995.

Better luck next time, Revere.