Johnny Most will be inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame today. And it is a much deserved honor. Even though Johnny isn't here with us to enjoy the honor, it's great that they are recognizing his contributions and honoring him. No one could ever mistake Johnny Most as an impartial analyst. He loved the Celtics and with every call, you could hear it. To Johnny, being called a "homer" was a good thing and we all loved him for it. I think it's fitting that we take a few moments to remember the man who was described as the "Celtics 13th man" by the players whose games he called.
From 1953 through 1990, Johnny Most was the radio voice of the Celtics. Most never pretended to be objective: his Celtics were near-saints who could do no wrong and anyone not wearing the green was the enemy and the scum of the earth.
He was a legend to Boston Celtics fans during the Celtics' 30 year reign from the 1950s through the 1980s as basketball's most dominant team. Most was as much honored in Boston as Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and Larry Bird. Boston Celtics fans learned at an early age when watching the team play on television to turn the sound down and listen to Most's radio broadcast of the game instead.
Born to Jewish parents, Most began his career in the 1940s mentored by Marty Glickman. He called road games for the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers baseball teams as well as the New York Giants and Army football team. In 1953, Boston Celtics owner Walter Brown and Red Auerbach hired him to replace Curt Gowdy as the team's radio play-by-play man on WBZ radio. He always referred to his perch at Boston Garden as being "high above courtside."
Most was never shy about criticizing the other team's players. One time Most described the Los Angeles Lakers' Kurt Rambis as "something that had crawled out of a sewer." He also nicknamed Washington Bullets players Rick Mahorn and Jeff Ruland as "McFilthy" and "McNasty." Kareem Abdul Jabbar was "Kareem Puff" and Isaiah Thomas was referred to as "Little Lord Fauntleroy." He called Magic Johnson "Crybaby Johnson" when he challenged a referee's call. Most's pro-Celtic descriptions could turn shoving matches into "bloodbaths" and minor fouls into "vicious muggings" and once during a game in Detroit, he loudly proclaimed, "Oh the yellow, gutless way they do things here." When a player such as Xavier McDaniel would come to the Celtics after being a favorite target of Most's venom, he would suddenly be rehabilitated into a wonderful guy.
He was famous for coming up with phrases to describe the action on the court as well. I use Fiddlin' and Diddlin' to describe the news and links columns on this blog as a tribute to Johnny Most. Johnny used the term fiddlin' and diddlin' originally to describe how Philly point guard Maurice Cheeks dribbled the ball for 4 or 5 seconds as he waited for the Sixers to set their offense but he ended up using that expression to describe the play of DJ and Ainge. They weren't true fast break style PG's and would dribble the ball up the court when waiting to set up the offense. They'd dribble the ball to one side of the court and then dribble the ball back to the middle. Rather than describe all the ball handling for 5 or 6 seconds at a time, he would use the phrase fiddlin' and diddlin' to describe their dribbling around. Most is also credited with adding the phrase “stop and pop” to the basketball lexicon.
Johnny's most famous call came the closing seconds of Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals between the defending champion Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers. The Celtics' lead had shriveled to 110-109, and Philadelphia regained possession with five seconds left after an inbounds pass attempt by Boston's Bill Russell hit one of the wires that ran down from the ceiling of Boston Garden and helped support the baskets in those days.
Hall of Fame guard Hal Greer prepared to toss the ball inbounds under his own basket. The logical target seemed to be Wilt Chamberlain in the low post, but Russell fronted Chamberlain and took away that option. K.C. Jones, guarding Greer, leaped along the baseline and frantically waved his arms to distract him as the five seconds ticked away.
To get a better view of the court, Greer jumped up and spotted high-scoring forward Chet Walker, seemingly open beyond the key. But Boston's John Havlicek had taken a position several feet off the direct line between Greer and Walker, making it look like Walker was open when he really wasn't. After counting off a couple of seconds in his head, Havlicek sneaked a peek over his shoulder at Greer just as he prepared to release the ball. He moved into the passing lane . but let Most tell it:
"Greer is putting the ball into play. He gets it out deep," Most intones, before his voices rises into a frenzy. "Havlicek steals it. Over to Sam Jones. Havlicek stole the ball! It's all over! Johnny Havlicek stole the ball!"
Havlicek tipped the inbounds pass away from Walker and toward teammate Jones, who dribbled out the clock as fans poured onto the court. The Celtics had the win, and would go on to capture their seventh consecutive championship. As Havlicek tipped the ball, Johnny Most could be heard yelling into the microphone in his raspy voice, "Havlicek stole the ball! Havlicek stole the ball! It's all over! It's all over!"
His second most famous call (and my personal favorite) came in Game 5 of the 1987 playoff series against the Detroit Pistons, and involves another famous steal. The series was tied at 2-2. Detroit had a one-point lead late in the game and needed to inbound the ball to secure the victory and take a 3-2 Series lead with Game 6 on their court. Isiah Thomas was inbounding the ball to Bill Laimbeer, who was in the backcourt. But in the words of the immortal Johnny Most:
"Now there's a steal by Bird! Underneath to DJ! He lays it up and in!! ... What a play by Bird! Bird stole the inbounding pass, layed it up to DJ, and DJ layed it up and in, and Boston has a one-point lead with one second left! OH, MY, THIS PLACE IS GOING CRAZY!!!" You can hear it for yourself on the clip below.
But perhaps his most memorable on air moment wasn't the call of a play, but was when he dropped a lit cigarette into his lap, setting his pants on fire while he was on the air.
On October 10, 1990, Johnny Most announced his retirement due to health concerns. On December 3 of that year, Most was honored with the permanent installation at Boston Garden of his microphone, silver-plated and encased in a Celtic-green frame. The microphone was attached to the façade of the vantage point that Most always described as "high above courtside." On January 3, 1993, Most died at the age of 69 of a heart attack in Hyannis, Massachusetts.
Shortly after his death, Johnny Most was awarded the prestigious Curt Gowdy Media Award by the Trustees of the Basketball Hall of Fame for his contribution to basketball. It was very ironic, considering that Most replaced Gowdy as the Celtics' play-by-play announcer. On October 4, 2002 (almost ten years after his death), Most was inducted into the media category of the New England Basketball Hall of Fame at the University of Rhode Island. And today, he receives yet another honor from the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
Johnny Most is fondly remembered by any Celtics' fans fortunate enough to have listened to his broadcasts. There was never a doubt that Johnny Most loved the Celtics and was an unashamed and self proclaimed homer. It was evident in his absolute defense of the Celtics and in every call that he made. He was truly one of a kind and is very much missed. If you want a good read, get Johnny's book High Above Courtside: The Lost Memoirs of Johnny Most. Along with the story of Johnny's life, there are Celtics anecdotes you won't find elsewhere.
Congratulations, Johnny. We know you are still high above courtside rooting for your beloved Celtics.