'Three-peat'? Celtics have already done it--plus 5


DETROIT -- Now that the "three-peat" issue is deader than a shredded piston ring, it is perhaps historically significant to remember the last time such extended professional basketball supremacy was realized.

It was the spring of 1966, when the Boston Celtics, in the seventh game of a best-of-seven championship series, beat the Los Angeles Lakers for their eighth consecutive NBA title.


Pat Riley coined the annoying three-peat term while he was coaching the Los Angeles Lakers in their recent quest for a set of triple National Basketball Association crowns, which Detroit ruined with its first title.

But eight in a row?

Imagine this year's champion -- the Lakers or the Chicago Bulls -- ruling the league through 1998. Or put it this way: No other city has eight titles in NBA history (the Lakers have 11, but five came when the franchise was in Minneapolis and the last six have come in Los Angeles).

The Celtics set the standard, even if nobody had ever heard of a three-peat back then. There was also an hors d'oeuvre title in 1957, before the streak started, and a double dish of dessert with championships in 1968 and 1969, after the streak ended.

Red Auerbach coached. K. C. Jones, Sam Jones and Bill Russell played on all eight championship clubs. Those three players plus John Havlicek, Willie Naulls, Tom Sanders and Larry Siegfried were on the 1964, 1965 and 1966 teams that, strictly in terms of semantics, formed the last three-peat group.

"We didn't talk about pressure," said Auerbach, now the Celtics president. "It was, 'Forget about last year; let's win it now.' "

So what catchy label would Auerbach put on eight in a row?

"You call it nothing," he said. "Every one was its own. Every one was as sweet as the other ones."

Auerbach stopped short of saying no NBA team will ever match Boston's string of superiority, but, no, he doesn't expect it to happen.

"Never is a tough word," Auerbach said. "We had a totally unselfish ballclub. Today it's harder to do that. They say they're not selfish, but the escalation of salaries makes it difficult. A guy wants to be able to go in at contract time and show he's scoring 18 a game or whatever."

Seattle SuperSonics coach K. C. Jones, who performed that job for the Celtics for five seasons in the early 1980s, agrees with Auerbach.

"The chemistry and work ethic are the things I remember most," Jones said. "They were the basis for the total confidence that we played with."

Wait a minute.

The Pistons have chemistry. What else would you call the "U Can't Touch This" and "Hammer Time" philosophies? And the Pistons' work ethic, regardless of what you think of their style, has never been questioned.

"It's harder to sustain these days because of three- and four-million-dollar salaries. . . . It's a priority. It's money, playing time and then winning. That's the wrong order.

"That gets in the way. You carry that on the court with you. You're supposed to be concentrating on the game, but then the game has taken second or third place in what's important."

The money chase has led to salary caps and free agency and more players switching teams than happened 25 years ago. In fact, financial considerations probably will form the foundation of Detroit's restructuring next season.

"We stayed intact," said Sam Jones, who led the 1966 Celtics in scoring with a 23.2 average and is now athletic director for the Washington, D.C., public school system. "I don't think coaches have complete control of their players now. Players go to management now, and teams change."

Where teams don't go these days is to eight consecutive championships.

"Truthfully, the players today are much better than we were," Sam Jones said. "It could be that they're not as hungry after winning once or twice. We were never that way, but we probably didn't realize the history we were making. We didn't know the process."

The Minneapolis Lakers, from 1952 through 1954, are the only other NBA team to win three successive titles.

"When you win a championship," Auerbach said, "you walk around all summer as a member of the best basketball team in the world. We were determined we weren't going to give it up."

K. C. Jones remembers a "firm determination" flowing from Russell, the legendary Celtics center who was the touchstone of the dynasty.

"Once we got to the top, it was easy to stay there," Jones said. "Everything was positive. Negatives were eliminated. It started with Red Auerbach and Russell and then [Bob] Cousy, Satch [Sanders] and myself. Guys just jumped into their roles.

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