By Peter May
My favorite type of basketball book usually involves a single-season setting. This book did not encapsulate why I like these books so much. Rather than a sense of achieving a goal, he writes in such a way that they believed it to be pre-ordained that they won the title. Any loss comes across as "Awww they wanted to take the night off. Go Celtics!"
May tells a thorough story about how the Celtics bounced back from a disappointing finals loss and how they built a champion. He provides good background stories on each player on the team and what happened to each in the 10 years after.
But let's get serious: this book was written by a big time homer who could not stand to see someone else get more spotlight than his team. I'm a Sixers fan, and I loved the 1983 team. When this Celtics team won the title, I was quick to belittle them, because I could not stand the thought of them getting more hype than my Sixers team. Likewise, that Celtics team was probably considered by most to be the best team from 1973-95. There are a few '83 Sixers and '87 Lakers supporters, but that Celtics team had the consensus support. Then, in 1996, the Bulls go 72-10 and win a title and May comes out and writes a book about "the good ol' days" back when basketball was basketball and the Celtics ruled the world (even if it was for one season). If you have doubts, look at when the book was published -- 1996.
I am no fan of the Bulls and I think the 1986 Celtics would wipe up the floor with them, but May turns a blind eye to any weakness on the Celtics and amplifies any weakness of the other great teams in history. For instance, he points out that the 1967 Sixers lost 2 games in the finals to a 44-win Warriors team (even if they beat the 8-straight time Celtic Champions in 5 games -- a point he conveniently ignores), yet May has no problems with the 1986 Celtics also losing two games to a 51-win Rockets team playing without a point guard.
He also paint the Celtics as the perfect team loaded in depth, but get serious: if the bench was so good how come none of them averaged 20 minutes per game? The last 4 members (David Thirdkill, Sam Vincent, Greg Kite, and Rick Carlisle) were bench decorations. That is why K.C. Jones relied so heavily on his starters. Then, May says that Jones was not a very good coach. How can this not be a handicap when compared to teams like the 2001 Lakers (Phil Jackson), 1983 Sixers (Billy Cunningham), the 1967 Sixers (Alex Hannum), the 1972 Lakers (Bill Sharman), or the 1987 Lakers (Pat Riley), most of whom are in the hall of fame? If expansion occurred in a year, May makes like it is the end of the world, yet he ignores the Bill Russell Celtics, that continued winning titles with or without expansion. There was also no expansion in 1983 or 87, and May conveniently leaves that out.
If you want to learn about that Celtics team, read this book. It is very informative. If you want the definitive answer on the best team ever, go to your local bar, and you will find arguments as lacking and contradictory as May makes for his favorite team.
The Last Banner: The story of the 1985-86 Celtics, the NBA's Greatest Team of All Time. Peter May. Simon & Schuster. 1996.