On October 7, 1963, something that would be unheard of today happened in Springfield, Mo. And I, along with my friend, Ronnie Potter, was there.
The NBA World Champion Boston Celtics and the St. Louis (now Atlanta) Hawks played an exhibition game in the Parkview High School gym in Springfield. I still have the program from that game.
The Celtics won 134-116 in front of a packed house.
By 1963, Celtic’s future Hall-of-Famer Bill Russell had been named NBA MVP six times and had led the Boston Celtics to six World Championships. The Hawks were led by 10-time All-Star and future Hall-of-Famer, Bob Pettit. The Celtics would go on to win another NBA Championship that year, while the Hawks were runners-up in the Western Division.
Can you imagine the 2018 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors coming to Springfield, Mo. and playing an exhibition game in a high school gym?
Me neither. But things have changed a lot since 1963.
The highest salary Bill Russell ever made in the NBA was $100,000. That equals about $600,000 adjusted for inflation today. Stephen Curry of the 2018 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors will earn $37,157,154 for the upcoming season. The average salary in the NBA is now $7.1 million per year. One of my favorite quotes about players salaries came from Babe Ruth. When a reporter asked him how it felt to make more money than the President of the United States, the Babe responded “I had a better year than him.”
The most memorable thing for me about attending that game in 1963 was not the game. It was what happened after the game. Programs in hand, Ronnie & I sneaked into the Parkview Boy’s locker room where both teams were showering and getting dressed after the game. Just walking around in there was memorable enough, but I took advantage of my good fortune by securing 20 autographs on my program from players in various stages of dress – or “undress” in some cases. Five autographs on my program are from players who are now in the NBA Hall of Fame.
The memorable night did not end there.
Ronnie’s dad picked us up after the game and before he dropped me off at home, I heard my very first Beatles song on the radio. Later that month, the Beatles came to the attention of variety show host Ed Sullivan when the plane he was on was delayed at London’s Heathrow Airport by screaming teens welcoming the Beatles. On February 9, 1964, 73 million viewers tuned in to the Ed Sullivan Show to watch the Beatles perform five songs: “All My Loving”, “‘Til There Was You”, “She Loves You”, “I Saw Her Standing There”, and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
The music world was changed forever.
Something else that would be life-altering for teenage males was brewing in October of 1963 totally unbeknownst to Ronnie Potter and me. When that game was played, there were already 16,732 American troops in a little known place in Southeast Asia by the name of Vietnam. Five years later that number had grown to 536,100 American troops in Vietnam. Ronnie Potter joined the Marines. He spent over a year in Vietnam, much of it in combat.
He survived, thankfully, though I’m sure he had some close calls.
Eleven months and two days after that game – on the very day I turned 16 – I got my driver’s license.
I have since survived 54+ years and a couple of million miles behind the wheel, thankfully, though I’ve had some close calls. Occasionally my passengers from the 60’s still remind me.
And my autographed program from October 7, 1963, the one and only time the St. Louis Hawks and the Boston Celtics ever visited Springfield, Mo. has survived the last 55 years as well.
I wish I could say the same thing about my baseball card collection.