The Boston Celtics play their home games sandwiched by history with the 17 championship banners that hang above and the fabled parquet floor beneath.
Ever wonder how the Celtics ended up with such a unique court design?
The parquet look was the product of a lumber shortage as the Celtics prepared to debut in the Basketball Association of America in 1946. In the aftermath of World World II, many common items were in short supply, including professionally cut wood. Most manufactured wood had been earmarked for residential housing as servicemen returned home.
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“What Walter Brown, the original owner of the Celtics, did in order to I guess attract fans and attract good players maybe back then — an early selling point — was to get a good, quality floor made,” said Jeff Twiss, who is officially the Celtics vice president of media services and alumni relations, but, unofficially, earned the title of team historian after more than three decades with the organization.
"The only way they could do that was getting scraps of wood at lumber yards throughout Boston and put together a floor. And it just happened to be in patterns that formed a parquet-type of a design."
Brown had his team’s basketball court constructed for $11,000 using surplus scraps of northern Tennessee red oak. The pieces were laid out in alternating pattern, creating the parquet effect. In total, there were 247 5-foot by 5-foot square panels held together by wood planks, brass screws, and 988 bolts.
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The Celtics utilized that same floor for 53 years while playing first at Boston Arena (now Northeastern’s Matthews Arena), then Boston Garden, and, later, the FleetCenter. Many bemoaned the team’s decision to replace the original parquet in 1999, citing the history it possessed, including 16 world championships, but some of the floor boards were worn perilously thin by the end of the original floor’s run.
"Nowadays, the floors are maintained and I think they are resurfaced every year or two, so the maintenance is much more meticulous,” said Twiss. "It’s funny, I don’t how many times between 1946 and 1999, that Garden floor was resurfaced. I’m going to say it wasn’t maybe enough to count on two hands over all those years. So the care and the consideration to maintaining the high quality of it has certainly changed over the years.”
The parquet developed a lore of its own because of that wear, especially from the dead spots where a worn board or a protruding screw might mess with a ball-handler’s cadence. Opponents used to insist that Red Auerbach’s teams would purposely funnel players to those dead spots in hopes of forcing turnovers.
"'It was unique because it looked like no other floor,'' Bill Russell told the New York Times in 2000. "But what was most significant about the floor was that teams found it distracting. And that was all right. … It was part of our legend for kicking everybody's butts.”
Twiss confirmed that a ball didn’t always bounce the way an opponent might expect in certain spots of the original floor. He added, "There was also kind of wood shavings and also like strips that were part of holding all these panels together and, in that, if you happen to look down every so often, you’d see a little bit of a space in between those panels, so they wouldn’t be flush up against each other. That’s maybe adding to the mystique of the dead spots.”
Original pieces of the parquet floor have become cherished mementos. The Celtics auctioned off chunks from 40 of the panels after the original floor was retired. The Celtics often gift retiring players with small pieces of past floors as well.
“[Some opponents] used to dislike — I won’t use the word hate — but disliked playing against the Celtics, disliked all the banners, disliked all we’ve done in our great history. Yet they get [a piece of the parquet], and tears are coming down their eyes,” said Twiss.
This is a piece of fabric from Celtics lore and Celtics history, but now they’ve got it. … They are very touched by it and it’s very special to say, yeah, you played on that part, you probably stood there, and made a free throw or wherever the piece is from on the floor.
Twice in the past 21 years, the Celtics have replaced the Garden floor, adding shock absorption beneath the surface in hopes of reducing wear and tear on players’ bodies. The parquet design persists, both inside TD Garden, where Auerbach’s name now graces the court, and on both courts at the team’s practice facility at the Auerbach Center in Brighton.
The parquet floor is now a symbol of Boston’s success as much as the championship banners that hang above it.
"This floor was a part of all [the Celtics’ success],” Bob Cousy said when the team retired the original floor in 1999. "It watched over the greatest sports team dynasty that ever was, and probably ever will be.”