NEWS

Celtics: More than a game, it's an event

Dan Goldman

At the TD Banknorth Garden on a recent night, fans rose to their feet as a leprechaun on stilts with oversized green hands urged them to cheer louder.

Before the game, a montage of Boston Celtics stars lifting weights and dunking basketballs flashed on the giant screen overhead as “Requiem For a Tower” by the Corner Stone Cues pumped through the sound system loud enough to rival the music at a Rolling Stones concert.

Later, 16 scantily clad dancers gyrated the crowd into a frenzy to hip-hop music.

Toys attached to mini-parachutes rained down on fans as the James Bond theme blared. Crews shot-gunned Celtics T-shirts into the crowd.

Oh yeah, and there was a basketball game between the Celtics and Sacramento Kings.

This season, buying tickets to a Celtics game gets you a lot more than just basketball action. The team's next home game is tonight.

“We're trying to entertain as many people as we can,” said Sean Sullivan, the Celtics' director of game operations and special events.

“With everything from things tailor-made to kids, to obviously the dance team,” he said, “we try to offer fans a wide array of entertainment.”

A lot of work goes into making the performances and give-aways happen. According to Sullivan, he and his staff go through two days of preparation for each of the 41 Celtics home games.

One fan said it wasn't always this way at Celtics games, especially when they were played at the old Boston Garden in the early 1980s.

“It was dirty, dusty and it would be about 110 degrees in here right now,” said Eric Gilbranson of West Roxbury .

“I know Red Auerbach didn't like any of that (entertainment) stuff. But now that he's not around, they seem to push it more,” he said. “It's still a good game; I don't mind the in-between stuff. It's kind of nice, more bang for your buck.”

Sullivan said entertainment at games has surged in the NBA during his seven years with the team.

“The entertainment is a much bigger part of the games than it used to be,” he said. “I just think whatever league you're picking, teams are looking for new ways to entertain their fans and keep them coming back.”

One of the newer additions for Boston is the Celtics Dancers, who debuted last year as the first dance team in Boston basketball history.

Dance team director Marina Ortega, who previously worked with a team in NFL Europe, selects the young women and choreographs the dances.

“My goal was to bring legitimate dancing to the basketball court,” said Ortega. “I knew that I needed to make sure the girls were talented, they were fit, they were attractive and that they were the best representative of the Boston Celtics.”

The 20 dancers perform three or four times during a game, with different costumes of the form-fitting variety. They have 15 routines in their repertoire and were adding Christmas-themed choreography.

Then there is the team's mascot, Lucky, now in his fifth season and the only unmasked mascot in professional basketball. A decision was made to forgo the typical oversized mascot costume so he can perform acrobatics and dunk the ball. Damon Lee Blust has the role of Lucky.

Blust's job starts before the game with trick shots. He helps with player introductions, runs around the stadium to pump up the crowd and puts on his famous acrobatic dunk show.

“I see myself as being the sixth man,” Blust said as he changed into his leprechaun costume. “It's my job to get 18- to 20,000 fans cheering as wild as I can every minute of the game.”

Unlike some teams, the Celtics organization avoids going over the top with entertainment, Sullivan said.

“Probably different than most every other team in the league, once the ball is in play, it's all about basketball,” he said. “We're not doing music while the team is on offense, we're not trying to distract our team.”

The crowd is prompted by the sound system to repeat cheers that appear on the screen overhead, like “De-Fense!” or “Let's go Celtics!”

One prompt shows a Godzilla-like creature on the screen stomping his feet to the cheers.

“We try to get them into it if we feel (the crowd) needs it,” Sullivan said. “But, at the same time, when the ball is in play from buzzer to buzzer, it's all about the basketball.”