Richie, who was beloved in Boston for his work creating programs for the homeless, passed away last year. His death was sad not only because he was a great guy but because he would have gleefully called my father out if this whole tale was some kind of fabrication.
But his brother Bob, the longtime headmaster of Brookline High School and now a lecturer at Boston University, confirms the three of them were at that game. Did they invent the chant? “If your father thinks we started it, I’ll accept credit for it,” he says. “Honestly, maybe we did.”
Not exactly the most conclusive answer, but not a denial either. When I emailed the Celtics for a comment about who might have started it, Jeff Twiss, the team’s vice president of media relations, wrote me back. “If I recall, the crowd just started chanting it,” he says. “There was no jumbotron or prompt from a mascot to entice the crowd back then.” As to whether my father started it, Twiss wrote, “I guess we take that for face value, as there were over 14,890 in the old Garden then.”
Fair point, but my father is not the type of person to make such things up. He is a Town Meeting member in my hometown of Belmont, meaning he is an elected official and we all know elected officials never lie. He is also a pretty typical dad, as far as dads go. He tells bad jokes. (“If you eat lots of hummus, you’ll never falafel.”) He likes sports. (Well, he doesn’t care about hockey, but that’s understandable.) He picks up trash on the streets during his morning walk. I’ve never known him to tell a lie. And I grew up hearing that he started the “Beat L.A.!” chant.
I have to say, I believe him.*
Today, fans use “Beat L.A.!” when they’re actually playing Los Angeles teams. It has become a refrain for people who don’t like Los Angeles, with its movie stars and sunny days and its hippie-dippie food trends, like just eating soup. “The chant is a way to let L.A. know we’re tired of the smugness, from its perfect weather to high-paid athletes and celebrities,” as the Arizona Republic reporter Scott Craven wrote in a recent piece about the chant.
Sure, you can buy “Beat L.A.!” T-shirts and “Beat L.A.!” coffee mugs, but the phrase started as something cleverer than another anti-L.A. trope. It’s “the ultimate example of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend,’” as author Chuck Klosterman, a longtime Celtics fan, told me. Klosterman remembers hearing the “Beat L.A.!” chant in 1988, as the Detroit Pistons were about to knock off the Celtics in the conference finals and advance to face the Lakers in the NBA Finals.
Alas, the chant—like so many both before and after—did not actually work. In 1988, the Lakers beat the Pistons in seven games to win another title, just as they beat the 76ers six years earlier, a couple of weeks after a famous chant was birthed into existence.
But in 1984, two years after my father’s historic contribution, the Celtics prevailed over the Lakers, in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. And it was inside that stuffy, overheated Boston Garden, devoid of air conditioning and so many other luxuries, that the Celtics themselves beat L.A.