Did The Celtics Once Have to Play a Game at Midnight Because of the Ice Capades?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about basketball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the basketball urban legends featured so far.

BASKETBALL URBAN LEGEND: The Celtics were once forced to play a game at midnight due to the Ice Capades!

Sometimes, it is interesting to note just how “current” of a phenomenon that professional basketball is. It is less than seventy years old. And only since the 1980s has it been a MAJOR sport, attention-wise. During the early years of the National Basketball Association, things were a lot different.

Walter A. Brown took over the management of the Boston Garden from his father in the late 1930s. The Boston Garden was originally developed as a boxing forum, but by the time Brown took over, their main tenants were the Boston Bruins. Brown was a huge fan of ice hockey, and had actually coached the US National team to a Gold Medal in the Ice Hockey World Championships in 1933.


After taking over the Garden, Brown became a bit obsessed with figuring out other uses for the space, and it became clear that most popular use for the space was in ice shows, ice skating/vaudeville shows. These shows became so popular that in 1940, Brown and a group of eight other Stadium owners in the Arena Managers Association decided to fund an endeavor by one of their fellow arena owners, John Harris (owner of Pittsburgh Gardens) to create a brand new ice show. This show became the Ice Capades. Brown and his fellow owners made a great deal of money from their investment in Harris’ idea.


In 1946, while still looking for another use for the Garden, Brown helped create the second professional basketball league, the Basketball Association of America, of which Brown’s new basketball team, the Boston Celtics, would be a part of. The BAA soon merged with another earlier pro basketball league to form the National Basketball Association in 1949.


In 1951, Brown bought the Bruins, as well.

In 1952, the NBA was not that popular, and Brown was losing money every season with the Celtics, but he was committed to the team, and kept it alive out of his own pocket for many years. Meanwhile, the Ice Capades were going strong all over the country. Brown actually kept the team afloat by selling off some of his Ice Capades stock and continually re-mortgaging his property. At this point, his interests were directly tied in with the Celtics – they HAD to succeed or he was going to go bust.

In 1952, his two interests co-mingled when Brown accidentally booked the Ice Capades on a day that the Celtics were due to play a home game.

So the enterprising Brown came up with a plan – the Celtics would play at midnight after the Ice Capades were done! They called it the “Milkman’s Special”!

Sadly, the Celtics, led by the great Bob Cousy, drew less than 3,000 fans to the midnight special.

Later in the decade, though, with the advent of televised games, the Celtics began to draw more and more fans and by the end of the decade (coupled with the advent of the 24 second shot clock), Brown’s gambit had paid off, and in the next decade, it would REALLY pay off!

The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

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