Before there was ubuntu, there was Bunta.
Before there was number 33 – Larry Bird, there was Steve Kuberski – number 33.
Luther Rackley, a 6′ 10″ reserve Knick center had a bit part in a terrible old made-for-TV movie called the Last Dinosaur. His name was Bunta in it. (I bet Luther is glad I dug that fact up.)
Steve was the last Celtic to wear number 33 before Larry Bird.
Due to the notable absence of running trash talk last night, I bring you a memory from the rivalry from yesteryear. The time April 21, 1972. The place – Madison Square Garden.
The fourth game of the second round of the play offs was winding down. It was near the end of the game. Kuberski took exception to a Rackley elbow that hit the Celtic’s guard Artie Williams and Steve went after Rackley.
This is how the Watertown Daily Times of April 22, 1972 recorded it…
The New York-Boston game was marred by a fight near the game’s end that emptied both benches and sent inactive Knick team captain Willis Reed on a rescue mission.
Luther Rackley, New York’s 6-11 reserve center, and Steve Kuberski, a 6-8 substitute Boston
forward, slugged it out with1:25 left in the game and the Knicks leading, 114-95.
What was unusual was that it almost spilled into the dressing room.
I was able to track down Steve Kuberski and interview him about that moment:
Steve Kuberski: I was in the locker room and here comes Luther with Willis Reed right behind him. (Laughing) I was more afraid of Willis. I was wondering what was he mad about.
But then he (Willis) grabbed Luther, and pulled him away and kind of redirected him back to the Knicks locker room. I figure I could’ve taken Rackley. but Willis was another story.
The game was already decided as the Knicks were beating the Celtics by 116-98 to go up 3 to 1 in the series. Newest Knick Earl Monroe scored 26 points and Dave Debusschere added 23. The Celtics were led by John Havlicek with 27 points, and Jo Jo White with 23. Dave Cowens had 12 points.
Both were ejected, but Rackley followed Kuberski into the Boston dressing room and Bill Bradley urged Reed, sitting at the press table, to keep tabs on their teammate.
As Reed limped toward the Celtic, quarters, he. heard the two players shouting and persuaded
Rackley to leave for his own dressing room.
It sounds like you swung at Rackley first. How did that come about?
Kuberski: It started when Rackley threw an elbow. I think he might have meant it for me, but he hit little Artie Williams, so I went after him to protect my team mate.
“I don’t know what started the fight.” Rackley said. “I was just trying to protect myself.”
Kuberski said it wasn’t fair that “a 6-11 guy like Rackley should take a swing at a 6-1
guy like Art Williams.”
I guess they didn’t have trainers in those days like today. Kuberski’s arm was injured.
Kuberski’s right bicep was swollen after the scuffle. He was advised to keep ice on it during the plane ride to Boston and have it X-rayed today.
Another interesting bit of travel info from the days before the NBA was big business…
Kuberski: In those days, teams took the same charter flights together. Whenever we played the Knicks back-to-back, we would all get on the same plane to fly to Boston or New York for the next game, but the losers would have to sit in the back.
It was always a split series. It was rare that either team would win both games. Almost never happened. But we would be sitting on the plane together between games.
How times have changed.
Baby Boomer and loyal Celtic fans should remember 6′ 8″ Celtic forward Steve Kuberski.
For some reason this altercation has always stuck in my memory. Why? I don’t really know other than the unusual reason that it spilled into the locker rooms after the game.
The league was comprised of just 17 teams and four divisions then. The Tommy Heinsohn coached Celtics won the Division with a 56-26 record. The Red Holzman Knicks finished 2nd with a 48-34 record. But this was season of the 69-13 Lakers. The Knicks beat the Celtics 4-1 to advance to the title series. The Lakers won the title by dispatching the Knicks 4-1.
In the first round, the Celtics had finished off the Atlanta Hawks, who were led by Sweet Lou Hudson, Pistol Pete Maravich and Walt Bellamy. The Knicks beat the Baltimore Bullets (4-2) who were lead in scoring by Archie Clarke, Jack Marin ,and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe.
The Celtics and Knicks were in the midst of a rivalry close to that of the Celtic/Laker rivalry. Perhaps it was more intense because the Knicks were in the same division, they played each other far more often, and were right up the road from their Boston neighbors. With only 17 teams you played within your division more often. The Cs played the Knicks 6 times in the regular season.
Both clubs had great teams then and were battling it out every year at that point. After a down year when Bill Russell retire, the addition of Dave Cowens brought the Celtics back to contending status.
Steve won two NBA titles with the Celtics in 1974 and 1976.
That 1972 season, the Knicks were coached by Red Holzman and were led by Walt Frazier and a balanced scoring unit that would make the Celtics proud. They had Jerry Lucas, Dave Debusshere, Willis Reed, Earl Monroe, Bill Bradley, Dick Barnett and Phil Jackson. Luther Rackley was a 25 year old, end of the bench 220 lbs, 6′ 10″ center.
The Celtics were led by John Havlicek, Jo Jo White, and some young undersized center named Dave Cowens. Don Nelson, Don Chaney, and ‘Satch’ Sanders were still playing over 20 minutes a game.
Steve Kuberski was a 24 year old 6′ 8″ 215 lbs, forward and in his third year as a Celtic. He was drafted the year after Bill Russell retired. He was there for one terrible year before they drafted Dave Cowens. Steve was playing 16 minutes a game averaging 6.3 points and 4.3 rebounds that year.
So..in the absence of Quentin Richardson trying to get Paul Pierce’s goat, KG getting into anyone’s ear or ongoing dialogue between Eddie House and Stephon Marbury, or Marbury and Sam Cassell…
A blast from the past, with some gracious remembrances by the Celtics’ own Steve Kuberski.
I actually have some other thoughts by Steve and will try to put them in a separate article soon.