It was a day television viewers will long remember. On one extraordinary Sunday afternoon, CBS-TV gave us two striking live impressions of the emotions sports can evoke.
First was Boston basketball fans' moving tribute to John Havlicek, playing the last game of a 16-year career during which he became the beloved personification of Celtic pride and mystique. Then the Masters victory of Gary Player, whose face in close-up demonstrated why he commands enormous respect in the golf world, but little of the warm affection Havlicek enjoys.
Ironically, this was the same afternoon the president of the CBS Broadcast Group took six minutes to apologize for the network's misleading the public in telecasts of four tennis matches between 1975 and 1977 that were falsely depicted as having "winner-take-all" purses. He said CBS has implemented procedures insure that in the future hype does not become deceit.
The programs that immediately followed his statement - the finale of regular season coverage of the National Basketball Association, which in fact was a long goodbye to Havlicek, and the final holes of a Masters that blossomed as splendidly as the dogwood and azaleas at the Augusta National Golf Club - showed how poignant sports events of substance can be. Megahype of nonevents is no substitute, as network executives would do well to remember.
The game between the Celtics and Buffalo Braves, both winding up dismal seasons out of the playoffs, was uninspiring except as a sentimental farewell to Havlicek. As that, it had some unforgettable moments.
There was a standing ovation of more than five minutes as "Hondo" was introduced as a starter at Boston Garden for the last time. Havlicek thought he was prepared for the bittersweet occasion, but even he hadn't imagined it would be quite like this.
Commentators Brent Musburger and Keith Erickson - who succumbed, perhaps inevitably, to being maudlin at other times - has the good sense to say nothing as the applause, cheers, and chants swelled.
Over the din, which sounded as if it would never end and was more eloquent than words, we saw revealing close-ups of No. 17, his wife and mother, boss Red Auerbach, teammates and friends.
The camera moved back to Havlicek and left no doubt as to how deeply he was touched. He wept, and millions watching shared the lump in his throat.
Because the halftime tribute, including Havlicek's own rambling thanks, ran so long, CBS missed the final minutes of the Celtics' 131-114 victory - including a nine-point spurt by Havlicek before he left, to another tumultuous ovation, with 15 seconds left.
The decision to cut away to Augusta at 4 p.m. brought hundreds of angry phone calls to CBS's affiliate in Boston, and pained cries elsewhere. But obviously the network could not foresee Havlicek's last-munute hurrah, and was faced with a tough choice. It wrapped up early with a slow-motion replay of Auerback getting misty as he embraced the marvel he had drafted out of Ohio State in 1962, and so on to the Masters - which was heating up in the Georgia sun.
A couple of graphic scenes will also remain with those who watched the dramatic conclusion of golf's most image-conscious major championship.
The first is that of Player, eyes ablaze with determination and [WORD ILLEGIBLE] intractably set, coaxing in the 15-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole that put him 11 under par. That made him the early finishing leader, who would watch on TV with viewers on both sides of the Atlantic as Tom Watson, Rod Funseth and finally Hubert Green missed agonizing putts on the same hole, giving Player the champion's green coat for the third time.
The second memorable picture was the split-screen view of the final, telling moments as Green lined up, backed away from, readdressed and finally blew the three-foot birdie putt that would have put him into sudden death with Player.
All the while Player, watching in the Trophy Room, was in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, looking on with unimaginable intensity in those penetrating eyes. There was deja vu here for producer-director Frank Chirkinian, who in 1961 had cut back and forth between Arnold Palmer playing the 18th and Player watching on TV in this same room in the year Palmer's closing double-bogey gave the South African his first green coat.
Chirkinian a craftsman working his 20th Masters, and again giving us superb pictures, sensibly replayed both of these several times during the tedious half-hour of air time that remained after the denoument.
When Player made his final putt, completing a back nine charge worthy of the greatest masters, he raised his arm triumphantly in a gesture that looked less like jubiliation than difiance. This says a great deal about Player, who always seems more driven than ecstatic in victory; one imagines inside him not a heart, but an intricate system of tightly wound cogs.
Player embraced his playing partner - the charismatic Spaniard Severiano Ballesteros, who at 21 is half his age - and then his caddie. That, too, was a touching scene, the fiercely proud man from Johannesburg hugging a black man and walking off arm-in-arm.
Thereafter we saw Player looking on icily from the corner of the screen, incredibly poker faced, as Watson, Funseth, and finally Green failed to catch him.
When Green's makeable last putt slid by, Player surged from his chair, turned and grabbed Palmer's hand in a semisoul shake.
Later, in an awkward group interview, Player would say he knew exactly how Green felt, having been there before. But if there was any compassion in his heart, it didn't reflect in his countenance in his moment of triumph. The cameras caught the cold emotion of his expression, and the crushing disappointment Green would later hide so well, as surely as it had Havlicek's weepy joy a couple of hours earlier.