Former Celtic Coach Tom Heinsohn said recently he would do those beer commercials for free as long as they let him go to the annual reunions.
In an effort to create a similar tradition, the Washington Bullets have started their own reunions. Not only do the Bullets wine and dine the former players, they also let them play a bit of basketball at Capital Centre.
A year ago, the alumni were invited back to play the media in a preliminary before a Boston Celtics game. The second-largest crowd of the season, 18,143, showed up.
So now the players have been asked back to play an intrasquad game at 7 before tonight's Bullets-Celtics game. The alums include Walt Bellamy, Gus Johnson, Kevin Loughery, Jack Marin, Mike Riordan, Earl Monroe, Clem Haskins and the ever-popular Charles (C.J.) Johnson.
With so many genuine former NBA stars, the media has been unceremoniously dumped from the proceedings. The old Bullets have been divided into two teams and will try to survive two 10-minute halves.
There was a prepractice party, of sorts, yesterday at a place, ironically, called Memories in the Sheraton Hotel in Lanham. Appropriately, it was sponsored by a major brewery.
The affair was tamer than most of the postgame sessions of the past, but still took enough out of the old-timers that only two managed to get over to Capital Centre later for the planned practice session.
"This is an alumni party for all the guys who didn't make the Lite Beer commerical," said General Manager Bob Ferry. "The only way we could have it is if Busch provides enough beer."
Bellamy, that distinguished graying procurement officer from Atlanta, said he changed his mind at the last minute and decided to come back when he found out the program had been changed.
"I wouldn't have come back if we had to play the press again," the 6-foot-11 center said. "I couldn't take another game of all those guys pounding on me that way."
Johnson flew in from Oakland, where he runs a videotape business, to return to the scene of the happiest moments of his seven-year career.
The long-range shooting guard was a starter on the Golden State Warriors, who completed a four-game sweep of the Bullets here in the 1975 championship series.
Three seasons later, he arrived by helicopter one January night and quickly created a spirit among the Bullets that Coach Dick Motta said was a major force in their string of upsets en route to the 1978 world championship.
"I'll never forget Washington," said Johnson, who is now beardless. "I just hope it hasn't forgotten me. I've got some old phone numbers here I'm going to try this afternoon. If things go bad, I guess I'll go to practice."
Like most of his "teammates," Johnson didn't show at practice. Loughery and his assistant coach at Atlanta, former Bullet Fred Carter, were among the missing, but they had an excuse.
"They're not running at Bowie, and Pimlico is too far, so we're going bowling," said Loughery, one of the last to leave the luncheon. "I haven't been bowling in 20 years, so you know how much I want to go to practice."
One who showed up, ready for action, was Paul Hoffman, who will be 60 next month. Once a 6-2 guard, he was the Bullets' top draft choice in 1947 and had a 10-point scoring average for his six seasons.
"I was just born too soon," he said. "It's hard to believe how much the money has changed. I was a first-round pick and these kids are getting a million dollars today. The most I ever made was $7,500."
Wes Unseld, whose usual job is as the Bullets' vice president, will serve as one coach. Hymie Perlo, the team's director of community relations, will be his opponent.
"I don't want to play, but I'll probably have to," Unseld said. "I got stuck with Bellamy and Gus Johnson, so I don't have any rebounders."
Perlo refused to discuss any of his strategy, but asked hopefully if the rocking chairs would be back again on the sidelines.
"I've got a bad ball club, a real bad team," he said, then proceeded to knock everybody on his roster except his boss, Bob Ferry. Perlo's main concern, after making sure his name would be spelled right in the paper, was that Earl Monroe would recover from the flu by game time.