BOSTON -- The parquet of the Boston Garden is the most famous basketball floor in America.
It is so unusual that when the Celtics went shopping for a unique retirement present for Julius Erving during his farewell tour, they gave him a piece of it.
The thick, Tennessee oak floor beneath those 16 white-and-green Boston Celtics' championship banners is one that Celtics President Red Auerbach has never thought of replacing.
People who sell new basketball surfaces know enough to stay away from his door. And if the cramped Boston Garden is ever replaced by a new arena -- discussed for more than a decade -- Auerbach will take the parquet with him.
'It's unique,' Auerbach says. 'It's basically a good floor. It's better than a lot of the plywood floors.'
The aging floor, with the Celtics' smiling leprechaun logo in the center, is also a surface on which bizarre things can happen. Move down the court, driving around the key, dribbling lightly. THOOMP, THOOMP, THOOMP, THOOMP. THUNK. When the ball hits one of the parquet's hidden dead spots, the ball dies about six inches off the floor instead of returning to the player's hand.
The ball bounces like nowhere else in the NBA. A player can feel like he's lost his shorts when a dead spot strips him of the ball.
'You have to be a sure dribbler,' says former Celtics guard Chris Ford, now an assistant coach. 'I never tried to do anything fancy. I remember when Ray Williams was here a few years ago, he'd try one of his fancy moves -- behind the back or between his legs -- and the ball never came up. You've got to really concentrate on the dribbling.' In the months when the Celtics share the Garden with the NHL Boston Bruins, a subfloor is used to separate the parquet from the ice. When the hockey season ends, the parquet sits on the arena's uneven cement surface, cracked and patched over the years because of the trains that rumbled into North Station one floor below.
Players past and present disagree about the impact of the parquet on the game. One ex-Celtic, TomHeinsohn, denies the dead spots exist. But if you dribbled on the parquet today and put a dime on every dead spot, you'd have a bulging pocket of change when you swept them up.
'I've seen it a factor in a big play when I played here -- a shot that had to be made at a critical time, and the ball hits a dead spot and there's a loss of possession,' says Milwaukee Bucks Coach Don Nelson, a Celtics forward from 1965-1976.
The dead spots are not something today's Celtics dwell on because of the game's evolution toward more passing and less dribbling than in the 1950s and '60s when Bob Cousy and K.C. Jones ruled the backcourt.
Today's game may be faster, but the parquet still forces players to adjust, either consciously or subconsciously.
'You don't think about it going from one city to the next,' Celtics rookie reserve Conner Henry says. 'If I lose the ball, it's due to something else usually. But it's definitely deader. Maybe you dribble harder at certain times, depending on the feel of the ball coming back up to your hand.'
Sam Jones, the outstanding shooter for the Celtics from 1957 to 1969, remembers how the dead spots played a role in his era.
'We knew the dead spots, so there wouldn't be too many turnovers,' Jones says. 'We would even do that in an opponent's gym, dribbling up and down the floor looking for dead spots, so we could use that to our advantage. There are some weak spots in all of them.
'It's always nice to know where they are. Especially a guard, just dribbling up and down the floor. You hit one and the ball doesn't come up the right way.'
Sam Jones contends some players used the dead spots to their advantage.
'When you're down in a ballgame, you want to make the dribbler go to that spot,' he recalls. 'When they made their move you'd try to steal the ball. You'd use that mostly when the game was real close and you were looking for a steal or a turnover. You'd try to guide a player one way and make him go toward that spot.'
He says the master of the dead spot was backcourt partner K.C. Jones.
'It's true,' the current Celtics coach says. 'I was that good at defense where I could head a guy in a certain direction. It worked for me.'
But K.C. Jones feels the Boston Garden dead spots are not the factor they once were.
'There's better poise today,' he says. 'You don't think about the floor as a player. If your mind is on the floor, it's not going to be on the game.'
The Boston Garden, an art deco throwback to another era, was built in 1928 for $10 million. The wood floor was built in 1946 for $10,000, the oak 1 inches thick and cut across the grain so it would be durable.
The floor has 264 5-by-5-foot sections that are so heavy it takes four men from the Garden's 'bull gang' to move each of them into place. The sections are always bolted to the same spot, the hardwood strips in each section running perpendicular to each of its neighbors.
Bob Burke, Boston Garden maintenance chief, estimates the parquet has been refinished between 10 and 12 times in its 41 years. The most recent upgrade came before this year's NBA playoffs.
'Because of the age of the floor and its condition it requires a lot of care,' Burke says.
After every game, carpenters Paul Dembicki and Bob Pino inspect the floor for loose boards or separations. They mark errant boards, pull them, work on them and make inserts as needed.
Celtics trainer Ray Melchiorre says the cushiony parquet is ideal for a player's legs: 'It is good for the feet but not for dribbling the ball.'
In his eight years at the Celtics bench, Melchiorre has seen the dead spots work to his team's advantage.
'If you can put a little pressure on a player so he pays a bit less attention to the ball, there's a chance of making the floor work for you,' the trainer says. 'Years ago, the pressure was greater. We play less halfcourt ball than we did then. Dennis (Johnson) is familiar with the spots in here and often will make a steal.'
Johnson talks differently.
'I haven't at any time paid too much attention to it,' he says. 'I couldn't even tell you where they are or when I hit one last.'
Larry Bird, the great Boston forward who puts as much thought as anyone into basketball, doesn't consider the dead spots an element in games.
'Guys are better passers so there is not as much dribbling as there used to be,' he says.
Assistant Coach Jimmy Rodgers disagrees.
'It's like when you were a kid playing hide-and-seek in the backyard at night, jumping over fences,' he says. 'The kid who knew where the clotheslines were usually won.
'The key is not how many dead spots there are, it's knowing where they are. It's not something that we dwell on, but I'm sure you get some help from time to time. The ones who get hurt usually aren't wearing the white uniforms.'