BOSTON -- For 90 seconds, Kevin Garnett did everything to avoid looking up. Back at TD Garden for the first time since being dealt away from the Boston Celtics, Garnett covered his head with a towel, listened in on the Brooklyn Nets huddle and otherwise tried to avert his glance as a tribute video rolled on the JumboTron above center court.
He didn't look when the crowd initially roared at the sight of his No. 5 jersey. He didn't glance for the SportsCenter announcement of his trade to Boston. He didn't peek at any of his highlights nor his familiar howling. He didn't even look up as he bellowed, "Anything is possible!" in the aftermath of winning an NBA championship over the Los Angeles Lakers in 2008.
But, as the video ended, the throbbing bass of the Bee Gees "You Should Be Dancing" started and Garnett, a big smile on his face, instinctively looked skyward. "I thought Gino was going to get cracking," said Garnett, lamenting that it was only a snapshot of him pointing at his beloved Gino Time video and not the actual clip. The same photo covers a wall inside the Celtics' executive offices next to TD Garden and is a favorite among front-office staffers because of the way in encapsulates Garnett's time in Boston.
Gino refers to the star of an American Bandstand mashup that the Celtics run at the end of lopsided victories. It has been dubbed the team's victory cigar and Garnett absolutely adored it, in large part because of the bearded dancer in a tight Gino Vannelli T-shirt and black bellbottoms who stands out above all else in a clip full of ridiculous looks and dance moves.
For only the fourth time since departing Boston, Garnett returns to TD Garden on Monday night with the Minnesota Timberwolves. It's his lone scheduled visit of the 2015-16 season and might be the final trip of his 20-year career (though we've said that before and he's still going strong).
Only two players remain from when Garnett last played here -- Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley -- but coach Brad Stevens, who joined the Celtics just days after the Garnett blockbuster was agreed upon, often notes that Garnett's legacy still lives on.
And maybe in no greater way than with Gino.
The search for Gino (Part 1)
What most Celtics fans don't know is that the legend of Gino dates all the way back to Garnett's rookie season of 1995-96, the same season the Celtics opened the $120 million FleetCenter.
One night after a Celtics game, John Mitchell, the building's director of audio/video control room, and some co-workers decided to grab postgame drinks at a watering hole on nearby Canal Street. Always looking for possible JumboTron material (remember, the old Boston Garden the team had just vacated barely had a working thermostat, let alone a video board), the crew found itself captivated by American Bandstand footage that was playing on the bar's televisions.
Mitchell told an assistant he needed the footage for an in-game clip. Cable music station VH1 used to air reruns of American Bandstand in the mid-'90s, so the assistant was given a rather brutal task: Video tape 20-plus hours of Bandstand footage so that Mitchell could comb through for the perfect clips, including anything of that magical dark-haired man in the Gino shirt that caught their eye at the bar.
The footage produced was less than ideal. A typical VHS tape recorded only two hours of footage, but the assistant recorded in six-hour extended play mode to maximize the amount captured (and sacrificing quality).
Mitchell eventually converted the tapes to Beta and edited the clips together. At first it would only run in what game-ops staff call "hot timeouts" or the non-scripted timeouts that come when a team calls for a stoppage because of lopsided game action. The Bandstand clip, with "You Should Be Dancing" layered over it to encourage fans to groove along, fought for air time alongside the likes of arena standards such as Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher" from "The Blues Brothers" movie or "Shout" from "Animal House."
By the spring of 1996, a season in which Boston would win just 33 games, the control room decided the clip would only run during the last TV timeout of games the Celtics were certain to win. It was already a favorite of the Garden staffers but soon they could hear fans yelling, "Gino!" when the video ran.
"In 1996, the tape was labeled 'Gino,'" Mitchell said. "The rest is JumboTron history."
Gino takes center stage
For the decade of NBA seasons spanning 1996-2007, the Celtics won a modest 45.4 percent of their games, but were hardly the sort of juggernaut that routinely produced the sort of lopsided win necessary to deliver the Gino clip.
But then Garnett arrived. Boston went 35-6 at home his first season here with an average margin of victory of 15.9 points per game. Gino went from an occasional visitor to a nightly resident. And while casual fans streamed for the exits with Boston's starters on the bench and the Celtics up big, diehard fans stayed glued to their seats through the game's final TV timeout so that everyone could dance along.
Gino was mesmerizing. As Wesley Morris wrote in the Boston Globe in January 2008, "A small sample suggests this dance is undoable. Gino's hips undulate. His arms swing gracefully from near his head down to his waist and into a soft clap. He's committing a roller-rink seduction with no skates."
Soon there were copycat T-shirts in the crowd. Everyone tried (and failed) to dance like Gino. On the floor, Garnett watched these cats while smiling like a Cheshire cat. Everyone had Gino Fever.
"I spent more time [in 2008] answering questions about Gino than I did anything else," said Sean Sullivan, Celtics vice president of live events. "I remember during that championship season, when it really hit its peak, people were losing their minds. They were like, 'We gotta track this guy down! We need to find him!' It was almost like, 'Do you really want to know if Santa Claus is real?' We kinda wanted to leave the myth right where it was."
The search for Gino (Part 2)
GinoMania crescendoed during the 2008 playoffs and there were internal discussions about whether the Celtics should track down the real Gino for some sort of postseason visit. But when word filtered back to Garnett, he pleaded with staffers to call off the hunt.
"KG definitely did not want the legend of Gino to be disturbed in any way," Celtics team president Rich Gotham said.
With the Celtics in the NBA Finals, the Wall Street Journal launched its own search. With help from Dick Clark Productions, the producers of "American Bandstand," the paper located Terry Izen of East Highlands, California. She's the redhead dancing next to Gino in one of the clips and said she even lent him the Gino T-shirt that contributed to his stardom. Izen told the Journal she started making calls to locate the real Gino, Joseph R. Massoni, only to find out he passed away from pneumonia in 1990 at the age of 34.
No one seems quite sure if Garnett ever found out the truth about Gino, but the fact that there was no way to bring the man in the video to Boston somehow only made the clip more of a treasure.
After Boston's 2008 title season, there were discussions about whether to retire the Gino clip. Some wondered if Gino was now irrevocably tied to the 2008 team and it seemed impossible for the clip to trump its popularity.
"Everyone was saying Gino is the man. There's a lot of guys up there pop-rocking it, too, man. The big fella, he's throwing the chicken wing. It was all right, it was definitely cool."Rasheed Wallace, upon his introduction to "Gino Time" in 2009
But Sullivan and his game operations staff pushed back. While the title season put Gino in the spotlight, the clip was already more than a decade old at that point. Said Sullivan: "My stance was, we've been doing this before any of us arrived, I didn't think it was on us to stop doing it." Sullivan noted how other pro sports teams yearn for an organic moment like Gino and the Celtics would be foolish to retire it in its prime.
So the Gino clip persevered. And Garnett never tired of it, only embracing it more as time went on and trying to spread its gospel.
Like in November 2009, during Rasheed Wallace's TD Garden debut. The Celtics were thrashing the Charlotte Hornets when the Gino clip began to play. Garnett rushed over to pry Wallace from the team's huddle and pointed to the JumboTron.
"Everyone was saying Gino is the man," Wallace said. "There's a lot of guys up there pop-rocking it, too, man. The big fella, he's throwing the chicken wing. It was all right, it was definitely cool."
Soon after, the team spliced newly unearthed, higher-definition Gino footage into the montage. An excited Garnett exclaimed to reporters after his first viewing, "Did y'all check out that new Gino footage!?"
In 2010, Shaquille O'Neal arrived and, after a mid-November win, Garnett sought out the big man for a glimpse.
"[Shaq] asked what was that? And I told him that any time we get up by a lot, it's the Gino Show," Garnett said. "Paul [Pierce] and I took him through, clip by clip. They got some new clips up there that we haven't seen in a minute, we had to blow the dust off of Gino tonight. But we were testing him because Shaq's a '70s kid, he knows some of [the dance moves], The Bump, The Wap -- some of those weird dances ... so he recognized some of the moves, The Robot and all that. He enjoyed that."
Jared Sullinger was a rookie in 2012-13 and had only seen the super serious, all-intensity Garnett until the Gino clip came on during an early-season win.
"It was hilarious, actually. I just remember looking up and he's just laughing and saying, 'Look at Gino, little rook!' and all that good stuff," Sullinger said. "I didn't know what Gino Time meant at the time. But now I know how serious it is because everyone enjoys a blowout win around here."
The Gino rules? All feel
Some have tried to figure out just when the Celtics staff will trigger the Gino clip, but there are no firm rules. The Garden staff tends to err on the side of caution, but that doesn't make it any easier.
"I've been doing my job for 15 years and [the Gino call] is the most stressful decision that I've ever had to make, night in and night out," Sullivan said. "Because, from year to year, the people's sensitivity to when you play it fluctuates. Early on, we were playing it first timeout of the fourth quarter if we were up big in the KG era. Then we'd play it another night and I'd be getting lasers from either the assistant coaches or [former coach] Doc [Rivers], like, 'Why are you playing it so early?'"
Sullivan takes pride that the Celtics have never been burned by playing Gino too early (though the staff has had to sweat a couple times when visitors have made late runs). There's always some consideration if, say, the other team might get upset at the clip, particularly if it's a team that might cross paths with in the playoffs soon after.
There is only one real rule the Celtics game operations staff abide by with Gino: They never show the Celtics players on the JumboTron during the sequence. The reason? They want them to enjoy the moment. And Garnett always did.
Garnett lamented not getting Gino on the night of his initial return, but the Celtics rolled the clip after a lopsided win over Brooklyn to open the 2014-15 season. Garnett fought to ignore the clip.
"Listen, I was so upset I didn't even get the really deep Gino in my system," Garnett said. "My low moment for the night, you know what I mean? Gino is a big part of me and I didn't even get to celebrate it. I'm still a huge Gino fan."
With Garnett gone, it's on players like Sullinger to uphold Gino's legacy. Even if that means forcing his old friend to be on the wrong side of the video again.
"Hopefully we can make Gino Time come [Monday]," Sullinger said, "so we can see how [Garnett] reacts on the other side of it."