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Who's in my Boston Hall of Fame class? Russell, Orr, Parcells, Williams and Bird. And here's why:
He was the greatest winner in the history of sports. He revolutionized defensive concepts. He was a pioneer and he did it all in Boston, a place that held bitter contradictions. There isn't much to say here, except that when Bill Russell retired, it was with a ring on every finger, with one to spare.
You had to be there to see. Yes, Bobby Orr was that good, but he was so much more than that. The Bruins hadn't won a Stanley Cup since 1941, hadn't been .500 but once in the 10 years before the arrival of the greatest player in the history of the game.
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His significance might have been greater to the sport than to the city itself, but even that is debatable when you consider that shortly after Orr arrived, the city built hockey rinks throughout the region. Orr won two titles and did for hockey in Boston what Tiger Woods did for golf: citizens of all classes, all races and all backgrounds came to the sport because of him. No other athlete in the city's history can say that.
The toughest thing for any sports franchise isn't to win, but to permanently remake itself. The Florida Marlins won the World Series twice, in 1997 and 2003, but are no more important to baseball than if they had not. The Chicago Bulls won six championship with Michael Jordan, but the post-Jordan Bulls are exactly what they were pre-Jordan: just another basketball team.
When Bill Parcells arrived as coach of the Patriots in 1993, it was the first time the franchise had a coach who was to be taken seriously. He drafted seriously (Drew Bledsoe, Curtis Martin, Willie McGinest, Terry Glenn, Ty Law), and turned the Patriots from laughingstock to football team. Brady and Belichick won the titles, but Parcells laid the foundation, and the Patriots haven't looked back since.
Here's a question: How do you go 86 years between championships and still become one of the most iconic franchises in your sport?
Without Ted, the Red Sox are the White Sox: a flagship franchise that never won, that had some good players and was around a long time. With Ted, the Red Sox were the folly to New York, offered a star-powered balance to DiMaggio and Mantle, and gave the city of Boston both a superstar that created the template for real stardom and the Red Sox an enduring face. Oh, and he was, as advertised, the greatest hitter who ever lived.
Every franchise needs a second act, especially if it is to be considered a legitimate dynasty, fortified by longevity and lineage. The Celtics thought it had its second act in the mid-1970s when the Cowens-Havlicek-White club won two titles under Tommy Heinsohn. But when the bottom fell out a few years later, the Celtics were on life support. The team was awful. Red Auerbach was inches away from joining the Knicks. Ownership was unstable.
Then Larry Bird arrived and the dynasty was rejuvenated, as were the rivalries with the 76ers and Lakers, as was the entire league. The Celtic link from winning a title each decade from the 1950s to the 1980s was assured in Bird's second year. Boston went to the Finals five times, won three, and played four tremendous playoff series with Philadelphia, three with the Lakers. Bird was the engine that restored the car. Without Bird, the Russell link fades deeper into memory, unconnected. Too bad he's not around Boston anymore to enjoy it.
Howard Bryant is a columnist for ESPN.com.