Two postseasons ago, when it looked like the Celtics were about to head off for another showdown against the Lakers in the NBA Finals, a six-second video circulating the internet became a rallying cry in the Boston area and beyond.
We see a man in his early 20s, brown hair, green Celtics shirt. That he’s at a bar is obvious from the row of bottles displayed on the wall behind him.
“Who will win it? The Celts! Because there is no other reason. The Celtics are the balls!”
That’s it. No background information, no context, no voiceover. Just a young chap with a mischievous smile and overconfident optimism. Not content with just predicting a Celtics win, he also explains his reasoning:
The Celtics are the balls!
And there is no other reason for it.
That a video pumping up the 2019-20 Celtics appeared to be from the 1980s didn’t matter. First published by Barstool Sports, it quickly went viral as the Celtics broke through the 76ers and the Raptors survived to put up a series against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. But the magic in the Orlando NBA bubble ended there. The Heat won the series in six games and reached the NBA Finals where they lost to the Lakers.
And that was it for the cool video and 1980’s Phantom fan. His 15 minutes were up.
Only now it’s back. As the Celtics advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals after defeating the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, the video has been popping up everywhere. After being eliminated by the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals two years ago and being humiliated by the Nets in the first round last year, the Celtics are back on the ball. And there’s no other reason for it.
About two years ago, when the video was enjoying its first celebrity tour, I tried to track down the man behind the message. It was my sad duty to report that Donald N. “Donnie” Beardsley passed away in 2015 after suffering a sudden heart attack. He was just 51 years old and left behind a wife and four children.
But just as the Beardsley family was over the moon two years ago when Donnie’s Six Second Proclamation went viral about the Celtics, they’re just as thrilled that it’s making a comeback.
“I’ve heard from a million different people,” said John Beardsley, the elder of Donnie’s two sons. “It is everywhere. I’ve seen different versions of it too. I saw on twitter someone had their baby recite what my dad said. I thought that was pretty good. It was cute.”
— J (@jmulvv) April 20, 2022
John Beardsley, 27, is a 2017 UMass-Dartmouth graduate employed as an assistant project manager for a Boston-based contractor. For him, the best part of all of this is that it turns out the old man wasn’t telling much of a story when he said he was once asked by a TV station to talk about the Celtics.
Except that Donnie Beardsley didn’t live to see his own work. It wasn’t actually a TV station that interviewed him, but rather a crew from NBA Entertainment who interviewed fans during the 1984 NBA Finals between the Celtics and Lakers. The crew checked into The Fours, the popular sports bar across from the old Boston Garden, a few hours before the Celtics were going to host the Lakers in Game 5. There they met Donnie, who was a few months short of his 21st birthday, with his pal Dale Anderson from their hometown of West Boylston.
“They were looking for people who could talk about the Celtics, and Donnie always had a gift for the chatter,” said Anderson, now 62 and based in Hollywood, Fla., where he runs a golf course supplies business. “I wasn’t a gabber like him. I thought Donnie could speak for both of us. And he did a great job. I just remember sitting there hiding my face and bursting into laughter. He had the courage to do it.”
Donnie Beardsley and Dale Anderson were there at all that night because they had hatched a plan through a friend to sneak into the Garden to see the game. The plan worked, the two walked in with staff and then hid in the men’s room until fans started pouring into the building.
The footage sat unused for more than 30 years until ESPN stumbled across it while producing the 30 for 30 documentary Celtics/Lakers: Best of Enemies. Jim Podhoretz, who directed the film, told me he chose the Soundbite because he said, “You see this guy in a bar in Boston who’s clearly a Boston guy and he’s like, ‘We are the eggs.’ Come on. It’s such a great expression and the way he said it with so much enthusiasm and passion. He really meant it. you believe him You can feel it.”
The documentary aired in 2017, two years after Donnie’s death. His friends and family were thrilled to see Donnie’s uncredited cameo, but that was to be the end. But then, two years ago, the clip was pulled from the documentary and leaked to social media, and that’s when the madness happened. In death, Donnie Beardsley has become one of the most well-known Celtics fans of all time.
“I think it’s fun,” said John Beardsley. “The best part for me is that I heard my dad say a million times when I was young, like he was interviewed in a bar once, like he was asked about the Celtics, yada yada yada, but he was always a great storyteller so nobody ever believed in him.”
John Beardsley is a Celtics fan to the extent that he supports them, goes to games now and then and so on. But he’s not the fan his father was, as he’s always quick to point out.
“When we were kids he would take us to games and we would always sit by the tunnel, by the railing where the players come out,” he said. “And pretty much every time he would embarrass us by trying to get players’ attention and trying to talk to them. We just sat there and were appalled. But looking back it was a classic.”
These are happy times for the Beardsley family. Donnie is back in the spotlight, which he would have loved to have, and his beloved Boston Celtics made it to the second round of the playoffs after toppling the Nets. As enjoyable as it was to see the clip on social media two years ago, it’s even more enjoyable this time, as it means Donnie Beardsley’s famous words — “The Celtics are the balls!” — are ingrained in Boston sports history.
“I thought it was going to be a one-hit wonder, but every time the Celtics start doing something, it seems to come back,” said John Beardsley. “He would love this team. They play hard and they play solid defense. He would be a big fan.”
Donnie Beardsley’s brother Andy, who runs a plumbing and heating business in West Boylston, is quick to point out that he doesn’t follow what’s happening on social media. As he put it, “I’m a dinosaur. I still use a flip phone.”
But, he said, virtually everyone he talks to these days tells him that Donnie Beardsley is essentially back.
“And my kids, Donnie’s kids, the whole family follows him,” he said. “This video is just another way to show the excitement for the Celtics and we couldn’t be happier about it.
“But I still miss the Knucklehead. I really do.”