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Sean Grande reflects on a thousand games with Max

02.02.12 at 7:38 pm ET
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It was during the preseason, just a handful of games into their partnership as the radio voices of the Celtics, when Sean Grande realized that working with Cedric Maxwell was going to click. The Celtics were on a road trip, playing exhibitions in a series of small towns. It was the kind of atmosphere that calls for something, anything, to break up the monotony and keep the listeners tuned in and entertained.

So, they started talking about music. Michael Jackson, hip-hop, whatever. It was there.

“I was like OK, we’ve got something here,” Grande said. “I do what I do and I’ve done it in many different venues and he does what he does, but it has to work together.”

On Friday, Grande and Max will worth their 1,000th game together. At first glance, it’s an odd pair: Grande, the smooth play-by-play man and Max, who is prone to say just about anything about any subject. But Grande loves to work in a mix of pop culture and current NBA events and Max has a keen eye for what’s happening on the parquet.

“It’s the longest relationship Max and I have ever had, either one of us, so we’re very proud of that,” Grande said. “It’s rare. You don’t plan to be with somebody for 1,000 games or whatever it is. Mike [Gorman] and Tommy [Heinsohn] have done something like 1,600 games. When you’re doing games you don’t think like that, the business is so transitional. That’s something that’s unique to the Celtics.”

On the air, Grande likens himself to a point guard who tries to set his partner up his sweet spot on the floor. For his part, Max knows when to throttle it back and let the action on the court run the show.

“One of the things that’s unique about our show is I don’t think we’re as play-by-play dominant,” Grande said. “If you have Max you’re going to incorporate him more. You have to have some luck. You’ve got to put two people together that click and play off each other’s strengths and want it to be a good show.”

But sometimes the roles get reversed. In 2004, the Celtics were in Portland on their annual February west coast trip. The team had lost 10 of 11 games, head coach Jim O’Brien had been replaced by John Carroll, and they were getting absolutely annihilated by the Blazers. So, Grande and Max came up with a game. Max would call out another announcer and Grande would use their signature call whenever the Blazers, scored, which was often.

They had no idea if anyone was listening, so they asked people to send in emails and they arrived by the hundreds. It was during those lean years that Grande and Max developed their signature style.

“The proudest of anything I’ve done I’m very proud of the 2008 playoff run,” Grande said. “I really felt like I’d never been locked in like that before but the experience of having been through those bad years a lot of people will tell us that 2007 was their favorite year of ours. There was a lot more stuff to do because you had to keep people entertained.”

They also entertain each other. Like the time Max suggested that a player had a certain je ne sais pas.

Grande: “He has that certain, I don’t know?”

Max: “Yep.”

“I guess that’s kind of us,” Grande said. “We have that certain je ne sais pas.”

For sheer intensity, nothing has topped Game 7 of the 2010 finals, but here are some of Grande’s most memorable games working with Max:

Max’s jersey retirement: “That was a very satisfying night for me because that was something we wanted to get done. That year in 2003 we signed Mikki Moore to a 10-day contract and gave him No. 31. To me, that was the last straw. We’ve got to get this thing done and the new ownership was great about it.” Maxwell wound up working parts of the first and third quarter with Grande.

Game 5, Philadelphia 2002: “Everyone remembers the comeback against New Jersey, but the fifth game against Philadelphia, which was a blowout game [The Celtics won 120-97]. “It was such a night of celebration because it was the first playoff series win in 10 years.”

Game 7, Cleveland 2008: “That’s my favorite game. That was for the next generation, the new Bird-Dominique game.”

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