Gino Vannelli, basketball icon
The Canadian disco star and a mysterious American Bandstand dancer are an integral part of the Boston Celtics' success
Macleans.ca staff | Jan 18, 2008 | 20:51:31
As the clock runs down on another Boston Celtics home victory, a disco anthem blares over the arena sound system and the scoreboard begins flashing clips from a 1970s episode of American Bandstand. One on-screen dancer in particular gets the crowd on its feet, cheering during every game: a bearded man whom Celtics faithful call “Gino” because of his tight T-shirt, which bears the name and image of Montreal-born singer, composer and one-time disco heartthrob Gino Vannelli.
The Celtics arena staff waits until a stoppage in play late in the game, when the result is beyond any doubt, before cuing up the music and getting Gino Time underway. Every time Gino appears in the montage of dancers, the crowd hoots and screams his name.
With the Celtics off to an NBA-best 31 and 6 record, Gino’s been seeing a lot of action, and his status as a symbol of the Celtics’ success has created a cottage industry in bootleg T-shirts, which Celtics’ fans are eagerly snapping up. Some shirt designs play on the Celtics’ Big Three—all-stars Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce—in depicting Gino as one component of a Big Four; others are simply replicas of the shirt Gino’s wearing in the video, a piece of merchandise from Vannelli’s 1976 Gist of the Gemini tour.
Gino has even been a hit with the Celtics’ players. Rookie Glen “Big Baby” Davis openly covets a Vannelli shirt, and Garnett has admitted to looking online for one of his own. Leon Powe is rumoured to imitate Gino’s dance in the Celts’ locker room.
An enterprising Boston Globe reporter, Marc J. Spears, is on a quest to track down the Celtics’ dancing scoreboard hero. Meanwhile, word of Gino's talismanic status has spread as far as Holland, where Vannelli is a part-time resident. Vannelli, who was the first white singer to appear on Soul Train, finds the cult funny—although he’s concerned that vendors haven’t acquired his record label’s permission to reproduce his tour merchandise. As the singer told Spears, “Perhaps I ought to make an appearance to sing the national anthem to set the record straight on who the real Gino is.”