To fully appreciate the events of the past year, you have to get into the mind of a life long Celtic fan.
I grew up watching Hondo, watching Bird, watching Cowens and Parish and McHale and DJ win championship after championship. We were spoiled. A team doesn’t build the reputation the Celtics have built without name players. We have been blessed to have seen some of the best players in the history of this game play in the green and white.
Back in 1986 we had the best team I have ever witnessed in my lifetime. Yes, I include the Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls in that list. To top off that championship year, the team managed to snag the number 2 pick in the draft. To top that off, they were smart enough to pick my favorite college player with that number 2 pick. Not just my favorite college player of that era, but of all time. A player that was Jordan only with 3 added inches and even more athleticism. He was a freak of nature before I even understood the term.
His name was Len Bias. He died two days after the Celtics selected him and immediately changed the fortunes of the NBA’s most charmed team. I can say with certainty that if Bias had lived the Celtics would have won at least 3 more championships. At least. They would have repeated for sure. Even without him they made it back to the finals; losing in six games to healthier, superior Lakers team.
The Celtics managed to remain relevant with Reggie Lewis taking the reigns once Bird retired. But we know what happened there, too. Lewis dropped dead in a pickup game and the city’s most consistent winner was suddenly on dark times. Keep in mind the Celtics were the pride of a working class, predominantly Irish city. They were our resident champions and we expected nothing less.
Back in 1986 (until this year the BEST year for Boston sports) the Sox lost the heartbreaker to the Mets, the Pats were killed in their unexpected Super Bowl appearance by Bears team nobody would have defeated anyway.
Twenty two years, two Red Sox World Series championships, three Patriot Super Bowl wins later and the Celtics are back on top. Yes, as a city we have been spoiled rotten. We are one ridiculous almost sack/helmet catch from having three world champions in the three major sports.
But with the Celtics it’s a different vibe. We’re elated and excited and jacked up like Kevin Garnett on Red Bull, but the difference is the history. When the Red Sox won in 2004 it was a relief. Joyous, monkey off the back, we can breath again, look there really is no curse relief. When the Patriots won in 2001 it was a shock to the system. When they did it again in 2003 and 2004 we simply reveled in the events. Because of the Celtics unexpected, sudden change of luck the city of Boston has learned to relish champion teams as they are happening. We know that nothing lasts forever.
Even last summer, it seemed the Celtics run of bad luck was continuing. Missing out on Oden or Durant in the lottery. It was a worst case scenario for a team searching for any sign of hope. Give Danny Ainge all the credit, though, for he learned a harsh lesson that day. If luck doesn’t help you, then fuck it, start making your own. He did. Trading for Ray Allen and getting KG to buy into what the Celtics were trying to accomplish, signing the perfect complement of role players (House, Posey, PJ Brown) and mixing in the young guys (Powe, Davis, Rondo). Sure he traded three quarters of the roster for Garnett, but it seems worth it now, eh?
Hell yeah, it does. Why not roll the dice and squash all the bad karma from the last 20 years? Exorcise the ML Carr era and the memory of an over the hill Dominique Wilkens starring as our center piece. Kill all memories of Rick Pitino constantly meddling with the roster. Of all the people that the Celtics hired to reverse the fortunes of the team, Pitino was the one that totally missed the point of the Celtics tradition. Forget that we missed getting Tim Duncan by THIISSS much.
Water under the bridge, my friends. For today we are celebrating the 17th World Championship by the single most successful team the NBA has ever seen. That is why the Celtics are special in this city. They aren’t just a part of our proud history, for nearly a century they WERE our proud history. They were the only sports team we could boast about; the only team we had other cities hated, yet wanted to be; the one team that could take our minds off the Red Sox futility, the NFL team that was professional in label only, the hockey team with an owner that refused to get that one last piece to put them over the edge. For generations of Boston fans, the Celtics weren’t just the best team Boston put together, they were the mirror image of the city itself. Proud, gritty, more than a bit lucky at times, but always in contention and always the hardest working team on the court.
There was a lapse there for a bit, but they are back where we need them to be. Things have been set right. The Celtics crushed the Lakers last night for the World Championship. Damn, it feels GREAT to say that again!!
Some notes from last night’s ‘game’ (I use quotes since there was no competition involved):
- Garnett was hilarious after the game. Telling Michelle Tafoya ‘you look GOOD tonight!’, shouting ‘Whatcha gonna say about me now?’ to the cameras, often just shaking his head in disbelief. I guess you could say he was happy.
- Pierce, too! His introductory ‘Let’s make this quick, I’ve gotta go party with my teammates’ when he met with reporters was great.
- The happiest moment was watching the entire team dancing and hopping around in the locker room while champagne and beer were sprayed everywhere. That is what it’s all about.
- Nice touch by Pierce pouring the Gatorade all over Doc Rivers. That has to be a first on a basketball court, right?
- While we’re here, I know the perception is that athletes are pampered, spoiled man children getting paid ungodly amounts to play a game and that is true to an extent. But the general public also doesn’t see how much off season conditioning, practicing, and preparation these guys put in year after year after year. You caught a glimpse (just a glimpse) of how hard these guys work when Pierce got emotional in the post game press conference. He started talking about how hard they had all worked to get there and simply stopped talking. After a long pause, he changed the subject.
- Not sure if this was the Celtics or some random fans, but unfurling that home made 2008 World Championship banner from the balcony at the end of the game was – for lack of a better word – AWESOME! I can’t wait for that to be raised next to the other 16.
- To Lamar Odom: Playing with fire and aggression when you’re team is down 30 in the second half doesn’t erase the fact that you played like a wuss when the game actually mattered.
- On the other hand, at least you were trying to lead by example unlike your so called team leader – Kobe Bryant – who literally disappeared for the rest of the game. Yeah, the Celtics clamped down on him impressively, but there were a few times in the third quarter I thought he was on the bench when he was on the court; hovering out by the three point line and watching his teammates try to get them back into the game. How Laker fans can keep defending and cheering for this guy is beyond me.
- Please, let’s stop calling Kobe Bryant ‘the best player on the planet’. He was referred to that way not once, not twice, but three times last night by different analysts and Mike Breen, the play by play announcer. After this series and especially last night’s game, I could make the case he’s barely in the top 5. Seeing what you saw last night would you rather have Kobe or Lebron on your team? Kobe or Chris Paul? Kobe or Paul Pierce? Kobe or Kevin Garnett? Yes, Kobe is a supremely talented player with tremendous all around skills, but would any of those other players let their team simply quit like Bryant did last night?
- While Kobe certainly quit playing, you have to wonder if Phil Jackson ever started coaching. He certainly didn’t seem to care whether the team won or lost. Has he become so complacent with his place in history he is just coasting now? Did he even think his team could get this far and knew the Celtics were simply the better team? Or, more intriguingly, did he want Kobe to fail? We know there is no love lost between them and Jackson is fully on record as despising the type of person Kobe is. Just a thought.
- True goosebump moment happened after the game when Garnett sees Bill Russell and gives him a huge, bear hug. You catch Garnett saying ‘I got my own’ (meaning championship ring) then stepping back and asking ‘Did I make you proud?’
Yup, just got them again.
- It’s especially gratifying to see Pierce, who has always acknowledged the tradition of this team, get his ring. He went through the darkest times of this franchise and the city of Boston couldn’t be happier for him. Sure, his relationship with the fans was at times rocky (please refer to the Indiana playoff meltdown a few years ago), but his sense of history and his drive to be considered a ‘Celtic great’ always endeared him to us.
- Great game from Ray Allen, as well. With Garnett, Allen and Pierce (off night shooting, but made great passes all night and kept the offense flowing) all having good nights, can we now rip off their ‘choker’ labels? Please? It doesn’t get any bigger than the clinching game of the NBA finals and all looked spectacular.
- As for Doc, well, I stand corrected. Although I will point out that once he took my suggestions and played House, Posey and Powe the Celtics steam rolled the Lakers. Still, he was impressive in this series, completely out coaching a Hall of Fame Phil Jackson. Maybe he was just learning on the job.
Things I’m looking forward to this summer:
- The first ads for the Celtics championship Sports Illustrated ‘commemorative’ book
- The Celtics showing up with the Red Sox at the beginning of SportsCenter every morning.
- Getting myself one of those new hats and shirts. Finally a championship hat that isn’t a disaster of color and style. Simple and hip. Nice work, NBA.
- The parade. Oh, I’ll be there!
- The constant ‘How are the Celtics going to get better’ stories along with the ‘What’s next for the Lakers’ stories.
- The first pictures of third world children wearing Lakers 2008 championship gear.
Congratulations to the 2008 World Champion Boston Celtics.
Let’s do it again next year!!
Today’s distraction: Like you need one today. Soak it in, Boston. See you at City Hall!!