Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Extraordinary


This was an extraordinary year for the Boston Celtics. Despite their dynastic history and 17 championships, ordinary for the Celtics in the last twenty one years has been failure and disappointment, with the only difference being the scope of that failure and disappointment. In 1987, they failed to beat the Lakers in the Finals. In 1988, they were an aging great team and lost in their last reasonable chance at a title, giving way to the rise of Detroit and Chicago. After that, they were a team in decline for several years and we knew it. They would make the playoffs but would certainly lose, meaning that we would not get a high draft pick and would be stuck in the dreaded NBA cycle of mediocrity. In the mid to late nineties, there was a different type of failure. They weren’t good enough to make the playoffs, the quality of their play was sloppy and embarrassing, their draft picks were poor, free agents average, and their decent players were frustrated. And when they bottomed out, they even failed to get lucky enough to get the top draft pick and the guy who would win his team 4 titles. And then they gave up on the guy they did draft third overall and he went on to be an all-star and to win a title with his team. Ah Pitino. In his defense, the little scumball famously reminded us: Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish were “not walking through that door” and noted that "the negativity in this town sucks". Sorry, Ricko. That's what you get after a dozen years of failure and disappointment: sucky negativity. Soon after his departure in 2002, the Celtics hit what passed for a peak: two wins in the Crappy Eastern Conference Finals. But they failed to capitalize on an epic comeback win and they lost that series. And then there were 5 more years of the decline brand of failure: the lean years of that Danny Ainge five year plan. As a huge fan of the hometown Celtics in a town that was sports frenzied by unexpected and expected championships from the Patriots (not a "fan" of, but rooted for them when they didn't play the Steelers) and Red Sox (not at all a fan of), it was particulary frustrating. I remember trying to get a bar to turn on the Celtics playoff game in 2004ish and getting overruled by the other patrons who laughed and continued to watch an April Sox game against the Devil Rays. I knew the Celtics weren’t going to win that playoff series (a first round playoff series), but come the fuck on. It’s the Boston Celtics. It’s your hometown professional basketball team. They’re in the playoffs! But I couldn't say it was a completely irrational reaction either. Given their 15 years of ordinary, disappointing failure, they were not a team that captivated and inspired. Why bother watching that game and getting angry at their three-chucking style. Or at least that’s what those schmucks at that bar thought. Then last year, after yet another failure of a season – a particularly galling failure of a season – the Celtics piled on one more failure to punch the guts of those of us who were still following them on a regular basis: with the second worst record, they failed to get one of the two top picks, one of the two future franchise player hall of famers. That’s when I hit my personal low: advocating for the acquisition of Zach Randolph. How deluded was I. How distraught.

Shortly thereafter, things began to move from ordinary to extraordinary. They traded the # 5 pick, Delonte, Wally for Ray Allen. That move convinced KG to come and they traded everyone not named Paul, Rajon, Kendrick or Leon for KG. That convinced Posey and House to get on board. They bonded in Italy. They started the year on fire, playing like a team that had been together for years. They beat everyone. They eviscerated Nuggets and Knicks teams. They beat all three Texas teams on the road. They won and won and won, delighting a city of sports fans that was obsessed with a World Series champion team and a potential best-of-all-time undefeated football team. They completed the biggest turnaround in NBA history winning 66 games and then used home court advantage to win 16 more games and a 17th NBA Championship. 82 wins, the last of which was the most extraordinary of all.



Winning a title in sports these days really is out of the ordinary. While my sports fan life started with a surfeit of favorite team titles, each of those teams slipped into long droughts before they won rings again. The Yankees made me wait 18 years. The Steelers made me wait 26 years. Last night, the Celtics ended my 22 year wait. The UMass Minutemen? That could be a while. (I essentially stopped rooting for the Islanders years ago, so that 28 year wait doesn’t count and I’ve never followed a soccer team closely enough and for long enough to be relevant to this conversation). VTK Red Sox readers waited even longer. Many sports fans wait their whole lives and receive nothing but failure and disappointment in return (Chicago Cub fans, Cleveland Anything fans over 60). So having your team (a team thay you’re truly a fan of) win any championship is truly quite extraordinary – something that young Boston sports fans would be incapable of understanding. It doesn’t happen often so you have to savor it when it does. I’ve been remarkably fortunate as a fan in the last 12 years (with my 3 favorite teams having won 6 titles (oddly the same number as strictly Boston sports fans have enjoyed)). But this is not lost on me. When the Yankees won their 3rd consecutive World Series (4th in 5 years) in 2000, I was scorned for celebrating it; but I knew how long it might be until I got that moment again (and the way this season is going for the Yankees, it looks like it’s going to be a while longer). With all the possible things that can go wrong, with all the ways to choke, with all the great athletes in the world, with all the ways to lose, to win a title is extraordinary. And I’m savoring it. Bet your ass I’ll be out there on that parade route tomorrow - the first of the six post-millenial Boston sports parades that I'll be attending and hopefully not the last.

6 comments:

fuge said...

I almost hate to comment on this because it is so well written...nothing really needs to be added...but I will...

This year has made me realize that I may be a bandwagon jumper. Not the filthy bandwagon jumpers that only become a fan of a team after they win, but still a bandwagon jumper. When I was a kid, some of my best memories were of watching the C's. In fact, I remember that some of the best bonding moments I've ever had were watching the C's with the old man on a Sunday afternoon, or Staying up late to watch that west coast game (as long as I didn't tell my mother)...

I was 5 years old when in 81, 8 in 84 and 10 in 86 (probably the single greatest sports year ever, even with two teams losing in the finals) and I can remember bits and pieces of every one of them (more obviously from 86 than the others...but I was hooked. I was hooked until 1994. Then I went to college. And the games weren't on anymore...I still loved Larry Bird and the c's, but had no access to them in the Dorms. They weren't good enough to be on national games, and we didn't have SportsChannel...

Then I moved to an apartment and got cable, and this coincides with Rick Pitino coming to town. After a year or so of Pitino ball, That was pretty much it. I was almost completely out. I'd watch a few games, make sure to keep track of the drafts (really the one thing that pushed me away was the absolutely stunning incapability of the Celtics to make one competent draft pick from 1991 through 2003 with the exceptsions being Paul Pierce, Antione Walker (even though he refused to believe that he could have been an all star if he just used his low post moves rather than pitching up threes all day) Chauncey Billups (traded 3 months later) and Joe Johnson (needed to go to Phoenix to become a good player).

I had to sit through years and years when the celtics refused to admit that they didn't have a point guard, and drafted about 15 2 men, and more than a few "Project" big me.

Let me give you a list from 1990 on:

1991 Rick Fox 24
1992 Jon Barry* 21
1993 Acie Earl 19
1994 Eric Montross 9
1995 Eric Williams 14
1996 Antoine Walker 6
1997 Chauncey Billups 3
1997 Ron Mercer 6
1998 Paul Pierce 10
1999 None -
2000 Jerome Moiso 11
2001 Joe Johnson 10
2001 Kedrick Brown 11
2001 Joseph Forte 21
2002 None -
2003 Troy Bell* 16
2003 Dahntay Jones* 20

In 1990 they drafted Dee Brown, who at least could win dunk contests. But other than that, exactly what was it that they did? Nothing except push fans away. And in 2001, they used the option of Denver's pick (that could have been used in 2002 instead for Kedrick Brown, they could have waited until the next year, when they had NO pick, and gotten a top 5 pick...but no, they wanted to draft 3 shooting guards, that's a good plan.

I mean really, how can someone put up with Jon Barry, Jerome Moiso and Joe Forte and still watch 80 games a year?

If you were able to do it I applaud...but after the mid nineties, I was a casual fan at best...using lines like (The NBA doesn't do it for me anymore) as an excuse. But really, I was just dissapointed with the team.

So dissapointed that I was actually hesitant to give my approval to the two trades that ended up leading the C's to title 17. I was so negative, I thought something would backfire...It didn't. And I watched. I even went to the game to see the C's beat the Knicks by at least a million points.

I watched every game in the playoffs like it was the last, and then in the finals, I end up on a plane during game 1...(listened to the game on the radio) and in game 6, I was in London, for work, trying my best to stay awake to watch the end of the game...I could not...and it saddens me. it saddens me not so much because I missed it, but because I feel like I'm a bandwagoner...like I said, not of the Sox Pink Hat variety, but one that comes around when the going is good. But I was so hurt by the way I was treated by Messr's Gaston, Wallace and Pitino. I couldn't support their teams.

But this current ownership has shown a commitment to winning, and marketing the team...I still say Doc Rivers should be fired, although this team seems to be willing to crawl over broken glass for him, so why bother...

But in the end, even though I know that Kevin Garnett jersey was first worn by Jerome Moiso himself...I am a bandwagon fan.

And PS, don't get me started about Michael Smith

Dan said...

Thanks and I won't call you a bandwagon fan. Only in one's own heart of hearts can that judgment be made. The fact that you know all this and the fact that you performed admirably in taunting Knicks fans at that game we went to speaks well of your allegiance to the team. Sometimes teams are just too brutal to watch. And if they're not on TV, you can't watch them. I saw exactly two games in 3.5 years when I lived in Florida in the late 90's and their performances made me wonder what TBS was thinking putting them on TV. But I still considered myself a Celtics fan during those days.

Nice research on their draft picks. Of all those players, 4 turned out to be All Stars, and the Celtics gave up on two of them before they reached that level (they gave up on Antoine after that level). Here are some of the players they passed up on in those same drafts:

91 - Pete Chilcutt (joking)
92 - Latrell Sprewell, PJ Brown (!)
93 - Sam Cassell (!), Nick Van Exel, Byron Russell
94 - Eddie Jones, Jalen Rose, Aaron McKie
95 - Theo Ratliff's pre ridiculous contract years, Michael Finley, Travis Best, Greg Ostertag, Loe Roe
96 - Antoine was a good pick and picking Kobe would have been risky at that point (he went 7 spots down at 13). They also passed on Nash, Jermaine O'Neal, Ilgauskas
97 - They skipped two chances to draft McGrady
98 - Pierce at 10 - great pick.
99 - In fact, they did have a pick: 55 overall (in 2nd rnd) and they picked Kris Clack over Manu Ginobili (57th pick)
00 - this draft was horrible all around past the # 1 pick (K-Mart). Turkoglu and Stephenson were from Turkey and High School; Najera and Redd didn't go until the 38 to 43 range. Could have had Eddie House (!).
01 - Richard Jefferson, Tony Parker, Gilbert Arenas, Okur - 3 chances a piece.
02 - late pick, inconsequential
03 - technically, they got Perkins (good) and Banks (bad) out of those picks. But they did miss David West, Barbarosa, and Josh Howard, but I don't give a damn because Perk was critical in their success.

and who cares. Celtics are NBA Champs!! Go ahead and enjoy it, Fuge. C's are on top. Enjoy it.

lc said...

re: buying my mom a beer. ha. the point is moot now, vtk. but then, it always is. come to dc and we will buy you a beer in congratulations for your title winning team. are you watching the euro games now? too soon?

Dan said...

I was hoping for a Holland Spain matchup. that would have been some offensive firepower on display right there!

Viva EspaƱa!

akboognish said...

Great post, Dan, and great responses by you and Fuge. I can't really add anything to the whole narrative here--I'm such a lightweight bandwagon fan of all things NBA at this point that I was almost embarrassed to talk to people about the Celtics, because they expected me to know all about the team, the season, and the playoffs. All I know is that I love that they won, I love that Bill Russell was on the floor when they did, and that they did it against the Lakers, who needed to choke on some Celtic superiority. Got to love this team and I'm now planning on paying attention a bit more next year.

Oh yeah, and I have to admit that Paul Pierce surprised the hell out of me. Count me as one of his haters who is now, if not a total convert, at least very respectful. He cranked it in the finals.

Anyway, thanks for the great posts on the subject.

Viva Espana!

Dan said...

Well, like I told fuge, I'm not judging bandwagons on this one. I'm just too happy about the C's rise to glory to be critical of any celebrant. You're right: Pierce buried any lingering questions about his clutchness for good. Great performance.

Similarly, a great performance by Spain in the Euros against the mighty Germans to bury any doubts about their ability to win on the largest scale. They're a young team too; I wouldn't be surprised to see them make some serious noise at the 2010 World Cup.