Green 17: a Boston Celtics story

The story of how the Boston Celtics came to be the NBA Champions this season really comes down to that fateful Edgar Renteria grounder to Keith Foulke that ended the 2004 World Series for the Boston Red Sox. You see on that day, our mindset as fans of Boston sports changed forever. A fanbase and region that was heckled for its accents, affinity to cold and dreary weather and love of teams that ripped our hearts out time and time again finally had something to be proud of. Our teams can win!

For whatever reason, we neglected the multiple titles that the Celtics won in the 1980s and the 2001 improbable New England Patriots Super Bowl win. After the Sox won their first title in 87 years, we smelled blood in the water. The Patriots then won another Super Bowl…and then another. Man, winning is great! Then, the Celtics traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and our eyes focused on the potential of expanding our empire: an NBA title for one of the most important franchises in sports history.

This past Tuesday, it happened.

Our generation finally got their own version of the Big Three, an indelible memory in our modern internet fueled times that we can fully explain and understand to later generations. I was eight years old when the Celtics won their last NBA title and the only things I have to remember it by was the grainy video footage of Bird/McHale/Parish and seeing my dad wear his old-school Celtics jacket when we went into town. Now as a grown adult, I understand the state of hysteria a team of green can put us in, especially when mixed with a sea of red and blue. I watched 75% of the games this season, I read the stories and thanks to the ‘net, I and others understand more about this team than any fans of those teams of generations past.

In all reality, teams and players are like our friends now: people we see every night in living color that make us happy, sad and frustrating all at the same time. These are our Celtics, our Sox, our Patriots, our (insert team here).

A Soxian team of great personalities and familiar faces with rich back stories, this Celtics club was fun to watch from the first time they hit the floor to the final time they left it. Aggressive winners, underachievers, overachievers, frustrating offensively at times and gloriously defensive at others, this 2007-08 Celtics team was memorable in every way possible.

A few days removed from it all, I’m reveling in the coverage and already excited for next season. Caring about the NBA was dormant in me for the better part of a decade and I’m happy to admit I’m fully on the bandwagon now. The Boston Celtics matter again and it feels so good to be green. I’m happier for those that stuck with this team through the awful years, like two of my good friends Matt Paul and Greg Giorgio. Matt wrote a great email to a small group of us that included the following:

On more than one occasion (all right, dozens of occasions), I showed up for middle school in Celtics sweatpants, Celtics socks, green Chuck Taylors with green laces, a Larry Bird t-shirt under a Larry Bird sweatshirt, a satin green Celtics Starter jacket, and a Celtics cap (with my commemorative Larry Bird mullet hanging out the back)…..I know you won’t get the same enjoyment out of this championship that I have, but I just wanted to share with you my glee at this moment — 12:48 a.m., when I have to be at work in the morning. It was an unbelievable feeling, and unless these Celts run off a few titles in the next few years, it’s a feeling that won’t be soon forgotten.

Or Greg, who simply said:

I don’t even know what to say.

Much like the Sox win was for generations who never thought they would ever see a title, this 17th title is for those fans like Matt and Greg who endured years of bad draft picks, false hope and heartache. They’re for the fans who cried like babies when Reggie Lewis suddenly died, who still dream about Len Bias in Celtic green and for those who learned how to shoot by watching a selfless ugly man from French Lick, Indiana. So many of us are enjoying the ride on the bandwagon you helped build. Thanks for allowing the rest of us to jump aboard.

**********

Some other thoughts to close up shop on the season:

-I can’t think of a person that has gone through more in the past few months than Ray Allen. Between the bizarre story of the hit that was ordered on his mother’s husband to his early playoff shooting slump to his youngest son being diagnosed with diabetes the eve of Game Six, what else could have happened to Allen, the man who could have been crowned Finals MVP? (He only put in a game-high 26 points in the clincher.)

-How about the fact the Celtics were the ones to stop Lakers coach Phil Jackson from passing Red Auerbach as the winningest Finals coach in NBA history?


-I think it was a bit of cosmic justice that Kobe Bryant didn’t get his wish in winning an NBA title without Shaquille O’Neal. In a season where he demanded to be traded in the preseason and called out Lakers’ ownership and front office personnel, it seemed fitting that ultimately his whining was not rewarded. Despite what the mainstream media wants us to believe, he is not the next Michael Jordan and can spend the rest of the summer wondering just what went wrong, staring at his MVP trophy and wondering if he’ll ever win another title. Karma’s a bitch.

-I think the vindication of Paul Pierce is one of the more polarizing stories of this Celtics’ season. For years, he was stuck on lackluster teams and fans blamed him for why the club wasn’t getting any better. Never mind the one run to the Eastern Conference finals the team had during the Antoine years, Pierce never had the parts around him that he needed.

By all accounts, Pierce is a great player but more so in the Pippen mold than the Jordan mold. He was a leader, but a guy that needed real support in order to fuel a successful team. Double-P was left for dead by fans, but this season when he didn’t have to be THE man, you saw how effective he could be. Now, he will try to win a few more titles with this group but can always look on this season as the one where he cemented his legacy among Boston sports legends. If you don’t respect Pierce now, you just don’t understand sports.

-James Posey (player option) just made himself a boatload of money for next season, hopefully in Celtic green.

-Man, the Bruins are just so far off the radar screen that it’s sad…just plain sad.

-For the NBA, they finally have two of the league’s premiere franchises back on top and reason to believe that both clubs will be back in force next season. While they have their own mountain of questions (mostly regarding officiating) to answer, they got their dream series and, for the most part, it paid off.

-Also making a boatload of money: the Celtics overall. Cha-ching….cha-ching. There aren’t enough green money jokes in the world that would total the amount they’ll rake in from merchandise and ticket sales alone.

-Sasha Vujacic is now the greatest basketball villain of our time, bar none. I mean, really…could you ever take a team seriously with a dude named Sasha on it?

-This series was as polarizing as you can get: East Coast vs. West Coast, blue collar vs. white collar, substance vs. style, keg parties vs. black tie affairs.

-Finally, this title win gives columnists and fans from across the country another reason to hate Boston, another reason to despise us as fans and another reason to root against the teams that we cheer so much. Instead of asking their team’s owners to do better, it’s easier to tear down the foundation that the owners of the real Big Three established years ago, something famed success story Jack Welch picked up on this week. Why is everyone else so slow to put the numbers together?

It has become too easy to dismiss us as arrogant and brash, but the honest emotions most of us are giving off are happiness and confidence. That’s why we travel hundreds of miles to watch our teams play on the road and wear the Boston ‘B’ with pride. That’s why we get upset when so-called experts try and place asterisks on the Patriots’ Super Bowls. It’s not to rub it in other’s faces but because this era is so invigorating to be a sports fan, we can’t get enough…and that includes crossing our fingers for another World Series, Super Bowl and NBA title in the next 12 months.

The Era of Excellence rolls on.