In June 2008, when the Celtics won their most recent championship, I was working nights at a phone-survey call center along with a significant portion of Boston’s DIY music scene and a bunch of friendly, hard-drinking middle-aged ladies. Our office was roughly 100 yards from the TD Bank North Garden, and we had to walk by it in order to get to the 7-11 that served as the only affordable, fast place in the neighborhood to get some food during our short breaks. Almost every night, we were tempted to solicit the scalpers for Van Halen tickets or Bruins tickets or Celtics tickets instead of going back to work and calling Midwestern families to ask them what they thought of their homeowners insurance. It should go without saying that, despite it spawning nearly all of my funniest workplace memories, the job sucked really bad.
I can’t remember if I asked for the night of game 6 of the NBA finals off, or if I’d been cut, or if I didn’t have to work to begin with, but I remember watching the game at my apartment by myself, seeing Boston Beat LA, and feeling psyched to the point of staying up to watch the local news’ coverage of the drunken destruction that erupts in the wake of every major Boston sports victory. The fallout of the Celtics winning the finals paled in comparison to that of the recent Patriots or Red Sox victories, but it still felt like a matter of course to watch some folks have a go. (In spite of winning a championship and, at least for that year, coming out on top of one of the greatest rivalries in sports history, the Celtics never got quite good enough to cross over. The drunken, violent non-sports-fans who have ruined the Patriots and Sox for everyone else were, and continue to be, largely absent on the Celtics scene.)
The last thing I saw, before I turned the television off to go to sleep, was a shirtless man putting a brick through the ground floor window of my call center’s office building and immediately getting tackled by a group of police officers. There could have been no sweeter icing on the cake. It was a great moment.
Following a youth of casual basketball fandom driven mostly by the 1990’s NBA’s remarkable amount of outsized personalities, I readily admit that the Antoine Walker era, combined with my general early-20’s insanity, sucked out a lot of my enthusiasm for the Celtics and the NBA in general. It takes a special kind of basketball fan to never waver during the multi-season NBA process of bottoming out on purpose and rallying again, and 2006-era me, while upset when Paul Pierce got injured, was more concerned with Flipside Records on Beacon Street closing (I purchased the X “Wild Thing” 12” single, which I consider to be the worst record I own, at their going out of business sale) and talking people into buying him beer. The Celtics getting good again brought me back into the fold.
(“Good,” in this case, is defined by the classic NBA trope of not only having stars, but by having the kind of role players that ensure chemistry and keep team fandom from being the type of slog I imagine Spurs fans and, more recently, Brooklyn Nets fans, have to endure. The Nate Robinson/Glen Davis “Shrek and Donkey” postgame is an all-timer.)
Three Junes ago, I had been up for almost 40 hours playing Super Mario Galaxy 2, going to a job interview that ended up being for a non-paying lie, and playing poker with my friend Jon when I saw Artest Come Alive in game seven of the NBA Finals and crush the Celtics’ hopes of another title.
Last June, I sat in a crummy Williamsburg bar with Matt and his buddy, a guy (a Heat fan!) named Magic Jake, while Lebron Came Alive in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals and crushed the cinderella Celtics’ hopes of another title. (Two Junes ago I successfully started an “MVP” chant for J.J. Barea in an extremely crowded sports bar.)
This past Saturday, I went to go see Blues Control and Home Blitz with my friends Erin (big Celtics fan) and Kate. Afterwards, we went to a house party and failed to solve the rebuses on my Ballantine bottlecaps. I woke up on Sunday with a mild hangover, and before I even left my bedroom I learned that Rajon Rondo had torn his ACL and wouldn’t be playing competitive basketball for the foreseeable future.
“Blow it up,” says the internet, mentioning Rudy Gay and pretending the Raptors front office wants to trade Kyle Lowery and not José Calderón. As tough as it is to admit it, the internet has a point for once, especially given Danny Ainge’s recent knack for well-meaning but ice-cold trades that don’t work out in real life (see you on the other side, Kendrick Perkins).
For all this entails, I admire the Celtics’ refusal to be a perennial second-round playoff team, instead being willing to drop future hall-of-famers and put it all on the line for a run in, say, 2015-2016. But even writing “2016” out is a drag, like looking at the expiration date on your credit card and thinking about how it seems so far in the future that, as far as you’re concerned, the card will basically never expire. The singularly bitter shittiness of Paul Pierce potentially not retiring a Celtic is the type of thing New England sports thrived on (see you on the other side, Hartford Whalers) until Tom Brady, Kevin Garnett, and David Ortiz started cramming trophies down everyone’s throats.
But yes, mystical basketball logic dictates that These Celtics, the ones whose greatness made a guy throw a brick through my terrible job’s window, and the ones who made me like basketball again, are probably pretty much toast. They were probably pretty much toast the second Ray Allen (My favorite player from those years, and a UConn alumnus who in 1995 was very nice about my Grandma asking him to pose for a photo with me at the McDonald’s across from the ESPN headquarters) left town for parts unknown, but this year’s admittedly lackluster team still showed flashes of brilliance.
We are all going to get old and die (even Dee Brown) so best to look back fondly on the time when Nate Robinson, Rasheed Wallace, and Tony Allen were all on the same team while we still can. Instead of the Kevin McHale clothesline, we’ll have every moving screen Kevin Garnett never got called for. (And the one he did get called for.) Bird’s reliable game-winners map pretty easily to Ray Allen’s record-breakingly reliable game-winners, and his love for trolling crowds (keep an eye on the Hawks bench towards the end of that) can be seen in the form of a glint in Pierce’s eye every time he literally sets fire to Madison Square Garden.
Around the last time the Celtics were ascendant, I was riding the train back to my neighborhood from the call center. Across the train from me, an older man who I’m pretty sure was homeless was sharing a plastic pint of vodka with his buddy, and they caught me looking up from a book at them. “Want some?” the guy asked, gesturing the bottle towards me.
“Sure,” I replied. (That job, and the mental state it put me in, is a subject for another day.) As I motioned towards the bottle, the guy pulled it away.
“Hey. Hey!” the guy interrupted. “Who’s number 33?”
“Uh, Larry Bird?” I replied.
“Ha ha,” the guy laughed, bringing the bottle back towards me. “Yeah.”