This picture has been sitting in my drafts since before the Celtics were eliminated from these year’s playoffs in the first round. That’s also the last time I was able to really play with this blog and didn’t have to write shameful spam blogging for profit somewhere else.
But I was sifting through the excellent Celtics hypotheticals from Chris Forsberg at ESPNBoston.com and I couldn’t help but get a little teary-eyed about this Celtics squad. They may never play together again, and the good ol' days of Ubuntu are certainly gone after Mr. Shuttlesworth, first name, Jesus, skipped town to head south for another title after his game 6 glory.
I wrote those first two graphs before Doc went “All Hollywood” (h/t KG) and Garnett and Pierce ended up in my backyard (at least until I move at the end of August). Jason Terry is joining them as Ainge finally broke up the remainder of the Ubuntu crew that was so successful after getting together in the summer of 2007.
That trumpeted squad only won a single title, in their first year together, but they were within a Garnett knee injury of competing for a back-to-back title defense in 2009 and a Kendrick Perkins knee injury of taking game 7 from the Lakers on their Staples Center court in 2010.
Now whether Perkins’ place on the team really would have won that game 7, or if Garnett's health really would have helped the Celtics upset Orlando in 2009, is up to your imagination, but it's weird to look at their lack of hardware and not wonder if maybe they under-achieved a little bit when they were all brought to Boston as the original “Big Three” awakening in the summer of '07.
But that’s not why the end of the best Celtics team since Ol’ Number 33 brought a tear to my eye. The Big Three plus one’s departure for Miami, Los Angeles and Brooklyn exposed the flinty nature of time, and progress. You see, I’m moving on soon, too, and it’s both good and bad, just like the end of the Celtics. I got a great job the other day, and I’m moving out of the hovel in Brooklyn I’ve called home for the last three years and into the suburbs, a place I can no longer remember.
On that last point, I haven’t lived outside of a large metropolitan area since the summer of 2002, after my freshman year of college when I moved home for the summer to work for my local highway department. That was my last time spending time in the suburbs, and like this now broken and diasporic Celtics roster, I’m fighting back the encroaching fear of change on my psyche.
The Celtics were my Old Man’s favorite team in the contemporary game, with just a slight edge over Popovich’s Spurs. If you are familiar with the NBA’s onus on the superstar, you can appreciate that he’s a basketball traditionalist of the highest order: one likely to preach the gospel of Bill Russell during any NBA discussion of all-time greats and sickened by the isolation pull-up jumper of Melo’s Knicks.
In a lot of ways the Celtics of 2008-2012 (R.I.P) crystallized around the team approach best viewed through the prism of my Old Man’s 1960s basketball fan beginnings. They played hard defense, executed well out of time outs, and were sometimes lost in the half-court as emboldened teams dared Rajon to shoot an 18-footer. But they passed, cut and set screens like teams of yore (Garnett's illegal screens are a thing to be cherished, not maligned), and my Old Man has a special place in his heart for groups like that.
Past Celtics teams, like this most recent one, also rose to the occasion, never failing to compete to the best of their now-disintegrating abilities when the moment called for it. Pierce hit big mid-range jumpers, Garnett grabbed huge offensive rebounds, Allen knocked down corner three’s and all was right with the world as the Celtics played a larger role in LeBron's exodus to Miami than many give them credit for. Garnett's concussive stanchion act is like a latter day pre-game Russell vomit.
The Celtics were also the hump LeBron couldn’t ever clear even with his churning thunder thighs; the LeBron-Cavs were the Promethean purloined Gods of Olympus, and with all the power of ‘Bron’s Zeus, he was forced to watch the Celtics celebrate playoff victories like Cronus’ Son looked down on the fire of the corporeal world and plotted the punishment for he that dared to climb the mountaintop.
LeBron and the Heat grabbed a title and then Ray Allen as Zeus’ eagle took Prometheus’ liver as punishment for his audacity. Without ever saying so, my Old Man appreciated the trickster Celtics for showing the world that all was not preordained by the Gods: titles were earned the hard way not handed on a platter like Zeus’ sycophants.
He was sure—and so was I—the Spurs would again tip the LeBron-meter back to Prometheus’ clay-embossed figurines this spring and summer, but LeBron tossed thunderbolts in game 7, and Ray Allen saved his ecclesiastical movie moment for just the right time in game 6.
The Spurs lost, Miami won back-to-back titles, and now the Celtics are rebuilding. I don’t know if my Old Man will ever watch another NBA game the same way again. He’s getting old, and while he’s still got his wits about him, he and Garnett are still inexorably stuck in the sands of Malibu forever plodding through the quicksand of age and the thicket of the NBA’s free agency. What once made sense, is now a phantasm of blurred faces in unknown jerseys.
I’m young enough [sic] to understand and even appreciate the subtle shift in the NBA’s landscape. I get why free agency rumors are exciting, and why the new CBA makes the quantitative Bill James-ian demigods more useful than ever when determining just who might attempt to knock James off the Throne. I love the minutiae of it all, and thankfully the new job will let me explore that love, but the Old Man doesn’t care.
He’s of the Charles P. Pierce purview: blog posts and hyperkinetic coverage are somnambulist sedatives. The game doesn’t really pass fans by, but begins to play on a different plane, one my old man doesn’t care to reach for anymore.
I might not be writing here at all in the future, but I’ll let you know where you can find me. It will feature decidedly less Greek references, but I only abstained from a Yeats quote as practice, and I couldn’t even do that (not yet at least):
“And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.”