Good Irishmen and my favorite Celtics ever, minus Rondo: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. Photo by Jim Davis of the Boston Globe.
It must be a trick of memory or an illusion brought on by an onrush of sentimentality. Deep down in my heart, the Celtics of the 1980s---Bird, Johnson, Parrish, McHale, Ainge, plus Cedric Maxwell, Tiny Archibald, M.L. Carr, and Quinn Buckner---must be my Celtics, the way the 1986 Mets are my Mets. But I feel like I love these Celtics, the team that, tired out and worn down and overmatched and outplayed, sadly, finally sputtered and failed last night against the Heat, more than I ever loved another team, and I’m not just talking about Celtics teams or basketball teams.
I’ve rooted for Boston since little kidhood:
I became a Celtics fan by accident…One night when I was very young my parents let me stay up late to watch a Knicks game on TV. The Knicks happened to be playing this team from Boston. Boston, because of Paul Revere---I was a Revolutionary War buff---was already in my heart my adopted future home. And the Boston team had shamrocks on their uniforms and a leprechaun for their mascot! They were like me. Irish!
I can’t believe that even as a little kid I was this naive but I thought every Celtic player was truly Irish. Bill O’Russell. Sam and K.C. Fitzjones. John McHavlicek. Their coach too. Who else but an Irishman would have the nickname Red?
So, purely by chance, I grew up watching banner after banner being lifted into the rafters at the Gahdin, watching Red Auerbach lighting cigar after cigar. Larry Bird didn’t arrive in town as a savior but as an heir apparent. When he and McHale and Parish and company raised their first banner Boston fans had had to endure a whole four years without one. Sure, after Bird the team faded. A decade went by spent in the wilderness, marked only by the deaths of Len Bias and Reggie Lewis. But if in the past ten years the new Big Three plus Rondo haven’t been able to restore the Celtics to the heights of their former glory, they have restored the sense of fun of being a fan. And they did put up a banner, at the expense of the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James.
Larry Bird and I hit Boston at just about the same time. (He never calls. He never emails. He never tweets.) And it was a thrill to be there as he brought the team back from its four years in the wilderness. But as I wrote above, he didn’t save the team. He reinvigorated it. The Celts were in the doldrums. They weren’t in the dumper. Paul Pierce saved it. They’d been fun. Then they weren’t fun, for a long, long time, and then, thanks to him, they were fun again. And for that, he’ll likely be my favorite Celtic ever…after Rondo.
This was probably it for the Big Three, their Last Hurrah as members of the same team. I don’t know which or how many of them won’t be back. I’ve heard knowledgeable fans make the case that with a little tweaking, it won’t matter, the team will compete again. I don’t know. I hope so. But I expect it will be a while before they’re as much fun again.
For me, anyway.
Whatever happens, they’d better not trade Rondo.
The whole time I lived in Boston I never ran into Larry Bird on the street. But Dave Cowens used to come into the movie theater where I worked regularly during his last year with the Celts. He never calls either.