My relationship, such as it is, with this year's Boston Celtics probably began with Andrew, a coworker of mine who, at times, has been solely responsible for keeping me sane at work. Andrew, a native of Dedham, is a fan of skateboarding, BMX, hip-hop and the C's. I, a native of Chelmsford, am a fan of the Sox, the Pats, and attempting to work myself to death (cf the last week, when I was incommunicado due to yet another business trip).
In addition to frequent IM-based primal scream sessions, Andrew and I have struck up a kind of cultural exchange, based on our different backgrounds and the sports teams we're passionate about.
Andrew is to the Red Sox as I am to the Celtics: he's aware of them, he'll see a game occasionally, but they're not his be-all and end-all. He and I keep each other updated on how our respective teams are doing, which is how I've understood why adding only two players to the team could have made such a difference, who KG and Ray Allen are, and--though he has to constantly remind me of this last one--their positions.
I've gotten to know the best nickname in sports--Paul Pierce's "The Truth"--and terms like fast break and one on four. Andrew doesn't need as many technical pointers about baseball, but I keep him apprised of the notable quotes from Beckett or Papelbon, the latest losing or winning streak, the latest high five from Manny to the fans.
Another friend of mine, Ryan, has also sprinkled updates on the "Celtiges" when we talk about the Sox or Pats. Most of the time this year, the Celtiges were kicking ass, and he wanted to explain to me how.
Little by little, I've been sucked in to the Celtics' world.
My trip to Vegas last week made me aware for the first time that I've developed even a slight attachment to a basketball team, which is not something I ever expected would happen. We've all blogged on the way sports interests have to do with your relationship with your father; my dad liked baseball and football, coached football even, but at least by the time I was verbal, hardly ever watched hockey or basketball.
Apparently my grandfather liked to watch the Bruins, and my dad was known to watch them from time to time years ago. My dad will also give you a nice lecture about how there will never again be a team like Bill Russell's Celtics. But today?
"I can't stand professional basketball," he said when I asked if he was going to watch Game 5 of the NBA Finals last night. "They never call the right fouls, they're always travelling and palming the ball, it's just a crappy game."
I don't have an appreciation for the technical details at that level, so maybe he's right. But my ignorance also means I don't have a solid reason not to watch the Celtics.
"Every time I've tried to watch them, they've sucked," was my dad's further argument against watching Game 5. He cited Game 4, for which he only tuned in to the first quarter or so. "They were just awful when we were watching. Just freakin' awful."
"Right, but the third quarter's the important one," I told him. "That's when they've been taking control of games.Like in Game 4--it was the biggest comeback in NBA finals history!"
And then I wondered just who was talking here. Surely not me...?
It's a weird feeling to be on the side of an argument for a sport or game that my father's not. Time after time he's tried to regale me on the merits of golf or lately even NASCAR. The Celtics are the one spot where I think the sports-junkieism I cultivated to get to know my Dad better has gone beyond just his interests, and become its own, potentially uncontrollable habit.
My mother, who has declared a moratorium on all new sports in the family for time-management and budget reasons, would not be pleased.
This also happens to have been the yea that I attended my first and only live Celtics game, against the Cavs Feb. 27. I remember that date because a snowstorm picked up just as I was leaving the game, and I wound up getting in a car accident that night on my way home.
It was also at that game that I realized the one thing that has kept me from truly embracing basketball--the horrible sound of shoe rubber squeaking--is not audible at a live game. I also learned about fouls, personal and technical, individual and team, from a consultant with a thick accent, originally from South Boston, who eschewed the hors d'ouevres in the luxury box we'd been brought to for a business event in favor of the front row seats. Then I found out about both Lucky and GINO, and thought, well, maybe there's something to this Celtics thing.
It's not like I've gone out and bought a jersey or wallpapered my room with shots of KG. It's not like I could even name most of the bench players or that I would call myself a true fan--if there's one thing I've wanted to avoid, it's being That Guy, the one who comes along and says, "Hey, basketball's really interesting now that the Celtics are any good."
But another part of me wonders if anybody truly gets into a sport they've otherwise had no reason to watch when their home team is out-and-out sucking. It's against the sports-fan code of ethics to say this, but I don't think there's any other kind of fan, when you get right down to it, than a bandwagon fan--someone who was captivated by an out-of-the-ordinary season, or educated on the finer points of a sport by seeing a team playing at its highest level. The more I see, the more I think all fandom starts that way. After that it's only a matter of timing.
For me, the big hook with the Celtics has been my hometown loyalties. My rabid fandom for the Sox and Pats has a lot to do with that, too. Especially when it comes to the Sox, following them is so intertwined with my passion for the city they live in that it's often hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. This same goes for the Celtics (after all, who am I not to give the city's winningest franchise at least some attention?)--and it's the reason why this past week of travel brought it out in such relief.
On my flight out to Vegas from Logan, passengers came correct with Boston sports team gear--a Sox hat here, a C's t-shirt there. But while I waited for the flight back, right after the epic Game 4 had ended, a load of passengers coming in from Boston got off the plane while I waited to board at the gate, yelling about the Celtics and Game 4. They rocked T-shirts, flatbrims, jerseys, you name it.
Out in Vegas it's LA territory. Without indigenous teams, they're fans of the Dodgers and Lakers, or at least that's what their local TV affiliates show. Vegas is also the epicenter of sports betting in America. You'd think there might be more of a sports culture--but those people from Boston at the airport were the most obvious display of sports fandom I saw all week.
In the airport and on this trip I saw people from many walks of life, from many geographic areas, but nowhere did I hear sports occupy so much of the conversation as at that airport gate, watching one Boston flight debark, and waiting to board another.
On board, I was surrounded by more team gear--Sox caps, C's jerseys, t-shirts with pugilistic sayings on them about the Yankees, even some Patriots stuff.
"They better be replaying the game," said the man next to me, gesturing to the JetBlue seatback TV. They were, and though he fell asleep while we were still over Nebraska, I watched the whole second half of Game 4 on the redeye flight that night.
I had watched all the games on that week, often with the TV on for company as I fell asleep in an ocean of king-sized bed, alone in a hotel suite bigger than my apartment. It made me feel more at home.
In the course of watching the Finals, I've developed a serious crush, like everybody else did years ago, on Paul Pierce. There's just something about him, his calm, smooth manner, and the fact that his teammates clearly adore him.
Also, I have come to appreciate a kind celebration in basketball that I think should be adopted in other sports, especially baseball:
The jersey pull. How cool would that be if Coco had done it after steppin' to the Rays?
Last night as the game started, a glossy NBA-prepared intro replayed some of the most memorable moments from championships past, many of which featured the Celtics. When it came to the shots of Larry Bird dribbling down the court, accompanied by the croaking, cigarette-choked voice of Johnny Most, my dad raised one hand to his throat and did his own impersonation in response, chuckling in spite of himself.
"Bill Laimbeer..." I began in my own Johnny Most voice, which I picked up from the City of Champions DVD that I bought for its Sox and Pats content. It just sort of came free with an education about Celtics history.
"...dirtiest player on the court," my dad croaked back. "Dirtiest player in the league!"
We settled in and watched the first half together.
At home for the second half, I hollered "Oh God!" at the top of my lungs as Kobe Bryant stole the ball from Pierce, ran it back and slammed a hanging, hollering dunk to make it a 5-point game with under a minute left to play. (This would turn out to be the coup de grace and additional confirmation for my newbie self that Kobe really is as hateful as they say.)
Then I realized it was midnight, and that I'm no longer in a hotel but in a house with neighbors I will have to see again, and for the second time that night I thought to myself, just who was it that yelled that out just now?
Surely not me...