Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The best

You might have heard this before but... now it all makes sense.

Now I get the Celtics' history, the devotion from the old-time fans, the love from the new ones, and, most importantly, I understand why the Celtics are the best team for Boston.

When you win the NBA title, you really win it. Rarely do you win it like the Celtics won last night, but there's never a doubt about who the champs are. It's not football, with its one game for all the marbles, or baseball, with its "Get a good team and cross your fingers" kismet.

It's not even hockey, where a goalie can stand on his head for two months and flip back over with the Stanley Cup.

It's basketball, where if you fill up the basket more than the other team, you win. When things are going good, you can exult on every play. And let's just say things were going amazingly, unbelievably, historically good last night.

The fans exploded. Then they exploded some more. And some more. That's when I realized why the Celtics are the best team for Boston — they validate this city in a way the other teams don't. The Celtics allow you know, in a self-satisfying way, that they're the best team in the world, to the point where you don't even need to celebrate it in front of foreigners — i.e., non New Englanders — because it's just so damned obvious. It's a phenomenon unique to NBA basketball, and it's why the Celtics have a fan base that stretches from the Back Bay to just shy of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Don't get me wrong, we love the Red Sox and Patriots (and Bruins) too. But you can forget about a Red Sox title on the following Opening Day, when a .212 hitter takes your number one starter deep. And our need to be validated has taken its toll with the Patriots. We have, as fans, acted like assholes to the point where being a Pats fan in mixed company is like wearing the Scarlet Letter; that the team followed suit really doesn't help. I hate to say it, but the Super Bowl loss keeps us honest.

The fact is, I'm happier with the Celtics title than I would have been with a Pats win, and I think that's a common feeling. It's not just that the other team finally won one in the midst of all this prosperity, it's that the right team won one. Often this season, I tempered my expectations, just because I had been out of following basketball for so long that I wanted to remain grounded. As the season went on, I started to believe more and more, but it wasn't until the Celtics made the Finals that I bought into the entire program. The Gatorade commercials, ESPN spots, the hype — none of it mattered any more. It was time to play REAL basketball, the type of basketball that not even a March sweep of the Texas trio can mimic.

And just like that, Paul Pierce went down in game one. He was carried off the court and into a wheelchair. Nothing — nothing — prepared me for that blow. Two minutes later, he was back on the court. His two three pointers probably ended the Lakers' season right there. The rest was just details. Those details: biggest comeback in Finals history, biggest clinching win in Finals history. Best team in the last five years. Best excuse to skip a day, walk down the Common, and enjoy life.

Now it all makes sense.