It’s a funny thing when you come to associate a sports team with your family, your hometown and your upbringing – with the various landmarks of your life. When you’ve grown up attached to a specific sports team your entire life, you carry wins and losses especially close to the heart. Sometimes you think that you feel for your team more than anyone else, when in reality it is exactly what you feel about the team that unites you with every other fan. When you love a team for years upon years, for as long as you can remember, really, that team transcends its sport – that team signifies memories of a time or a place, adjusting to changes and transitions and failures and success.
I have been a Celtics fan my entire life, much to the chagrin of my Detroit Pistons-loving father. It’s kind of his fault, you see, because we lived in Maine and in his effort to ensure that his family would love NBA Basketball as much as he did, my older brother and I became serious Celtics fans in the process. How could we not, when the only city with an NBA team less than two hours from where we lived was Boston?
Coming from a small town just north of Portland, Boston was the big city I came to know and love during school field trips and sporadic family visits. I fell in love with Boston – with the giant circular tank in the middle of the exceptional New England Aquarium; with the Boston Science Museum where Leonard Nimoy’s voice announced the start to any IMAX movie screening in the Mugar Omni Theater; with the Green Monster at Fenway Park; with the colored bricks and tangible history of the Freedom Trail; and perhaps most significant (well, outside of the aquarium, obviously) – I fell in love with the Boston Celtics.
When I was two I went to my first Celtics game and according to my dad, he took me down to the court to show me the wonder that is basketball up close and all I did was stare at one of Robert Parish’s shoes, which at the time was about half my size. It was magical. His shoe, and the game.
I’m too young to remember when the Celtics won the NBA Finals in 1986 but my older brother wasn’t, and the next year for his birthday we went to dinner at Legal Seafood in Boston and Bill Walton was there and he signed a napkin for my brother and then I spent the next year telling people that Bill Walton – a member of the World Champion 1986 Celtics, I was always quick to add – was my best friend.
For most of my childhood the Celtics weren’t all that great, but my unconditional love was unwavering. That was something I learned about devoting yourself to the same sports team for years on end – you have to take the bad times along with the good. (Although my plight wasn’t anywhere near that of a Red Sox fan. Thank goodness we weren’t a baseball family!) One day during my senior year of high school I made my dad take me to Boston for a combined aquarium trip and a Cs game. That was when Boston had Paul Pierce and only Paul Pierce and they couldn’t even fill all the seats in the Garden, and we had nosebleed tickets but I loved every second of it all the same, even if my dad was cheering for the Knicks.
In 2008 Obama was elected president and the Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers to win the NBA Championship for the first time since 1986. I had moved to LA the previous fall, and I spent that summer convinced my move to California had helped my beloved team reclaim the title.
Two years later the Celtics faced LA again, but this time it was Kobe and company who won the title, and I had to deal with the aftermath of trash-talking my co-workers who were enthusiast supporters of the Lakers. Like they say; you win some. you lose some.
In March of this year my brother celebrated his Larry Bird-thday, which, as any Celtics fan would know, means he was turning 33. His birthday party was Celtics themed and I wore my Rajon Rondo jersey and we sent our dad a picture of the two of us in our Boston gear, just to piss him off — because while so many things in life change, some things never do. Like loving the same sports team and conspiring with your older brother to annoy your dad.
Then this past Saturday night the Miami Heat beat my beloved Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, and at the end of the game the crowd gave Ray Allen a standing ovation, and then Kevin Garnett, and the writing seemed to be on the wall — that we’d likely lose Allen, at the least, to retirement next year, and then I thought to myself this might be it for us, for a while. This might be the end of an era.
Loving a sports team is kind of like loving life. Sometimes it sucks. Sometimes you lose. Changes happen, injuries happen, people come and go, sometimes someone makes a bad call or a big mistake, but every now and then everything seems to fall into place exactly how it should, and sometimes you win big. It’s all about perseverance.
Later this year, when the new NBA season is underway, when we’ll know if it will be the Miami Heat or the Oklahoma City Thunder who will take the title of NBA Champion for 2012, I’ll have reached five years in Los Angeles. That’s a long time since I’ve lived in or near Boston, but I still love the Celtics just as much, if not more, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. The difference is, now I associate my love for the Celtics with the special bond I share with my older brother, or as a way to provoke my father into a heated debate, or as the fun that comes when I taunt my cousins and friends who pledge their allegiance to other sports teams elsewhere. Loving this sports team now, when I live miles away from where I grew up, has given me a permanent community and a connection to my roots, no matter where I go.
So, thank you, Boston Celtics. Thank you especially Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo. Would any of you like to be my best friend? I’m sure Bill Walton won’t mind.
Photo of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett via Celtics Title Town Blog