Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Celtics return to Glory-- the 2008 NBA Champs

Basketball is a North Carolina obsession. It is the other religion in North Carolina. If you don't believe me, consider the license plate pictured on the left here.
Basketball is a game played by the greatest athletes in all of team sports. You won't see any John Daly's or Prince Fielder's or Jumbo Elliot's playing basketball, at least not on any good team, much less a professional team. You have to be in remarkable shape to play this game at all, never mind play it well for 82 regular season games, then 26 playoff games. Basketball players are so fast, that most pictures, here of the fleet Rajon Rondo (our home boy, late of Kentucky Wildcat address), Kobe Bryant, and dear old number 34, turn out blurry. You don't have that issue with most other professional athletes.

This post is simply to give praise to the most remarkable franchise turn around in NBA history, and all in the course of one year. The Celtics since about 1987 have been mostly dreadful. I ought to know, I am a Boston guy who lives and dies with my Boston teams. They were called Gang Green (as in gangrene) for a reason the last few years-- putrification had set in. and this time last year Paul Pierce was ready to insist on a trade and go elsewhere, despite Yeoman's service on many bad teams. Finally, a miracle happened. Danny Ainge decided to do something before he lost Pierce and his mind, and so the big trades for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, both still great players, but beginning to show there age, being now in their 30s. Sprinkle in some good role players like James Posey, Leon Powe, Sam Cassell, and TADA-- you have a team who dominated the NBA from start to finish this year. They had 66 wins total during the regular season, for the best reversal of win-loss total in NBA history, and they lost exactly 6 games all year at home--- total counting the playoffs, (as in total domination). They were the best defensive team, they were the best road team, having a remarkable record against the supposedly tougher Western Conference-- they were simply the best, and they proved in in six games against a Laker team that had dispatched various good western teams to get to the final, including last year's champs the Spurs in just five games.

How did they do it? Team play, and great defense night in and night out. In other words, they won the old fashioned way. The sports prognosticators overwhelming predicted that the Lakers, with their much vaunted offense and touting the most offensive player in the league (in more than one sense), would beat the Celtics in 5, 6 or 7 games. Wrong, wrong and wrong. Red Auerbach would be pleased, especially with the never say die comeback from the dead win (as in they were behind by 24 and more points) in L.A. in game 4, which really probably won the series for them. Somewhere he is smoking an old cigar today with a big grin. I wish I could be in Beantown for the parade later this week.

There was a lot of lose talk in the run-up to this NBA finals about the Laker-Celtic rivalry. Those who actually know their basketball history know that there was only a Laker Celtic rivalry for a brief period in the 80s when there were the epic Bird and Magic confrontations. Before then the Celtics beat the Lakers everytime they played them in the finals, and since then, there has only been this year, and the Celtics won in six games. I don't call that much of a rivalry, when their head to head finals record in the modern era is 9 championships for the Celtics, and 2 (or perhaps 3 if your counting differently) for the Laker. That my friends is not a rivalry.

And while I am celebrating the news about my NBA basketball team, I will also celebrate that the 3 Tar Heels who had tenatively put themselves in the NBA draft (Lawson, Ellington, and Green) withdrew from the draft Monday, and will return to play their junior or senior seasons, depending on which player we are talking about. Along with Hansbrough returning this means we will have our starting five back---- HOORAY, a true rarity in modern college basketball. Equally rare is the 97% graduation rate of UNC players, not to mention no sanctions ever for recruiting violations. The Tar Heels live up to the state motto which reads --'Esse quam videre'

For those who are Latin challenged, that means "To Be Rather than to Seem". In an era of hype and posturing, both the Celtics of this season, and the Tar Heels most any season know how to do things right, and to 'be' contenders rather than pretenders, champs rather than chumps.

One little P.S. It was announced today that Tiger Woods will undergo year ending knee surgery. It was also announced that his doctor told him not to play, and he rejected the advice of his doctor. It was also revealed he now has a stress fracture in the left leg and the ACL will need repair. What should we think of this? Frankly, as much as I love Tiger and his game and his pursuit of excellence, this looks like a pure case of stupidity fueled by ego. He did not have to play this tournament, and he knew he ought not to do so. The biggest pity is that with his ego driven ambition he deprived Rocco Mediate of his one and only major championship, and Rocco frankly deserved a better fate. And dat's all I got to say about dat.


Dan Miller said...

In an age of free agency and 'hired guns,' rivalries just aren't the same. Guys like Garnett, Allen, and Gasol feel more like mercenaries. While I saw Lakers and Celtics jerseys on the floor, it sure didn't feel like a rivalry.

Josh said...

I love the Celtics, I will say it again, I love the Celtics.

I loved watching them play this year. They played unselfishly and showed great discipline on the floor. I have never seen team play to the degree that they manifest.

I found myself tearing up at Garnett's response to winning. It was great to see someone like Pierce who had played so long on losing teams get the trophy.

sgreene25 said...

Ben- I think you may be a little too generous on your boys in blue. I think you need to factor in a few things for the reasons being those guys staying, a huge one being Lawsons recent run in with the law. I say all this after being dissapointed that you mentioned Bryant and Rondo and then Pauls Pierce as "number 34". Paul Pierce the great University of Kansas alum. Come to think of it, Kansas has gives North Carolina fans, and Boston fans plenty to root for, and be proud of. First Dean Smith, then NBA Finals MVP Paul Pierce. Since you mentioned Kentucky I will toot my Oz horn and make it known that Adolph Rupp was a Kansan as well! :-) Have a good one!

Ben Witherington said...

Guys, I love Paul Pierce,probably my favorite player to ever play for Kansas. This is why I called him what I did. He was simply awesome in the last 3 games of this series. For a player like Garnett, whose whole life has been basketball, and having never gone to college, but going right from high school to the pros, and having come up rough in Chicago, this was a story of remarkable redemption, and I got a little teary too when Michelle interviewed him and he bellowed "anything is possible." That spoke volumes.


Neil said...

Kudos to the Celtics. I'm been a Lakers fan since Kareem went there when I was 13, but I have to give Boston credit. They played better and harder and had better coaching. It was disappointing to see the Lakers quit.

Ben Witherington said...

P.S. I had not hear about Lawson and the Law. I've been gone awhile, as you know.

Jeff said...

As a lifelong Detroit Pistons fan, I don't like the Celtics. I don't like the Lakers either, but I'm anxious for Phil Jackson to break Auerbach's championship record.

But congrats to The Celtics -- they were definitely the best team. And kudos to Danny Ainge for putting a great team together.

I might challenge you on your contention that basketball has the best athletes. I think hockey players are right up there. What other athletes go into the locker room to get stitches on an open gash, and come right back out to continue playing? ;-)

Ben Witherington said...

Sorry, I am not buying that hockey players are better athletes. I'd like to see them try to do what they do not have to use props like skates which give them artificial speed, and sticks to play their game, not ot mention pads and helmets. I would also like to see hockey stop the madness of trying to be championship wrestling on ice. Nuff said.


Jeff said...

No, that's not 'nuff said! The charge that hockey is championship wrestling on ice is made by people who don't know or understand the sport. I don't how many times I've heard the lame and stupid joke, "I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out."

Even a casual hockey fan knows that fighting is a part of the game -- it actually serves to protect the players. That's why it's allowed. Yes, occasionally there are incidents that cross the line. But that's rare.

We won't talk about the gun-toting thugs in the NBA...

Ben Witherington said...

Sorry, but I disagree. Fighting was never supposed to be part of ice hockey at any level of play when the game was invented, and it is dangerous with those sticks anyway, sometimes even career threatening.

I remember ice hockey in the 70s watching the Bruins, and you would get thrown out of the game pretty quick if you started a fight back then. I've even heard hockey analysts today talk candidly about how they need the fighting in the game to add some excitement and a bigger attendance-- shameful really.

And last I checked, no basketball players were allowed to bring weapons on the court, and if they fight, they get thrown out, fined, suspended, and the like. It should happen to the hockey players as well.


sgreene25 said...

Ben- I agree with you as well basketball probably requires the greatest amount of overall athleticism out of any other sport. The sport of basketball is elite in nature, rarely does an average size man 5'10 ever make it to the NBA, obviously there are the exceptions but rarely the standard. From their you have agility, quickness of feet, ability to adjust movements in mid air, etc. The only sport I think that can compete on the level of skill and atheleticsm is soccer. That being because the sport itself regulates against the use of the poart of the body that most sports deem critical, the hands. But in the end Basketball gets the nod simply because I am a Rock Chawk Jayhawk born and raised in Kansas! Great post Ben!

yuckabuck said...

Sweet 17!

Dan Miller said "Guys like Garnett, Allen, and Gasol feel more like mercenaries."

I didn't see Garnet and Allen as mercenaries, but then I had the pleasure of watching them all year. These were guys whose teams had made the decision to rebuild and were trying to get something back in return for their aging stars before it was too late. Garnett himself had resisted going to Boston at first. I thought it was a wonderful story of guys who had worked hard in very hard situations, had a chance to finally experience something better, and seized the moment. I was inspired by them.

(Gasol was in a similar situation to Allen and Garnett, but it did seem weird to see him as a Laker because he came so late in the season.)

Blessings, and still riding a high from game 6,

yuckabuck said...

1CO 9:24 "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize"

As I read your comments on Tiger Woods, this verse sprang to mind. Realistically, what Tiger did was probably dumb, and reminds me of Kevin McHale playing on a broken foot in the 1987 playoffs. McHale, of course, was never the same player after that. But metaphorically, doesn't Tiger's actions paint a vivid picture of single-minded determination to overcome any obstacle to win the prize, no matter how debilitating?

God bless you,

rob winslow said...

I too love the Celtics!
However, I must advise you to take a closer look at basketball greatness. Kansas rather than North Carolina is the original source of basketball greatness. Otherwise why would Roy have after being humbled by Kansas, sit in the stands of the Memphis - Kansas game with a Jayhawk emblem on his lapel? Could it be he wished instead to return to his former place of pride, the U. of Kansas?
Rock Chalk Jay Hawks

rob winslow

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Rob:

Well you can dream on about Roy loving Kansas the most, but it wouldn't make it true, he's a home boy from Black Mountain N.C. not to mention a UNC fellow alum from the same years I was there.

And as for Kansas being a greater dynasty, obviously you are oblivious to who has won more championships, and have entirely forgotten 1957 when we beat Kansas in Kansas in 3 overtimes, and you guys had Wilt Chamberlain and we had no one over 6 feet 7. Take a refresher course on basketball history.

Ben W.