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.