by Lang Whitaker

Twelve hours ago, I was walking out of the BankCenterFleetGardenCenter and into the cool Boston night. I smelled like the floor of a bar, like stale beer with notes of champagne, both because I’d been among the first responders in the Boston locker room after the game and because Sam Cassell decided to see what would happen if he shook up a can of beer and opened it about two feet away from me. The streets of Boston were mostly empty, except for a couple of fans hanging around by the player’s parking lot exit and bunch of police wielding long wooden sticks; the game had been over for a few hours, and I assume the party had moved elsewhere by then.

Back in September I’d visited Boston to spend a day with the newest Celtic, Kevin Garnett, for a shoot and interview for our NBA preview issue. We actually spent the day in Waltham, just outside of Boston, at the Celts’ practice facility, where they have all the old Celtic championship banners hanging, which was a cool sight to see. As a journalist, I cover the NBA day to day, but as a fan, I love the NBA — always have, always will. And back in the ’80s, I always respected the Boston Celtics. The main reason the Hawks used to always get knocked out of Playoffs was the Celts, who played such great team ball and seemed to have all the necessary pieces to be a terrific franchise for decades to come.

Then Len Bias happened, and then Larry Bird’s back went out, and then we were confronted by the strange spectacle of seeing Robert Parish running out his career in a Charlotte Hornets uniform. For a team with such a proud history and tradition, it sure seemed to fade fast.

For the last decade, the Celts have been largely irrelevant to the NBA. Of course, that all changed when Danny Ainge mortgaged the future and brought in Garnett and Ray Allen and bet that his Big Three could get it done right now. I wasn’t so sure, though. Garnett, Allen and Pierce had never won anything, and the Celts didn’t really have much help for them on the bench.

But as these Playoff wore on, it became more and more obvious that Boston did have one thing in abundance like no other team had: Heart. KG leaves it all on the floor, Pierce just refused to let his squad down, Ray Allen played through injury and strife, even Rondo and Perkins sucked it up and got out there and got it done. For everyone picking against them (yours truly included), for every break that didn’t go their way, they just kept going and going and going. I mentioned this in my Diary last week, but I keep thinking back to what Celtics assistant Armond Hill told me just after that Game 4 comeback. “We just kept coming,” said Hill. “In the huddles, they just wouldn’t give up. Paul kept saying, ‘We have to win this game. We have to win this game.’”

As soon as the game ended last night, I got a text from a friend that said “Worst Finals Ever.” I didn’t even respond, because they weren’t the worst Finals ever, not even close — heck, last year’s Finals were way worse. Still, I know it’s cool to complain, to say the games sucked, whatever. But I don’t think that should tarnish the C’s win. The Celts did what there were asked to do. The NBA put a series of teams before them, and the Celts beat all of them. And then last night, they frigging snapped the Lakers’ necks. If there was any doubt about which team was better, the Lakers or the Celtics, the Celtics answered if definitively in Game Six.

Two months ago, I really thought LA was going to win it all this postseason. Between Kobe, Gasol and Odom, the Lake Show had uncovered a winning formula and been pretty dominant the last few months. But to me it seemed like the Lakers just didn’t want it as bad as the Celtics did. I know there are probably stats and charts and graphs one could look out to see a difference in the two teams, but to me it was more abstract than that. Boston just had that swagger and strut. LA couldn’t find the groove that had carried them this far.

And I know Kobe is going to get a lot of the blame, and maybe he should. Yes, Boston geared their entire team defensive strategy toward stopping him, and the rest of Lakers never really stepped it up consistently, but at the same time, you don’t think the Lakers were throwing the kitchen sink at Paul Pierce? I can only remember Kobe driving to the basket a handful of times last night, and that was in the second half when the game was decided. I still think he was the most valuable player in the NBA during the regular season, but Paul Pierce was the best player on the court during the NBA Finals. Plain and simple.

Looking back at that day I spent with KG in Boston back in September, he said some things that hold truer now than they did then. As the Celts celebrate their ring, let’s listen to his words ring one more time…

SO HOW IS BOSTON?

The mindset here, from the first day, man, it’s been first class. You see the difference in the organizations right off the top, just on how they treat their employees. From the small people who do community stuff to the people who do pictures, you see it, man. And it seems, just off first reaction and all of that, these people work hard for a reason: They truly believe in the Celtics, they truly believe in the organization. You can pay somebody millions, but for them to believe it is a whole other thing man.

YOU THINK YOU GUYS NEED SOME REINFORCEMENTS FOR THIS SEASON? YOU THINK YOU’RE GOOD WITH THE BIG 3 AND POSEY?

We made some real positive acquisitions and Danny, he’s been on it trying to get guys in here who fit this team. He’s done a great job so far. His dialogue to the players—at least with me, Ray and Paul—has been great. I can’t say I’ve always had that. It’s always been like dialogue just to say that we talked to him, just so if the question is asked, it was always like, “We had a conversation…” It’s different. I see the difference, hands down I see the difference. It’s very much first class here. When they say that they’re committed to winning, I believe them. It’s not just what they say but how they do it.

WHAT’S IT FEEL LIKE TO BE A CELTIC?

It’s kind of surreal. I came here the other day to work out and they gave me my locker, and I sat down it and I was right beside Ray, and we were both just looking around like…we’re Celtics, B. You know what, though? It feels good to be appreciated for what you do. I came in here and I worked out today, and you can just see the appreciation, not just from the people you work out with—the strength coach, the trainers—but all throughout: Danny, Doc. Every now and then it’s just good to hear, man. I hated that I had to leave Witt. Witt’s one of my favorites, Randy Wittman, he’s always been there, always kept it real with me, straightforward, I love him, he’s old school just like me. When they gave him the head job I was looking forward to that because I know he’s going to do things the right way. I have no regrets because what I went through got me to where I’m at. This is just a different chapter in my life. I’ll always have ‘Sota in my heart, man. I have a place there, I’ll always keep my place there, but it is what it is. I’m looking forward, I’ll embrace this new opportunity.

SO YOU GOT A NEW GIRLFRIEND AND SHE’S WORKING OUT WELL FOR YOU.

Yeah, my new girl is hot, she got all the curves, she can cook, she’s dynamic. And you know what’s crazy, I got people in other places that’s loving her, when last year she wasn’t really all that. She’s hot, she’s definitely hot.