By Vincent Thomas
This is going to sound absolutely batty, coming from a Lakers fan; but, if there was one team that could mute the extreme disappointment of watching the Lakers fold on the grand stage, it was this particular Boston Celtics squad. Yeah, you read that right. History and rivalry aside, there is no sane way that I could begrudge this particular Celtics squad their trophy and rings — not this one.
A friend and colleague of mine recently wrote a provocative piece about a similar notion, except she came at it from the opposite end, positing that fans of the Lakers, Sixers, Pistons — and other 60s, 70s and 80s Celtics-victims — could only accommodate and applaud the Celtics in shame. Before last night, I was in partial, lax agreement with that idea, but that was until truth and humanity fought through my own petty, selfish, wannabe-diehard cloud of anti-Celtic hate. I saw KG crying, Doc vindicated and Pauly euphoric and thought, “Get over yourself for a moment, Vince. You gotta be happy for these dudes.”
That’s, right: as a Lakers fan, I’m actually happy for the Celtics. I don’t understand how any fan of the NBA could be wack enough to fight what I suspect to be the natural human reaction to this chapter in the lives of the men playing on that squad. Their collective story is far too compelling to dismiss. Failing to recognize the poignancy of this team and what they’ve accomplished, just because they rock green and white, is not only dumb and wanksterish, but corny.
If we replaced KG with, say, the magnificent, yet, robotic Tim Duncan; swapped Pauly for Flop Master Manu; subbed Tony Parker in for Ray; and gave Doc’s duties to Scott Skiles — THEN we’d have a Celtics team to hate. Otherwise, the Cs have been helpless and tragic for far too long and this ’06-’07 squad was far too likable to hate based solely on a rivalry that laid dormant for more than a decade.
Yeah, those Cs of the 80s got a lot of skin-color-love; yeah they were arrogant; yeah the were sneaky and conniving; but the Celtics-hate started long before that. Blacks had their reasons for hating the Celtics, but the hood didn’t have a monopoly on Celtic-hate. Almost everyone, at one point, hated the Cs because those mofos won all the championships. Well what happens when, for 22 years, a franchise is marked by the tragedies of two deaths, the comic-misfortune of losing out on the Tim Duncan Lottery and year-after-year ineptitude? They lose that mystique and become insignificant. Does anyone still hate Ja Rule or Milli Vanilli?
We all loved KG’s bully analogy, didn’t we? I found it ironic that the figurative bully he spoke of could have been used to describe the Celtics from 1957-1986. Sixteen championships in 29 seasons. But then Doc-n-the-two-Mos, Magic-n-Kareem, Zeek-n-Joe and Michael-n-Scottie collectively beat that bully down over the course of 10 years, until, looking up in the mid-90s, the Cs were an afterthought — unless you were a big Dino Radja fan.
So check what went down: The high school bully graduated, dropped out college, had a child die from drug overdose, another from heart problems, got divorced a few times, lost his job, suffered the ridicule of being a window-washer for 10 years and then, his luck changed. He found a caring wife, stumbled upon a great gig and started a new family. When you see this cat at the 20-year reunion, would you really begrudge him that happiness, considering what he went through for the two previous decades and given that he seems to be a changed man?
Two things can turn a team into Public Enemy No. 1: recent and prolonged dominance and/or loutish behavior. These Celtics exhibit neither. So other than arbitrary fan-chest-thumping — “I’m a Lakers fan, I can’t do anything but hate the Celtics” — was there any reason to do anything but smile after the buzzer sounded and you saw these men in extreme states of elation?
I’ve seen countless championship celebrations in my lifetime. I was too young for Jim Valvano’s manic, meandering sprint across The Pit floor in Albequerquee, but I did see Michael Jordan collapse on a floor in a bittersweet anguish and vindication, later hugging the trophy, still sobbing. MJ’s celebration — if you can call it that, with the death of his father as a somber backdrop — had remained the most compelling championship-reaction, right up until Michelle Tafoya grabbed KG near midcourt. Only arduous, well-deserved triumphs can effect humans that way; and only special dudes react the way KG did: naked. Then he gives us several “man, man, man”s and the bully-talk, which was preceded by Pauly entering the press conference, slamming his palms on the table and pronouncing, “Yall gotta hurry up! I got some partying to do with my teammates!” Doc was hoarse and humble.
Again, I ask: How could you not be happy for this crew?
My dudes, the Lakers, coughed it up. Kobe and Phil were alarmingly outdone by their inferior counterparts (Pauly and Doc). But I take solace in a few things: 1.) Bynum’s on his way; 2.) Kobe will play like a deranged maniac next season; but more importantly, 3.) The better team won; and most importantly, 4.) The cooler team one.
Enjoy this one, Kev, you deserve it.
Vincent Thomas is SLAMOnline columnist and SLAM Magazine contributor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.