Here’s an excerpt from my piece:
Watching the Boston Celtics, though, floods back all the memories of high school basketball, a time when my team wasn’t a bunch of individuals, but a close-knit group of brothers. It is easily evident on the court just how much the Celtics care about each other and want to win the game, not just for themselves, but for each other. You can see it every time Kendrick Perkins sets a screen to free somebody else to score, or Kevin Garnett sits on the sidelines during a blowout and screams like the world is ending.
You can see it when Rajon Rondo takes fewer than five shots in an entire game, more than willing just to set his teammates up, or when Paul Pierce defers to his teammates for large parts of the game, happy to ride out somebody else’s hot hand. You can see it when the Celtics go on a run, and the entire bench is standing up and cheering, even if NBA rules no longer allow that. You can see it when Shelden Williams, fresh after catching his first DNP-CD of the season, remarks on Twitter not about being hurt by not playing in the game, but about how big a win it was to beat the Spurs.
You can see it in every defensive rotation, every dive to the floor after a loose ball, every extra pass to a more open teammate; the Boston Celtics play the game the right way, a selfless way, a way that inspires teamwork, friendship and camaraderie. A way that not only brings wins, but happiness.
I meant every word of it. I love the Celtics because they’re the Celtics, I grew up in Massachussetts and was born and raised a Celtic fan. But even if I were from L.A., my favorite player was Kobe Bryant and I bled purple and yellow, I would respect and admire the hell out of Boston. Not for how good they are, but simply the way they play the game I love.
And ESPN’s Tim Legler agrees with me. (Via the Daily Dime):
The Celtics don’t generate the lead plays on nightly highlight reels, nor do they dance on the sideline during blowout wins. They aren’t as sexy as the Cavs and Lakers. They don’t have a player capable of putting up video game numbers every night. What they do have is a group of guys that define what winning basketball in the NBA is all about.
The Celts share the ball. They defend on every possession. They accept roles. They play with energy, passion and pride. They look, feel and play like a group of guys that love playing together. Their balance makes them incredibly difficult to defend because teams cannot “lock in” on a particular player, set or area of the floor.
All five starters average between 11 and 18 points per game, and they can initiate their offense through anyone on the court. Despite claiming an NBA title in 2008 and winning 62 games a year ago, this team is the best of the three under the leadership of Kevin Garnett.
Just read that paragraph again. The Celtics have “a group of guys that define what winning basketball is all about.” Doesn’t that just have a great ring to it? Watching the Celtics play every night, I don’t merely enjoy watching them play. They make me proud to be their fan and proud to be obsessed with a game that can inspire such togetherness and solidarity.
Still, I disagree with one thing Legler said in that excerpt. He wrote, “They don’t have a player capable of putting up video game numbers every night.” But they do. The Celtics still have three Hall-of-Famers who, while getting older, still have enough in the tank that they could still put up some damn good numbers. Plus, they have Rajon Rondo who, more and more every day, is becoming a point guard to be reckoned with. If they wanted to, any of those guys could put up “video game numbers.”
They just prefer to settle for wins, ball movement, and teamwork rather than individual stats. They prefer to do the nitty-gritty things that may not look appealing to the average viewer, but make a true fan of the game envious of their teamwork and selflessness. They play the game the right way, and actually enjoy passing up open shots to find their teammates better looks.
Now, you can hate the Celtics for a number of reasons. You can despise Kevin Garnett for his over-the-top antics, his passionate attempts to break the Guinness World Record for most four-letter words screamed during a 48-minute span. You can loathe Rasheed Wallace for being such an angry, argumentative man, or Kendrick Perkins for his perennial scowl. You can dislike Rajon Rondo for his brash cockiness, or you can resent any of them for their incessant trash talk. You can hate any of those guys for who they are, how they carry themselves on a basketball court.
But you can’t hate them for how they play the game. No, not even the most passionate, loyal Lakers fan on Earth can hate the Boston Celtics for the way the play basketball.
Not when they play the game the very way it was meant to be played.