The final buzzer blew and tears flowed. Not only did the Boston Celtics lose a heartbreaking Game 7, but they didn’t know what lay in store.
Futures were in limbo, and it was unclear whether the Big Three era would live to play another day. In the locker room Doc Rivers told his team, the grown men bawling in front of him, “You’ve still yet to have a true chance to defend your title because Perk wasn’t there.” And the saddest part was, we thought they might never get that chance.
Luckily, we underestimated the loyalty these men hold in their hearts for the Boston Celtics. Paul Pierce opted out of his contract, and we briefly believed he might head elsewhere. But he never even spoke to other teams. There was plenty of talk about Doc Rivers’ potential retirement. But Doc came back, saying, “We want to go after this one more time, and we have Kevin [Garnett] and Paul [Pierce] and Ray [Allen] hopefully all coming back, so why not? Let’s see if we can do it one more time.” Ray Allen, too, was rumored in talks of leaving. He was recruited by Lebron James to be the King’s right-hand man. But Ray couldn’t leave, either. “I’m happy to be returning as a Celtic,” he told WEEI.com via text message. “There’s no other place I wanted to be.”
Since the original Big Three era fell apart toward the end, breaking into 22 years of mediocrity, the Celtics have sometimes been criticized for keeping the crew together. Red Auerbach should have traded those guys away, some fans say. They should have rebuilt. But shouldn’t teams show the same loyalty to their players as they would expect from their fans? Didn’t Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish deserve to be Boston Celtics as long as they wanted to? With their devotion to the Celtics and the city of Boston, didn’t those players earn the right to stay put?
To this day, Bird remembers Auerbach’s loyalty to that Celtics core. “Sometimes you’ve got to show loyalty in this business, and Red (Auerbach) did that,” Bird told the Boston Herald. He did it for a number of years.” In some way, isn’t that loyalty more important than winning dozens of championships?
Many bad aspects of sports have been exposed during this NBA free agency. Egotism. Selfishness. Greed. A stunning lack of humility and grace. Everywhere you look, it’s Lebron this, Lebron that or Big Three this, Big Three that. Due to marketing, the media and whatever else, individuals have become more highly regarded than teams, even though teamwork is the backbone of sport.
But while free agency kicks off, the Boston Celtics — the same team that knocked both Lebron James and Dwyane Wade out of the playoffs — quietly re-formed to take another run at a championship. And they did it because of one thing: Loyalty.
Paul Pierce and Ray Allen could have chased money. Ray could have chased a title as Lebron’s sidekick. Doc Rivers could have went home to his family and relaxed for the first time in years. Danny Ainge could have blown the whole thing up and started the rebuilding process.
But they’re all back. And I have a funny feeling it’s mostly because they share a deep, deep love.