The Boston Celtics looked old in the playoffs against the Miami Heat. They’re one year older now. Ray Allen is bound to lose a step sometime. Kevin Garnett can’t remain an All-Star forever. Paul Pierce is reaching an age when his downhill slide is inevitable. Rajon Rondo might not be ready to take a (further) expanded role. Jermaine O’Neal’s made of peanut brittle. The bench is one huge question mark. I don’t know whether the Celtics can contend for a championship this season. But we’re going to find out.
The world’s best sport has moved back to where it belongs, a basketball court. The squeaking we hear will no longer be David Stern trying to explain why negotiations broke down; it will be the rubber soles of shoes planting and pushing off on the hardwood. The Boston Celtics will likely begin their 66-game NBA season on Christmas Day against the New York Knicks. We don’t know how the Celtics’ bodies will respond to a condensed, shorter season. We don’t know whether they’ve been passed for certain in the Eastern Conference ranks by Chicago and Miami. We don’t know a lot of things about this NBA season. But we know there will be one.
After 149 days passed during the NBA lockout, we are finally assured that the Big Three era will not end at the negotiating table. It could end this year, next year or the year after. It could end to Lebron James. It could end to Derrick Rose. It could end with Rajon Rondo hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy over his shoulders. But whenever it ends, however it ends, it will end where it should, on a basketball court, with Kevin Garnett scowling, Ray Allen finessing, Paul Pierce methodically carving defenses and Rajon Rondo creating magic where it wouldn’t ordinarily exist.
Sports are unpredictable. That’s largely why we find them so enjoyable. If the most talented teams always won, if the best players were always the heroes, if Lebron James always scored 20 fourth-quarter points and emerged victorious against less-talented foes, sports would just be about the games themselves. Though that would still be fun, still an outlet to avoid real life, to channel our energy into observing bounce passes and alley-oop dunks rather than filing paperwork and paying taxes, we watch sports in large part because anything can happen.
We watch game after game because there are rare nights when Syracuse-UConn turns into a six-overtime thriller. Nights when some kid from Northern Iowa named Ali Farokhmanesh takes the most ill-advised three pointer of his life, and it falls to put the final touches on an upset of No. 1-seeded Kansas. Nights when Rondo’s eyes open wide, his teammates drill shot after shot, and before you know it, the assist column says 24.
We watch because Derrick Rose might play like an MVP, Blake Griffin might defy all logic, and Kevin Durant might score 50 points and drill a game winner. We also watch because they don’t always do those things. Even the best have off days, miss 50% of their shots and occasionally get outplayed by J.J. Barea or James Harden, at least for stretches. But that’s one of the beauties of sports. On certain nights, Tony Delk scores 53 points, Chaminade fells a dominant Virginia squad led by Ralph Sampson, or the Boston Celtics erase a 21-point fourth quarter deficit to win Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Big Three era will end sooner or later. It might end with a roar. It will likely end with a whimper. But it will end on the basketball court, with all of us watching and hoping for something special. The NBA lockout is (finally) over. Let the games begin.