I’ve mentioned this a couple of times here on Celtics Town (and yes, it’s something I try very hard to slip into casual conversation), but earlier this summer, I got my first experience covering the NBA with media credentials.
As a rookie member of the media, I experienced many things for the first time. I experienced the horribly embarrassing feeling of being rejected by a player for an interview, the excitement of sitting on press row, and the amusement of hearing Lazar Heyward cursing at Cole Aldrich. But most importantly, I experienced the pleasant, strange stomach drop of seeing real NBA players and coaches sidle past. Fortunately, I was able to surpress my desire to gawk incessantly at the gigantic men around me, but I nearly lost my mind three times.
The first was on the first day. Someone tapped me on the shoulder and asked if the seat next to me was taken. It was Andre Drummond, Dre Beats headphones blaring, sporting a long pair of UConn shorts, my favorite college basketball team. I stared at him, stammered that he was welcome to it and turned back to the court, trying to figure out the best way to Instagram the fact that Drummond was sitting next to me (I did, in fact, pull it off). The second time was when I realized, after 15 clueless minutes, that the two men sitting directly in front of me were Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge, literally so close that my breath moved Ainge’s neck hairs a few times. I texted my dad, who eagerly asked me if I was going to interview them (I wussed out).
The third time was when I walked past Larry Bird in a hallway.
I walked past Bird on Wednesday, and if I hadn’t known that my credentials would have been revoked for the final two days of the Summer League, I would have dropped my bag on the spot and asked for a picture. At least, I like to assume that’s as far as I would have gone. I can’t really be sure that I wouldn’t have flopped on the floor sobbing all over Bird’s incredibly expensive shoes, asking him to bless me with his magic basketballing powers. To me, a Celtics fan who grew up in the 90s, Bird represents a strange, mythical time during which the Celtics were amazing. See, I was never conscious of Bird when he was still playing. I sort of came online as a Celtics fan when the team’s best players were Dino Radja and Dee Brown. Celtic legends are mystical to me. They hold a strange power.
Selfishly, this is part of the reason I got really worried when I heard the reports that Bill Russell is undergoing heart procedures. I plan to spend a lot of time around NBA players in my career as a writer, interviewing and writing about them. I’m not saying that I’ll become so jaded that I’ll forget who I’m interviewing. But the sensation definitely decreased throughout the week, to the point where I had to slap myself (internally) as I found myself thinking about the delicious media spread provided by the Orlando Magic while asking Perry Jones III a few questions. With experience, the stomach drop definitely decreased, and it was kind of a sad thing.
I’m sure I would experience the sensation the first time Rondo or Pierce walked by me, but that’s not the point. The point is that, of all NBA players, Bill Russell is probably the second most mythologized behind Jordan, and the mystique behind Russell may actually top Jordan’s. Sure, MJ was the greatest player of all time and the most popular basketball player in the history of the sport. But Russell was more than a great player. He was a pioneer for black players, a player coach, a part of the most dominant dynasty in the NBA. And he was, almost inarguably, the greatest Celtic of all time. For a life-long Celtics fan, someone who never saw Cousy, Havlicek, Bird or McHale, but who has studied Celtics lore extensively, Russell represents the pinnacle of NBA history.
So stay healthy, Bill. Stay healthy for all the good you’ve done for the league and for sports as a whole. Stay healthy because, by all accounts, you are a great man, and the world can always use more great men. But stay healthy for my selfish reason as well, because some day I really want to walk past you and feel my stomach fall through the floor.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.