The Boston Celtics are the number one seed in the Eastern Conference NBA standings, above the Cavaliers, Raptors, and Hawks – now how does this happen? Do they even have a chance against number two seeded Cleveland (If either team makes it that far)? They certainly don’t have the depth off the bench, or the sheer talent of a “King James” and the rest of his entourage.
But here’s what they do have; legacy, blue-collar tenacity and a whole lot of hustle. The Boston Celtics have hardly been underdogs until recently. But then again, everyone likes an underdog right? It’s possible, unless it wears a green and white jersey, and Lucky the Leprechaun at center court in Boston Garden.
For fans like me who came of age during the reign of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Danny Ainge in the 80s, the Celtics were seemingly considered a “white team” in the hearts and minds of NBA enthusiasts. It was “Larry Bird’s team when Magic Johnson and the Lakers were the other choice (Adande, 2007)”. Film Director, Spike Lee reinforced these sentiments in his 1989 depiction of race relations in his movie “Do The Right Thing”. “Man why don’t you move back to Massachusetts”, a white passerby wearing a Larry Bird t-shirt is told as he enters his brownstone in a black Brooklyn neighborhood, symbolizing gentrification. I surmise national media coverage of public school integration in Boston, or “Busing” as it were throughout the 70s, might have played a part in branding a negative shadow on my team. But what rival fans who adore teams like the Knicks, Pistons, and Lakers fail to recognize is that the Celtics organization has always made attempts to do the right thing – unless you believe a three-leafed clover truly has magical powers, you know you don’t win 17 titles by happenstance. Its winning legacy has nothing to do with politics, but winning. That’s the formula –winning.
The acquisition of the “Big Three” in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen no doubt mirrored the progressive blueprint of the Celtics organization, which in my estimation was and is the absolute model for the NBA on the whole.
The Boston Celtics was the first NBA team to draft an African American player by the name of Chuck Cooper in 1950, which broke the color barrier – no team had an African American player at the time. It was the first NBA team to lead the way in featuring an all African American line-up; Willie Naulls, Satch Sanders, Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, and Sam Jones. You might imagine the hail storm legendary coach Red Auerbach endured during the height of political and social unrest in the 60s, which speaks to his character. In response to putting five players on the floor Auerbach told reporters at the time, “It didn’t make a difference to me what color any of my players were. I was putting the five best players out on the court so that we could win (Interbasket.Net, 2013)”. His team dominated the league and would later amass 11 NBA championships. Bill Russell would be named the first African American coach in league history, taking over after Auerbach’s retirement. Names like Paul Silas, Jo White, Robert Parrish, “Tiny” Archibald, and Dennis Johnson would follow. The list of gritty get-the-job-done players is too long to mention. So how can anyone not like the Boston Celtics — particularly if you’re African American?
Maybe those of us who are Celtics fans are getting too far ahead of ourselves as to whether today’s Celtics have the leverage to pull off a seasonal NBA championship victory. But even with relatively unknown players, they’re in the conversation once again. Not because of a three-leafed clover, but because of the organization’s legacy of winning. Let us not let the elephant in the room be a leprechaun, because we just may have it all wrong.