My dad has been a Celtics fan since the days of Cozy and Russell.
All three of his sons are Celtics fans today – although our youngest grew up a Bulls fan and rooted for Celtics primarily because rooting for Bulls has largely been an exercise in masochism for over twenty years now.
A few years ago, my dad started a group chat for the four of us, primarily to discuss basketball because when it comes to football, we divide our allegiances between three NFC Central teams. Last year, my two nephews added to the chat because when they were so young and impressionable, the Celtics broke up the Lakers on their way to the 17th championship.
And after the Celtics beat the Warriors in the first game, he added my niece, because in 2022, the Celtics are still relevant, and I’ve become a fan of it too.
I didn’t watch the first game of the Finals with my dad because I was watching it with my father-in-law, who was on a visit from Ohio, who became a Celtics fan in 1968.
Now that could be a cute story about family and togetherness, but we’re really not too soft — or hidden and traditional.
There are three generations of Celtics fans in our family because the Celtics, despite their late-’90s purgatory, have been fit for a commensurate length of time. If you followed the C’s into the glory of the ’80s with decades slipping into the mid-tier in the style of The Sixers, my brother and I might still be fans, but my father’s fondness for the team in green would likely be seen as a charming oddball. Grandchildren, like to wear dinner clothes or wear laces.
Instead, the Celtics are still around. Early in his career, LeBron had to overtake the Celtics to win the championship. LeBron’s last opponents in the Conference Finals before leaving for Los Angeles were the Celtics, and now that he’s undoubtedly on the downhill side of his career, the Celtics are still around.
The Celtics exchanged a pick for Minnesota that the Wolves could have used to craft Steve Curry in order to secure Kevin Garnett. Nearly thirteen years after Wolves used this Johnny Flynn pick instead, the Celtics made it to the Finals again. Curry entered the league when the Celtics were a force to be reckoned with, and they still are.
It’s hard to overstate the shadow the Celtics cast over the NBA.
For as long as there has been an NBA, at least one team has been coached by Red Auerbach, by a player he coached or by a player he’s acquired through recruitment, trade, or free agency.
The Lakers’ best years in Los Angeles began when Jack Kent Cook hired former Celtics couple, Bill Sharman and KC Jones, to sit on the bench. As the team boss, Bill Sharman drafted Magic Johnson, gave Jerry West his first front office job with the team, and then appointed him as the team’s first general manager.
Even during this recent dry spell — with the team having only two finals and one championship since acquiring Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett — the Celtics still top all NBA teams in number of games won and number of games played. Team C has won 105 playoffs in the last 15 years. This is more than Miami, this is more than Golden State, this is more than San Antonio. They have missed the playoffs only once in that period and have reached the conference finals six times.
And remember, this is a “dry spell” for the Celts.
When Nabisco decided to turn their relationship with the NBA into cookies, they came up with a string of “Dynasty” Oreos – and along with the Celtics and Lakers, they included the Heat, Tottenham, Bulls and Warriors.
But to me, those last four teams don’t make much sense. The first rule of establishing a dynasty – if you are king or queen – is that your son must succeed you on the throne. I mean, that’s it minimum. If you want to extend this premise to professional sports, I think you need more than just a set of tournaments that all came with pretty much the same cast of characters.
Winning a few consecutive championships is great, but what happens next?
If you’re a Bullseye and unfortunately owned by Jerry Rensdorf, then nothing. nothing at all. Jordan retires and the bulls return to being a good, profitable, and generally frustrated part of his real estate portfolio (I’m a fan of the underdeveloped White Sox; I know what I’m talking about). This is not a breed. This is a player from generation to generation, and the GM was smarter than he got because he ended up in the same place at the same time. This is an accident.
With the Celtics, you can actually build a dynasty: Reed Auerbach won the team’s first nine championships as a coach, and hired coaches who won the next seven. The 17th championship team was assembled by a man drafted by Red, and if C’s Banner 18 wins under the current system, the GM will be a man drafted by Red. The Celtics never really “blow it up”, unless you count their short and disastrous ride with Rick Pitino.
Now, you can prove that the NBA is filled with other kinds of strains – it’s definitely a testament to the kind of perverted skill that the Knicks were at the same time so rich and so bad for so long. And the Kings’ failure to advance even to the playoffs since 2006 in the league with more than half the teams doing so indicates a degree of incompetence that has triumphed even against the law of averages.
But if you’re going to talk about teams that have maintained the distinction for more than just a snapshot in time, you really only have two teams to consider. Lakers and Celtics.
And when it came to the Lakers, they didn’t become a breed until they brought in some Celtic blood.
But tonight there will be a different kind of Celtic dynasty in the basement of my parents’ house in Brookings, cheering for C for a win one closer to Banner 18.