There are two minutes left in game four, and the Celtics are up by 4. The Celtics have just overcome a 24-point deficit, on the road, for one of the greatest comebacks in NBA Finals history. My 9 year-old son would have loved to have seen this. Too bad the game started an hour after his bedtime (though we let him stay up, and he made it through the first quarter before passing out on the couch). A whole generation of future Celtics fans is missing the creation of new Celtics legends — even if they want to see it live. They’ll have to settle for seeing the highlights on Sports Center tomorrow. I know it’s a business. I know that’s why the games start so late (9:00pm) and end so late (about 11:45pm). I get it. That doesn’t mean it’s not a real shame, though.
As I sit here watching the Celtics and Lakers compete in game two of the NBA Finals, I’m experiencing flashbacks. I was a senior at Brookline High School during the Celtics’ awesome 1985-1986 season, and I remember that every Celtics game was truly an EVENT. “Let’s watch the Celtics game — your house or mine?” You simply didn’t miss a game on TV. Even as 17 year-olds, my friends and I were aware that we were watching an historic team. My father, a basketball player himself who, in 1954, was the center on the first college team ever coached by Al McGuire, told me and my siblings all the time, “You will tell your children about Larry Bird. He is one of the best ever. Why? Because he makes his teammates better.” It was such a joy to watch that ’86 team pass, shoot, and play as a TEAM. And do you recall? NO ONE beat the Celtics at the Garden (well, they actually did lose a single game at home that season, going 40-1). We were invincible at home.
I remember that my Brookline High School graduation took place DURING GAME SIX of that year’s Finals, a game in which the Celtics beat the Rockets to take the World Championship. The graduation speaker was Kitty Dukakis (wife of the then-Massachusetts governor, and a Brookline High graduate), but I didn’t hear a word she said, because the kid sitting in front of me had a Sony Watchman (a rare possession at that time) and we were glued to his black and white mini-tube. Everytime the Celtics or Rockets scored, the new score would be passed through the student body through lightning-quick whispers.
And I also remember that Jim Craig (the goalie for the 1984 U.S.A. Olympic ice hockey team) attended our graduation, and when I saw him there, I ran home, got the Globe and Herald I had saved from the day after the Miracle on Ice, brought them back to B.H.S. and asked Craig to sign them, which he did. (What do you think these would fetch on eBay?) I was much more excited about the Celtics’ victory over Sampson and Olajuwon and about meeting Jim Craig than I was about my graduation. Indeed, I probably wouldn’t remember anything at all about that day were it not for the WAY I watched the clinching Finals game and my encounter with gold medalist Jim Craig.
What will I remember 22 years from now about the 2008 NBA Finals? Those two consecutive monster dunks I just saw by Leon Powe? Probably not. Paul Pierce leaving the court in a wheelchair, then returning to drain shot after shot? Perhaps. Kevin Garnett? Definitely. What a force of nature he is. But often, what we remember about a championship is related to where we were when the final game was clinched, who we were with, or what circumstances were present in our lives on that day.
First, let’s win….. the memories will take care of themselves.