By Andy Kirkaldy
We sports fans have a championship-or-bust mentality. Where else but in the sports world can the Buffalo Bills or Minnesota Vikings, each of whom have played in, but lost, four Super Bowls, be considered some of the greatest losers of all time?
I mean, is Honda a loser company because it doesn’t sell as many cars worldwide as Toyota? Should we poke fun at Brown University because it lacks Harvard’s caché? Ridicule the “Iron Man” movie because it didn’t make as much money as “The Dark Knight” last summer? Laugh at the Yankees because they’ve been second best to the Sox this decade? OK, scratch that last one, bad example.
Still, the larger point holds. We all fail sometimes — I lump myself in for good reason — to appreciate the moments along the way because of our focus on the larger, supposedly be-all and end-all goal of a title.
Events on Monday night drove that point home for me. As usual, I was watching the Boston Celtics play the Chicago Bulls. At the same time on another channel the Boston Bruins had taken the ice against the Montreal Canadians. Both were first-round playoff games.
Now, I had for years been a huge Bruins fan. I’ve seen Orr and Esposito and Cheevers live in the Boston Garden. I’ll still argue passionately that Orr is a better overall player, more valuable, than Gretzky. I watched the Bruins win two titles back in the 1970s.
But I hate the Bruins’ cheapskate owners, the Jacobs, and have refused to follow the team for years because the Jacobs won’t spend money to make them competitive. “The Bruins are dead to me,” has been my standard refrain. But now the NHL has a salary cap, and the fact that the Jacobs are cheaper than Wal-Mart benefit packages no longer handicaps their product on the ice.
They could even win the Stanley Cup. They are that good. The lure of NESN was strong that Monday. I could jump back on the bandwagon!
And the Celtics? Garnett is hurt. Powe limped off the court; on Tuesday we learned he tore his ACL and is done for the duration. Rondo reinjured his ankle for the umpteenth time in the past six weeks. The frisky Bulls were running rings around the Cs. Hey, I told myself, they’re going nowhere.
After watching probably 70 percent of the Celtics’ regular-season minutes, most of them with my family (who would have never let me change channels if they were home), on Monday I instead mostly watched the Bruins dominate the Canadians when it counted (five shots on goal in the third period when they were nursing a one-goal lead). It was good to back a winner.
At the end, I surfed back to the Celtics game. They were down, predictably I thought. Then a funny thing happened. They still couldn’t stop the Bulls, but they willed themselves to score — offensive rebounds, steals and Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen going crazy.
With the Cs down five points with two-and-half-minutes to go, on their next three possessions Rondo drove and dished to Glen Davis for two, drove and scored, and hit a go-ahead jump shot. Allen then hit two ridiculous clutch treys in the final minute, one the game-winner at 0:02, offsetting the final six points by Chicago’s Ben Gordon.
Look, the Bulls will probably win this series. But watching those final minutes clarified for me why I have devoted so much time to this particular Celtic team. Even with Garnett, they are not as strong as the group that had James Posey and P.J. Brown and barely defeated Cleveland and LeBron James last year. And Cleveland is much better this year. The Cavaliers have the aura of an NBA champion.
But despite all the adversity and the odds stacked against them, the Celtics have hung together, played hard every game, and even won a bunch of them, like Monday, that maybe they had no business winning. They will go down with all guns blazing.
Really, that should be enough for any fan. The lure of the ice won’t make me switch channels again.