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My wife is a big Boston sports fan. So for the sake of happy little bursts of marital bliss I have backed Beantown teams (except when they play their counterparts from Chicago, of course) since I said "I do" coming up on 11 years ago.
For a while there, the satisfaction I took from their success had almost as much to do with Boston's perennial underdog status as it did my own situation. Late in the 1990s and early in the 2000s, there was a real kinship between Boston and Chicago baseball fans in particular, but really in all sports (the Celtics had been great for a long time but they had struggled for a decade, and the Red Sox and Patriots had been championship-less for just about forever).
When the Patriots won their first Super Bowl in January of 2002 with that glorious upset of a Rams team trying to win its second in three years, I was fired up. In fact, I was more excited when Adam Vinatieri put that 48-yarder through the uprights on the final play than I had been when the Bears triumphed in 1986 (take it easy Chicago fans - were you really all that excited at the end of Super Bowl XX? The Bears had blown the game open more than an hour earlier).
The only drama at the end of the Bears' triumph was how the carrying-the-coach-off-the-field ritual would play out, and wasn't it special when a couple dimwits decided to hoist Buddy "Delusions of Grandeur" Ryan on their shoulders at the same time Ditka was being carried off the field. It was a little bit of sports infamy.
And then there were the Red Sox.
Early on, while the Patriots were flooding the town headline-writers delight in calling the Hub (it fits beautifully in narrow sports section spaces) with wins, the Red Sox still couldn't get past the Yankees.
The funniest thing about Boston fandom at that point was the belief in the existence of some sort of Red Sox-Yankee rivalry. When one team has won 26 championships and the other zero during an 80-year stretch, it simply doesn't qualify (Cardinals-Cubs isn't quite as bad - 10-0 - but it is still pretty lame).
Both teams were good in the early '00s, however, and they engaged in some epic battles capped off by unbelievably dramatic ALCS's in 2003 and 2004. I joined in a little of the euphoria the second time around when the Red Sox pulled off that ridiculous comeback from 0-3 to finally knock off the Yanks in seven and then went on to crush the Cardinals (you had to love that) to break through in the World Series.
I thought my Boston-backing had run out of gas when the Celtics hit this year's NBA playoffs. As far as the local connections go, well, Kevin Garnett simply doesn't qualify. The guy took what amounted to a post-graduate year at Farragut High School on the West Side before rolling straight into the NBA out of high school. He's South Carolina through-and-through, and he never really out-and-out said he wanted to come to the Bulls when his career with the Timberwolves was winding down.
The true local hero should be Celtics coach Doc Rivers. The Proviso East graduate, who had strong runs through Marquette and the NBA, was a part of the city's storied guard line (from Cazzie Russell to Quinn Buckner to Maurice Cheeks to Isiah Thomas to Derrick Rose with many great players in between). But I still have my doubts about him as a coach. And Celtic reserve guard Tony Allen is a Crane graduate and West Side native but he has barely played in the playoffs.
The Red Sox and Patriots and even the Celtics are also appealing by the way because the best sports columnist working in the United States today, ESPN's Bill Simmons, makes his Boston fandom a centerpiece of many of his masterpieces. Simmons broke down Rivers' failings as a coach (including one that is just about unforgivable for me - finding ways to put the blame on players when things go wrong while accepting too much glory when times are good) about a hundred times during the seasons leading up to this one.
Rivers obviously has been better this time around, leading the Celtics to the best record in the NBA during the regular season and sheperding them through rocky but ultimately successful playoff series' against the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers. But at times the Celtics have seemed to win despite Rivers' highly uneven substitution patterns and his struggles to get his team in offensive sets that have any chance of succeeding in crunch time, especially on the road.
The Celtics also lead the universe in woofing and chest thumps. I swear to goodness Garnett is going to stop his own heart at some point when he pounds on his chest for the 18th time after hitting a shot that, while important in a given game, probably isn't worthy of the most ostentatious celebration seen since, well, since Garnett last made a big play.
And then there is forward Paul Pierce, who is still capable of amazingly clutch point production (the most recent example was Game 7 of Round 2, when he out-dueled LeBron), but who too frequently insists on many of the same histrionics as Garnett. And he did major damage to his rep early in the post-season. That was when he was accused of - and fined $25,000 for - flashing a gang sign at an Atlanta Hawk who had ticked him off. It was a ground-breaking bit of misbehavior on the part of a professional athlete, but despite the innovation (at least I had never heard of a star losing control in this fashion prior to this act) it was tough to take.
But in the end, who else are you going to root for in these NBA playoffs? The Pistons? Yeah, right. I have always been a Tayshaun Prince fan (the quiet forward is longer than a praying mantis and makes about a dozen smooth-as-silk plays at both ends per game) but no matter who is in the jerseys, they still say "Pistons."
And out in the Western Conference you have the battle of the Spurs and the Lakers. I'm not a Spurs fan for a variety of reasons (although Manu Ginobili is a great, great shooting guard despite his flopping and his having the biggest by far shnozz in the game), but first and foremost is their overrated coach.
People, especially the ones who now call Greg Popovich the best in the business, forget how he got the job.
Way back in the middle of last decade, Popovich was the general manager of a terrible San Antonio Spurs team. The main reason they were terrible was because star center David Robinson was out with a bad back, but still, they were terrible. Fortunately, it seemed, Robinson's back got better and he was ready to return, at least for the last month of the season. But at that point, the Spurs decided their best interests lay in tanking games and improving draft odds. So they kept Robinson on the injured list. Popovich then orchestrated a truly Machiavellian little chain of events. I don't remember the exact order of things but after hamstringing the Spurs coach, Bob Hill, by keeping his best player on the bench for a big chunk of the season, Popovich gave Hill the boot. The Spurs won the lottery, drafted center Tim Duncan, and Popovich declared himself the new coach. The Italian Prince of power would have been very proud. Ten years later, Popovich is considered an exemplary leader of men.
On the other hand, no one can deny that Popovich is in the same position as Phil Jackson after his run with the Bulls. He won't deserve huge kudos until he proves he can get it done without Duncan, the super-duper-star who is the main reason the Spurs have won four titles. Also, I'm one of many who are simply sick of the sleepy center and crew. Just go away already.
And then there is the heartbreak that is the Lakers. Specifically of course, Mr. Pau Gasol, who so obviously should have been a Bull. Watching him play a big role in a championship will be very difficult to take. And while Kobe wanted to be a Bull and has been amazingly good for most of this season, he mailed it in for about the first 15 games of the campaign while sulking about not having been traded and about the Lakers not having done enough in the off-season to upgrade their roster.
Wasn't it fascinating when, because the Lakers had not made a rash move in the off-season, they were in position to steal Gasol from the dimwitted Memphis Grizzlies in the middle of the season. Star players never make good GMs.
So go Celtics go. Make my wife happy. Just try to avoid cardiac arrest and gang warfare in the process.
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Jim Coffman appears in this space every Monday with a deep and abiding respect for the game. Except after federal holidays, when he appears on Tuesday.More from Beachwood Sports »
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Posted on Feb 15, 2019