Sunday, June 08, 2008

I Won't Let the Celtics Hurt Me Again

I've been watching a lot of the NBA playoffs during my unemployment. But, since 90% of the games are on cable, I've had to go to bars or my parents' house to catch the games. Luckily, the Finals are on ABC, so I was able to stay home on Thursday night for Game 1. Unluckily, it wasn't much fun watching the game alone. I was glad when Duane invited me over to watch Game 2 this evening.

Although it was much better than watching alone, I still had trouble enjoying the game. My loyalties are confused in this series. Traditionally, I've been a Celtics fan. My dad's from Connecticut, so I grew up rooting for their great teams of the '80s that featured my idol, Larry Bird, (Minnesotan) Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson, Danny Ainge and their many hard-working, fundamentally sound role players. The Lakers were the flashy, arrogant embodiment of the triumph of style over substance: in other words, the perfect representatives of L.A.

There was also a racial subtext, as the Celtics were an unusually white NBA team and the Lakers, like most NBA teams, were predominantly black. That may have had something to do with my conception of the Celtics as "hard-working" and "fundamentally sound" and the Lakers as "flashy" and "arrogant." However, my liberal guilt was assuaged in the early '90s by college basketball. (Do I need to clarify that it was men's college basketball? Would it offend anyone if I didn't? I kinda resent that imposition. Considering this is a blog, and a rarely-read one at that, I probly shouldn't worry about it.)

I became enamoured of the Runnin' Rebels of UNLV (University of Nevada-Las Vegas), a high-flying collection of African-American youths dripping with flash and arrogance. And when these showboats were upset in the 1991 Final Four by Duke, I became equally scornful of the prim and proper, predominantly white goody two-shoes on the Blue(-blooded) Devils. My apparent colorblindness as a basketball fan was reinforced in '92 and '93 by my helpless devotion to the Fab Five of Michigan, whom I got to see in person at both their Final Fours.

Even though I'm still a KG fan and like Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, I can't quite convince myself to root for them. They disappointed me by letting the Hawks push them the distance in the first round. After that I figured they didn't have what it took to win the title, so I abandoned the bandwagon. I was only going to support them if I thought they had a chance to go all the way. Once I gave up hope in their championship chances, I switched my allegiance back to LeBron in the second round and then the Pistons in the conference finals.

But in each series, Boston overcame stunningly inconsistent play (world-beaters at home, zombies on the road) to prevail, outlasting King James and the Cavs in a Game 7 nail-biter and besting Detroit in 6. They improved each round, though not spectacularly enough to win me back. My tender basketball heart had been hurt by them once before and needed more time to heal. Also, the Lakers had gotten on my good side by dispatching the Spurs, the gritty, tiresome 4-time champs who outlasted their welcome.

Watching Games 1 and 2, I found myself pulling for the Lakers, in spite of all the reasons to pull for the Celtics and the weak grounds for supporting L.A. Kobe Bryant is a great player, but not that cuddly. Most people seem to have forgotten, but there was that whole "rape" thing a couple years ago. It never went to trial, but still. Pau Gasol is good, but not particularly graceful or compelling. Lamar Odom is silky smooth, but not slick enough to consistently slip past defenders. None of the other players has established a salient style. They each step up and deliver when called upon, but, for me, the team hasn't developed a personality.

Really what I want is a well-played, hard-fought Finals. I'm basically just a basketball purist, after all. But I have to admit that I'm happier when "my" team wins, and, at this point, my team seems to be the Los Angeles Lakers. Although I have a feeling I would not be happy to see them hoist the trophy. Maybe my infidelity to the Celtics has ruined my enjoyment of their playoff run, and, even if they do win it all, I won't be able to share in the joy. That would be a shame. You see, non-sports fans, this is a lot like a relationship. Once the trust is broken, it's hard to go back.

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