An Open Letter to the Front-runners

by Kevin on March 23, 2008

By Kevin Henkin

The Celtics are a hot topic these days on local sports talk radio. I’m finally beginning to get used to it. After all, up until the exceeding-beyond-all expectations success of the team this season, the Celtics were generally considered to be a punch-line topic on the airwaves. You mean you actually want to talk about the Celtics??!? BWA HA HA HA!! They lost 18 in a row! They’re losers! Those days, of course, are long gone. Now seemingly everyone under the sun wants to share their keen insights on their new favorite team. I suppose I would enjoy the fresh spotlight on the team just a bit more if so many of the calls weren’t coming from this new breed of rabid Celtics fans. How can you spot them? Here are a few of the tell-tale signs:

They typically start out by scoffing at how badly the team stunk last year

Where to begin? Okay, based on the wins and losses and the infamous losing streak, I suppose the claim is technically accurate. It’s also a shortcut to thinking. Did the team have a lousy record? Yes. Was the record significantly affected by the long-term absence of team’s best player and sole veteran of impact in Paul Pierce and then the subsequent loss of Tony Allen? Clearly. Was the team bereft of talent? Not by a long-shot. The issue of losing was far more related to the excess of youth and inexperience than to the absence of talent. Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, Leon Powe, all of which are considered key components of this year’s title-contending squad, were also included among the hopeless band of losers from last year’s team. So too were Al Jefferson, Delonte West and Ryan Gomes, all of whom offer increasingly valuable skills and talents. The point is, you can’t simply claim that the team was terrible last year as a stand-alone statement. If you do, it reveals your ignorance regarding the complexities that undercut the team’s limited chances of success and indicates that you only began paying attention recently.

They remark that the team hasn’t been good for the past 20 years  

Yes, it’s a minor inaccuracy but it still bugs me. If the timeline is based solely on the title drought, then the statement is technically accurate. Otherwise, it’s false. Many will claim with the benefit of hindsight that the Big Three’s reign of greatness ended in 1987 with Kevin McHale’s broken foot and Larry Bird’s subsequent back woes. However, even after then, when those two were healthy the team remained dangerous and certainly relevant into the early 1990’s. Recall in 1991 when Bird smashed his face against the parquet floor in the playoffs before returning to scare the daylights out of an emotionally overmatched Indiana Pacers team. Bird’s dramatic return to the court in that game remains one of the signature moments of his career and of the Big Three Era overall. But, according to these new historians, the team had already faded well into oblivion by then. Then, after a number of ugly years, there was the briefly exhilarating playoff run in 2002. Okay, so it wasn’t on par with the glory days of the 1980’s but you can’t ignore the fact that the team was two games away from the NBA Finals. I’m just saying that it’s not like we’ve been suffering twenty straight years of last place finishes here. There were teams and moments during that span that were worthy of the attention. At least get that part of the story straight.

They express profound disbelief at how much they enjoy basketball again

This joyous disbelief is typically followed up with the offering of a few blatantly obvious points about this year’s squad (“These guys play defense, Kevin Garnett is intense, They have a deep roster, blah, blah, blah”). These folks generally fall into two age groups: The older types who haven’t paid attention to the team since roughly the end of the prior Bush administration, and the youngsters who had previously channeled all of their rooting energy into the Red Sox and Patriots up until they “discovered” the Celtics this season. Amazingly, both groups seem to wear their prior apathy towards the team as a badge of honor, as if they needed to be courted and wooed into enjoying the sport of basketball at its highest level. They are front-runners, and nothing besides.

Look, it’s a free country and people should be able to root for whoever they choose without too much harrassment. I also get the fact that it’s an exciting time to be a Celtics fan. The team is deep and full of soul and character and, oh yeah, also happens to posses the best record in the NBA. I understand why people would be naturally drawn back into the fold. All of that said, this newfound passion for all things Celtics goes down wrong to those of us who watched every game of that aforementioned losing streak, desperately searching for any glimpse of hope to arise from it. For those that took a pass on the team for all those down years but are now back to yell and scream and gobble up all the playoff tickets, if there was any justice, their newfound passion would be stamped with an appropriate front-runner disclaimer. It would separate them from the pack of loyalists who followed along with the fates of the team through both the good and the bad.

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