By Kevin Henkin
Let’s face it. Some of our local teams are more fun to root for than others.
For example, the Red Sox teams of the late 80’s fell decidedly into the “not fun to root for” category, mostly because they were populated by a bunch of unlikable knobs who had a tendency of losing badly on the big stage. When they weren’t getting their rear ends handed to them by Dave Stewart and the Oakland A’s, they were either willing themselves invisible, bragging about carrying their own luggage or short-changing the grounds crew when divvying up playoff shares. The Sox teams in the early 2000s, filled with the likes of Dante Bichette and Mike Lansing, were similarly tough to root for. There were just far too many overpaid guys with lousy attitudes wearing the Boston laundry back in those days. Again, not fun.
Alternatively, the latest Patriots team certainly has plenty of likable players from Tedy Bruschi to Wes Welker to Tom Brady. However, despite all the wins, their overall likeability factor has taken a hit this year due to a succession of issues that include the ever-expanding cheating scandal, alleged poor sportsmanship from their coach and their improbable Super Bowl loss to an inferior opponent that simply out-gutted them to victory. Does anyone feel good about being a Patriots fan at this particular moment? I don’t. The on-going moping on sports radio and other mediums suggests I’m not alone there.
Carrying this theme over to the Celtics, remember how much fun it was to root for guys like Rick Pitino, Todd Day or Pervis Ellison? Root canal never looked so inviting by comparison. Being on the same side as Rick Pitino felt like being part of MC Hammer’s posse after 1990. In other words, in retrospect, it was a very embarrassing time to be a Celtics fan. Bearing all of this in mind, the likeability factor of this current Celtics team has truly been a revelation, the icing on the cake, if you will. Sure, their winning ways have played a large part in all of it but even beyond the W’s, this squad has been beyond easy to root for. Since the moment the Garnett trade was consummated, they have remained the NBA’s feel-good story of the year. It all started with the kumbaya pre-season trip to Europe and James Posey’s pre-game hugs. At the risk of sounding like Bob Ryan at his haughtiest, I contend that if you don’t like these guys, you don’t like basketball or even enjoy the spectacle of sports in general. Digging deeper, I offer the following reasons why these current Celtics remain a team that is huge fun to root for:
The Celtics enjoyed good health up until the flu contagion, Kevin Garnett’s abdominal strain and Kendrick Perkins’s latest shoulder woe. Regardless of those recent challenges, the Celtics have continued to hum along. Without Garnett, the team has won 7 out of 9, including those gutsy home victories over Dallas and San Antonio. The only game where they devolved into pre-Garnett form was that silly loss to the Cavaliers when they suffered from defensive amnesia. Otherwise, they’ve proven they can roll with the punches over the course of a long season.
They’ve Exceeded Expectations
It’s always a lot more fun to be on the side of the up-and-comers who shock the world with their level of success rather than the heavy favorites who don’t live up to expectations. Just ask the lucky morons (left) who root for the New York Giants. Yes, there’s still the matter of the Celtics competing for the real prize this spring but in the meantime, they have cemented their status as legitimate title contenders already. Many of us thought they’d be pretty good right away, and very good sometime down the road, but only the most optimistic among us believed they would be this good, this soon.
They Play Defense
Teams that are prolific at scoring but poor on defense are like bouquets of cut roses in the spring. They certainly look pretty but they don’t last very long. Big offense is always sexy on Sportscenter but it is the dirty work of defense that makes a team into a serious contender. Acting accordingly, the team finally hired a defense-minded guru assistant coach and acquired its defensive anchor in Garnett, then complimented him with James Posey. The end result is a full roster of players who have bought into the system. Fundamental basketball = fun.
The Gift of Positive Personalities
Everything that is good about this team begins with Kevin Garnett. Everything. You know that clip they show on the Jumbotron of him screaming like William Wallace just before the game starts? Chills. Gets me every time. How can anyone not enjoy watching this man play basketball? His ceaseless 100% effort is inspiring on every level, to both fans and teammates alike. It is impossible not to root for someone who has so much respect for the game and who submits such an effort towards winning.
Several other players are similarly likeable, even if you don’t love everything they do on the court. During the Knicks game earlier in the week, Eddie House made a sweet pass that was converted into an easy bucket. The camera immediately shifted to Rajon Rondo, who was on the bench, for his reaction. He looked truly elated by the play. That’s Rondo in a nutshell. He doesn’t care about his touches, stats or the exact number of minutes he plays. He’s all about the winning, which is an especially important attitude for your starting point guard to possess.
Even looking at the far end of the bench, you’ll find a likeable guy in Brian Scalabrine. I acknowledge that he’s not particularly skilled in any one area. You can also recognize the fact that he’s had a poor shooting year. However, you must also recognize that he never allows himself to lower his head after a mistake and his commitment to the team is always above the self. I’ll always root for a guy like that.
Enjoy the All-Star festivities this weekend. It’s nice to have the men in green fairly represented there again. I’m glad that Ray Allen finally received an invite. I’m also glad that Kevin Garnett is wisely choosing to save himself for the games that count. I guess I’m saving my full attention for those games myself. After all, that’s when the real fun from watching these guys begins again.