Last night, J and I went to the TD Garden to watch the Boston Celtics play the Dallas Mavericks. When we bought tickets for this particular Celtics game at the start of the season, we didn’t know that Celtics point guard, team captain, and 2008 world champion Rajon Rondo would be traded to the Mavs right before Christmas. When we heard Rondo had been traded, J and I were saddened: Rondo was the by far the best player on this year’s Celtics team, and he was the only remaining player from the 2008 championship team. But when we realized we’d be in the house when Rondo came back to the TD Garden in a Mavericks jersey, we knew we’d be on our feet, cheering.
Whenever a former Boston sports star returns to town after a trade, sportswriters speculate about how he’ll be received. Will diehard fans cheer their former favorite, or will they greet him with boos? In my experience, diehard fans are loyal fans, especially when a player didn’t ask to be traded. In December, J and I saw the Celtics play the Washington Wizards, and the hometown crowd went wild when former Celtics captain Paul Pierce was introduced, even though it’s been more than a year and a half since Pierce was traded. When it comes to championship players like Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Rajon Rondo, the adage “Once a Celtic, always a Celtic” seems to apply. Diehard fans, in other words, don’t forget what a player did to contribute to the team even after the color of his jersey changes.
So last night, a sold-out crowd of diehard Celtics fans went wild when Rajon Rondo was announced as part of the Mavericks’ starting lineup, and we cheered again when Rondo scored the first bucket of the game, and we cheered even louder when a video tribute to Rondo was shown during the second quarter. As the game went on and Rondo hit shot after shot, the cheers turned to good-natured groans: how could we have been so stupid to trade such a player away? (Had Danny Ainge, the Celtics President of Basketball Operations and architect of the Rondo trade, been shown on the Jumbotron, I’m sure HE would have gotten booed.)
Basketball is a business, and both teams and players have to keep their eye on the bottom line: gone are the days when a player spent his entire career with a single team. But just because team owners and player agents remain hard-nosed when it comes to the business of basketball doesn’t mean fans can’t play favorites. Paul Pierce just doesn’t look right in a Washington Wizards jersey, and Rajon Rondo doesn’t look right in Mavericks’ blue, either. In my mind and heart alike, Pierce, Rondo, Garnett, and the rest will always be a part of the team that won another championship for Boston.
Apart from the first and last photo, which I shot with my phone last night, the other photos illustrating today’s post come from past games when Rajon Rondo played for rather than against the Celtics.