Thank you, Rondo

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.

Rondo on defense

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.

Rondo!

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.)

Rondo!

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.

Thank you, Rondo

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.

Face off

There is a long-standing tradition in Boston for the TD Garden to host both a Bruins and a Celtics game on Black Friday. J and I have gone to Black Friday Bruins games in the past, with the above photo coming from 2009. But today for the first time, we went to both games, watching the Celtics lose in the afternoon and the Bruins clinch a sudden-death overtime win in the evening. In between games, while the Garden crew scrambled to pull up the basketball parquet and prep the ice beneath, J and I walked to Quincy Market, where we had dinner and admired Christmas lights with throngs of Black Friday shoppers.

This is my (belated) Day Twenty-Eight contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Pregame huddle

The couple in front of us arrives soon after we do: he in a puffy black jacket, she in a leopard print scarf, sleek ponytail, and large hoop earrings. Immediately they snap pictures of their raised beers, carefully posed. Later she brushes crumbs from his lips, an act both intent and affectionate.

Sideline report

Three rows ahead of us sits a slim and angular young couple with asymmetrical haircuts. He snaps a photo of his food, which looks like macaroni in a white cardboard carton. They share one pristine black ball cap that she artfully arranges, first on her head, then his, then hers.

Strike a pose

A grown man and his elderly father sit next to me. The younger man gently helps his father out of his coat and pats his knee. “These are pretty good seats, aren’t they?” The father nods and looks around, more interested in the crowd than the game. The younger man occasionally leans to ask a question: “You’re not getting tired, are you?”

Snapshot

The family behind us keeps a running commentary throughout the game. “Post it up, Sully!” I never turn around, so they are invisible to me, just a row of voices straight behind and to either side. “Ref, he traveled!” When I stand at halftime, their stray peanut shells crackle under my feet. “Hey, that’s a foul!”

Sea of screens

Twenty rows ahead of us, the sportswriters sit tightly packed behind a sea of screens. During the first half, those screens flash tweets, game stats, and highlights from other games. At halftime, the sportswriters’ fingers fly as they tap out updates, reports, and other missives: everything that’s happening here and now.

Jump ball

We leave at the end of the third quarter in deference to my still-weakened lungs; the elderly man beside me seems surprised when we rise to go. As fans flood into the crowded concourse in search of beer and snacks, we silently glide down a wide, empty stairway, slipping unnoticed into the night on our way to the train.

This is my Day Eight contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Bill Russell statue

Yesterday on our way to the New England Aquarium, J and I stopped to take a few photos of the new statue honoring Celtics legend Bill Russell. I knew the statue was located somewhere on City Hall Plaza, so as J and I weathered the brutally cold wind on our walk from Government Center to Faneuil Hall, I told him to be on the lookout for a seven-foot statue, figuring it would be impossible to miss.

Bill Russell statue

Bill Russell is by far my all-time favorite Celtics player. He has the distinction of having won two NCAA championship titles, an Olympic gold medal, and more NBA championship rings than he has fingers to wear them on. Russell was the first African-American to coach an NBA team, serving as a player-coach for three of his thirteen professional seasons, and he revolutionized the way basketball is played by excelling at both defense and rebounding. Before Bill Russell, centers were instructed to play flat-footed, as if jumping were unseemly for a tall man. Bill Russell ignored this advice and became a shot-blocking and rebounding machine, his agility as impressive as his height.

Bill Russell statue

Boston has a fondness for erecting statues of sports heroes. There’s a statue of Bobby Orr flying through the air outside the TD Garden, a statue of Doug Flutie preparing to release his famous Hail Mary pass outside Boston College’s Alumni Stadium, and a statue of Red Auerbach–the Celtics coach with the foresight to acquire Bill Russell–sitting with a victory cigar at Quincy Market. But all of those statues focus exclusively on sports, showing their subject in a quintessential moment of victory. Bill Russell’s statue, on the other hand, focuses on his community work as much as his athletic ability: surrounding the bronze image of Russell in his #6 Celtics jersey are stone plinths with quotes from Russell’s stint as an outspoken advocate of civil rights and community mentoring.

Bill Russell statue

If “all” Bill Russel had done was win eleven championships as a member of the Boston Celtics, that might have been enough to earn him a statue. But it is his commitment to social justice and political activism that earned him a 2010 Medal of Freedom, and it is these same qualities that are commemorated in the stones that surround his likeness on City Hall Plaza. I’d like to think that long after Bill Russell’s exploits on the basketball court are forgotten, young people passing his statue will stop to consider the tall, lanky man who encourages them to reach higher than they ever thought possible.

Bill Russell statue

This is my Day 25 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Excuse me...

“Are you a real Celtics fan,” a fellow wrapped in a Brazilian flag asked J as we made our way to our seats at Sunday night’s exhibition game, or “friendly,” between the New England Revolution and the Brazilian soccer team Cruziero. When J nodded that yes, we’re real Celtics fans, the man in the flag asked the obvious question. “So what are you doing here?”

En masse

Sunday night was Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, and with the series tied at 2-2, Game 5 was a crucial game. If we were “real” Celtics fans, we would have spent Sunday night at home glued to our TVs, or we would have paid an arm and a leg to buy tickets to see the game live. Instead, we were at Gillette Stadium rooting for the Revs.

Sunday night’s friendly between the Revs and Cruziero doesn’t officially count toward either team’s season record, and judging from the 4-0 loss the Revs suffered in last month’s friendly against the Portuguese soccer club Benfica, we suspected we were in for another drubbing. As much as we love the Revs, we know they aren’t a world-class team. Watching the Revs play Benfica or Cruziero is like watching a college baseball team take on the Red Sox, as happens every year during spring training. The experience is awe-inspiring for the college kids, who get to take the field with their heroes, and it provides some good practice for the pros as they prepare for another long season. But no one expects the college kids to actually beat the pros.

Celtic pride

And so it’s been with the various friendlies we’ve attended. We love the huge crowds of colorfully dressed fans who show up for these matches, and we love the chance to see teams with an international (rather than merely local) fan-base. But we knew going into Sunday night’s match that the Revs would probably lose…and we were okay with that, knowing the role of any friendly is to give fans a good show and players a chance to stay in shape during mid-season hiatuses.

So while we did our part to cheer on the New England Revolution simply by showing up, we left our Revs hats, jerseys, and soccer scarves at home and came to the game dressed in Celtics green. Knowing that the Revs would probably lose to Cruziero, we put our sartorial eggs in a whole other basket. With a crucial championship game on the line, we wore our lucky green Celtics shirts and discovered that basketball is one thing that both Brazilian and American fans can agree on.

Sneaking around Shalrie

“Did you see that game where Ray Allen was on fire,” the guy in the Brazilian flag asked once he’d determined our status as real Celtics fans, “and then the next game, where he couldn’t make a shot?” After spending a few moments trading Celtics stories with the flag-wrapped fan, we later encountered a pair of Brazilian women looking for someone to take their picture. “Look,” I overhead one remark to the other. “The lady in the Celtics hat…ask her!” Perhaps because Celtics green and white is a bit reminiscent of Brazilian green and yellow, Sunday night’s Cruziero fans seemed much friendlier to us than they probably would have been if we’d been decked out in Revolution red, white, and blue. Because we were advertising our allegiance to a world-class basketball team, we didn’t look like rivals, just crazy fans who’d wandered into the wrong sports venue.

Beat LA!

During the half, we discovered we weren’t the only real Celtics fans in attendance. Wandering over to the Gillette Stadium footbridge, where you can see the billboard-sized television screen outside CBS Scene restaurant, we encountered a throng of fans watching the opening tip-off to Game 5 from afar. As we walked back to our seats, we met a pair of diehard Cruziero fans who were gesticulating at our green shirts. “Let’s go, Celtics!” one woman shouted, and I countered with a one-woman version of the classic “Beat LA” chant.

It was nice, in other words, to let our Celtics pride shine while we got friendly with soccer hooligans. After watching Cruziero score two goals against our beloved Revs, we left the match ten minutes early, before Cruziero scored a third and final time, so we could listen to the Celtics game on the drive home. As luck would have it, we got home in time to watch the second half, and the Celtics won. Tonight, we’ll be glued to our TV for Game 6, like any real fan. It’s fine and good for Cruziero to beat the Revolution, but tonight is all about the Celtics winning their 18th championship banner by beating LA. There’s nothing friendly about that.

Click here for a photo-set from Sunday night’s friendly between the Revs and Cruziero…and go Celtics!

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