Pierce vs. Durant

As a die-hard Celtics fan, the first thing I thought of when I saw today’s Photo Friday theme, Three, was Boston’s so-called Big Three: the championship-winning combination of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. I don’t have any pictures of the Big Three together, unless you count this team photo from the 2008 NBA Finals, a picture I snapped from an oversize, illuminated version on display at the Boston Sports Museum. Although I clearly remember the 2008 NBA Finals, I watched the game on TV at home, not at the Garden with the Big Boys.

Nobody can guard KG

The Big Three play three different positions, so it’s rare to capture all of them in a single frame. And looking back on the various Celtics photos I’ve taken, we’ve often gone to games where one of the Big Three hasn’t been playing due to injury. So in the spirit of today’s Photo Friday theme, I’ll have to show you three separate pictures of the Big Three in action, and I’ll leave it to you to connect the dots.

Tonight J and I have tickets to see the Celtics play the Atlanta Hawks: our only Celtics game of the season. Judging from the number of Bruins and Revolution pictures I post, you’d probably guess that hockey and soccer are my two favorite sports, but actually basketball is my far and away favorite. In high school gym class, basketball was the only game I didn’t completely stink at. When I was a kid, my mom used to shoot baskets at the neighborhood playground while I played on the swings and jungle gym, and whenever my dad would come with us, he too would shoot hoops. Once when I was probably around 10 or 11, my dad asked if I wanted to join them, and I remarked that I was too short to play basketball. My dad immediately explained that you don’t have to be tall to shoot a decent basket, as long as you know the rudiments…and he then showed me how to hold, shoot, and follow-through with a basic free-throw shot. Once you know how to make a basic shot, he explained, the rest is just finesse.

Ray Allen shoots a T

Although I never had enough “game” to play in high school much less college or the WNBA, basketball is the only sport I can watch and imagine myself playing. When I see a precision shooter like Ray Allen take a free-throw, I always notice the basics my dad taught me: a balanced, grounded stance; a solid hold on the ball; a limp-wristed follow-through. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a playground with a basketball, but I’m sure I’d remember the rudiments once I worked off the rust. Even though my “game” is limited to shooting some occasional baskets with my parents at the local playground, my muscle-memory recalls those moves and revisits them when I watch the pros play, as if I could borrow their bodies simply by watching.

Earlier this week, I watched video footage of injured veterans from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center playing wheelchair basketball at the White House. It seems my dad was right about basketball. It doesn’t matter how tall you are; it’s a matter of remembering the rudiments.

This is my contribution for today’s Photo Friday theme, Three.

Celtics win

“So, are you guys going to the game tonight?” This was the question the barista at our local Starbucks asked on Tuesday after seeing the Celtics ball-cap I was wearing when J and I walked into town for an afternoon caffeine break.

Ray Allen heavily guarded

“No such luck!” I responded. Although J and I went to a total of four Celtics home games this season, we didn’t even try to score any much-coveted tickets to the post-season games. In response to our admitting that we’d be watching Tuesday night’s NBA finals game between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers at home on TV, first one barista and then another helped compile a list of reasons why watching a championship game at home can be better being there. At home, you don’t have to fight claustrophobia-inducing throngs of fans. At home, you don’t have to stand in line to buy overpriced food and drink. At home, if someone spills beer on you, it’s your beer, not that of the person seated next to you. At home, there’s no chance the person seated next to you might be an obnoxious Lakers fan, and at home, you can go directly to bed right after the game is over.

Ray Allen in action

This collaboratively-composed list of reasons why it’s good to watch basketball games from home was inspired by the mere sight of the cap I was wearing when J and I walked into our local Starbucks. If you want a sure-fire way to generate conversation with anonymous strangers in sports-crazy Boston, simply wear a cap for whatever team is currently playing, especially if said team is in the midst of a championship run. Over the past month or so that the Celtics have been inching their way toward the NBA championship they won on Tuesday night, I’ve been deluged with basketball-related commentary from strangers on the T, bag-boys and cashiers at several grocery stores, and one rabid librarian at the Newton Free Library who gave me a high-five the day after Game 1 of Celtics/Lakers series, the game when Paul Pierce suffered what looked to be a season-ending knee injury only to return, all-but-miraculously healed, less than a quarter later.

You can't handle the Truth!

“I thought Paul Pierce was done for when they carried him off the floor,” the librarian explained. “And when he came back in the game, everyone at the Garden jumped up and started yelling, and so did I, in my living room at home!”

And so that’s exactly where J and I watched Tuesday night’s finale to the NBA finals: on the couch at home, in front of J’s wide-screen, high-definition TV. And although we, unlike fans at the Garden, had the luxury of going to bed right after the Celtics finished their complete annihilation of the Lakers (final score, 131-92), we didn’t. We had to stay up for at least part of the post-game coverage, staying glued to the screen until we saw all the necessary elements of a properly happy ending for our favorite basketball team.

Somebody stop Chauncey!

Tuesday night, I couldn’t go to bed until I’d seen Kevin Garnett hug my all-time favorite Celtic, eleven-time NBA championship winner and basketball Hall-of-Famer Bill Russell. I couldn’t go to bed until I’d seen Celtics coach Doc Rivers actually–finally!–hold the shiny gold trophy he’d refused to touch until his team had officially won the right. I couldn’t go to bed until I’d seen Ray Allen, the perfect picture of mental focus as he’d nailed an astonishing number of three-point shots in Tuesday night’s game after having lost a weekend’s worth of sleep at his young son’s hospital bedside, hold that same son before cameras and thronging fans. And on Tuesday night, there was no way I was going to bed until I’d seen Paul Pierce claim the series MVP trophy he so rightfully deserves for his ongoing commitment to his team (injured knees be damned!) throughout this series, this season, and the past ten years.

Nobody can guard KG

An NBA championship game is only partially about basketball, championships, and bubbling bottles of champagne. An NBA championship game is also about endings: happy endings for the winning team, bittersweet endings for the losers. If you’ve ever stayed up past your bedtime with a good book because you had to see how it would end–and if you’ve ever felt a bit sad when you’d finished a good book because you know “The End” means saying goodbye to your favorite characters–then you know how J and I felt on Tuesday night. The Celtics’ victory over the Lakers was the perfect ending to storybook season, with a team we’d rooted for even when they ranked at the bottom of the league last year crawling back into playoff contention and ultimately winning it all. “Now there’s no more basketball,” J noted glumly after Tuesday night’s game. Now it’s time to say goodbye, for now, to the the cast of characters we’ve spent so many evenings cheering from the couch: Doc on the sidelines, Rondo zipping around the legs of giants, Big Baby or Powe coming off the bench to get physical on defense, Perkins looking mad and mean in the face of any opponent.

Where team unity happens

It’s entirely silly to grow attached to a group of guys you’ve watched grow together as a team for an entire season, and it’s even sillier to continue rooting for a team that hasn’t won a championship since the ’80s, before I’d moved to Boston and began cheering for the Celtics. But it’s entirely silly, too, to lose your heart to the imaginary characters in books, and it’s even sillier to hold your breath, excited and expectant, as you await the promised sequel in your favorite fictional series.

As social animals, we humans love stories about other humans, and as physical beings, at least part of us thrills at the sight of the physical mastery of a polished and poised dancer, an adroitly agile acrobat, or a well-conditioned athlete. As an admitted admirer of any well-told story, on Tuesday night I had to stay awake until a story I’ve watched for over a decade came to its fitting and well-earned end. Today in Boston, the Celtics held an amphibious rolling rally to celebrate their 17th NBA championship, but I decided not to fight the claustrophobia-inducing throngs of celebrating fans. Tuesday night’s happy ending to this present saga was good enough for me, and I’ll be back on the couch in October, ready to enjoy next season’s sequel as the Celtics try for another banner year.

Smokey rafters with banners

Since J and I watched Tuesday’s game from home, today’s photos are recycled from the four regular season games we went to this year. Now that the Celtics are champions again, we realize it will be much harder to get tickets to home games. But that’s okay: our couch is really quite comfortable.

Glen 'Big Baby' Davis rallies the crowd

Normally, if a guy the size of Glen “Big Baby” Davis got right in my face and started screaming, I’d probably have a heart attack. But when “Baby” appears in excited, larger-than-life glory on the JumboTron at a Boston Celtics home game to rally the crowd, fans don’t get scared: they get loud.

Battle of the wide-bodies

On Wednesday night, J and I watched Big Baby and the rest of the white-hot Celtics stomp the Phoenix Suns at the last home game we have tickets for this season. What I love about attending basketball or other sports events (as I’ve argued before) is the way the emotions of the game completely erase whatever worries or concerns I bring with me to the arena. Watching sports on TV can be similarly cathartic, but there’s something about being in an enormous arena with a sellout crowd of other rabid fans that works wonders for one’s stress levels. It’s possible, I’ve learned, to read student papers while watching televised sports; Stan Lombardo, for instance, once admitted that he worked on his translations of the Iliad and Odyssey while watching college basketball on TV. But grading papers or translating Greek classics just isn’t feasible if you’re actually at a basketball game. If you’re actually attending a professional or college basketball game, it would give a whole new meaning of March Madness even to try to squeeze in some work.

Like pushing a wall

The ancient Greeks, of course, were the first to argue that drama is cathartic, and the ancient Greeks were equally fond of sports: they are, after all, the inventors of the collective catharsis we call the Olympics. I suppose on Wednesday night I could have set down my grading pen in order to watch a play…but they typically don’t let you scream, swear, and stomp your feet at plays. Drama can be psychologically cathartic because you become subsumed in the emotions of others: watching Medea poised to kill her children, for instance, you might re-visit every hellish break-up or desire for revenge you’ve ever experienced. But both watching and (especially) reading plays is essentially a quietly passive act: the actors on the stage or the characters on the page are doing something, but you as viewer or reader are “active” only in your own engaged mind.

Baby takes a shot

For me, the most powerful emotions involve motion. When I have something troubling on my mind, I could sit down and try to mental it out…or I could go for a brisk walk and let my feet do my thinking. If watching a film or play offers emotional release by taking you out of yourself long enough to empathize with the concerns of fictitious characters, sporting events are equally cathartic with the added benefit of bodily involvement. No, can’t “participate” in an NBA game by jumping from your seat and taking to the hardwood to give the home team a hand…but the players, coaches, referees, and even arena security guards don’t expect you to spend the entire game completely silent and spellbound in your seats.

At least one of my sisters and several of my friends who are big-time film buffs would probably be dismayed to hear me admit it, but I actually have a difficult time sitting still for even the most engrossing movie: even my Zen school, with its emphasis on sitting meditation, expects practitioners to remain seated for only about thirty minutes at a stretch before getting everyone up for walking meditation. Does it come as a surprise, then, that I actually prefer walking to sitting meditation, and that my favorite form of collective catharsis isn’t sniffling through a sad movie but leaping to my feet to scream over a great play or swear over a bad call?

In other words, when none other than Kevin Garnett appears on the Celtics JumboTron exhorting fans to GET ON YOUR FEET…

Get on your feet!

…I am very grateful to comply. Yes, sir!

This is my day-late contribution to this week’s Photo Friday theme, Emotions. I shot the JumboTron images of Glen Davis and Kevin Garnett at the Celtics vs. Pistons game on March 5; the rest of today’s images come from Wednesday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns.

Ray Allen heavily guarded

There’s no dramatic reason why I haven’t been posting much lately; it’s just that Real Life has been playing me close and in my face.

Baby grabs a rebound

Today J and I went to see the Boston Celtics play the San Antonio Spurs: my much-anticipated birthday present. One thing I enjoy about watching sports is the way a good game takes you completely outside yourself. For four full quarters, you concentrate every speck of attention on a handful of guys trying to shoot an orange ball through a round hoop. For the duration of the game, you aren’t thinking about the housework, unanswered emails, or unwritten blog-posts you left at home; instead, you and an entire arena of strangers are united in one single endeavor: Us Against Them.

In real life, both of my semesters are in full swing, so I have the usual papers to read, classes to prepare, and a recommendation or two to write. J’s been sick with the cold I almost avoided, and my apartment back in Keene is in dire need of a thorough cleaning. I remembered yesterday that it was my nephew’s birthday: too late (again) to get a card and check to him on time. None of these things are exceptional: all of them are simply Real Life getting in my face and playing my “game” for all it’s worth. Am I up for the challenge?

Powe defends Duncan

It’s easy enough to shoot an orange ball through a round hoop when no one’s guarding you, but how’s your game when you have a defender in your face talking trash? Life, it seems, is no different. I could keep up with my classes at Keene State if I didn’t teach online, and I could keep an immaculate apartment in Keene if I didn’t spend weekends with J in Newton. If I didn’t teach, I’d have have time to mail birthday cards, and if I didn’t go to basketball games, I’d have time to blog.

But how less rich, nuanced, and diverse would my life be if I eliminated any one of these endeavors? If I didn’t teach, have relationships, and go to basketball games, what would I write about? Watching any player–even a superstar–shooting hoops on an empty court is far more boring than watching a close game between well-matched opponents; it’s the competition and challenge that add both suspense and savor. If I weren’t double-teamed by the players called Time and Real Life, how boring would it be to watch me shoot metaphoric hoops alone and unguarded?

Baby covers Duncan

In today’s big game against the defending NBA champions, the Celtics relied heavily on their bench players as starters Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins are both out with injuries. In post-game coverage, Celtics coach Doc Rivers explained how he prepared Boston rookie Glen “Big Baby” Davis for his match-up with veteran Spurs superstar Tim Duncan. “We had to remind him that Duncan is really good,” Rivers noted. “What we told Glen was, ‘He’s taller than you. You’re heavier than him. You’re not going to grow today.'” Instead of focusing on Duncan’s extra inches, Doc Rivers suggested, Davis should focus on his strengths as a wide-body: “[B]ecause you have a low center of gravity, get into his legs and try to push him off the block. You can’t get frustrated.'”

Everyone occasionally needs a good coach to set them straight, and Doc Rivers is as good as they come. As much as I’d like to school those double-teaming defenders called Time and Real Life, I’m not going to grow any extra inches, an extra brain, or an extra grading eye today or any other day. Instead, I come back to my center of gravity, settle into my own legs, and try to push Time off the block. Given the multiple demands of Real Life, I can’t get frustrated.

Click here
for a handful of mostly blurry photos from today’s game, including several showing Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis watching court-side as the Celtics beat the Spurs 98 – 90.

Over Red's dead body

The Boston Celtics were the last team in the NBA to get cheerleaders (pardon me, “dancers”) because Celtics icon Red Auerbach thought pretty pompom girls were a distraction from the game. According to one account, Red’s exact response to the question of when the C’s would get cheerleaders was “over my dead body”; in another, Red claimed the Celtics organization was “just waiting for me to die so they can get cheerleaders.”

Well, Red’s dead, they named the TD Banknorth Garden’s parquet floor after him, and now there are dancers striking poses over Red Auerbach’s signature. Rest in peace, Red. As for me, I was watching the score during a pivotal fourth quarter time-out last night, not the scantily clad women rolling around on Red’s floor.

Click here for a photo-set of images from last night’s loss to the Detroit Pistons. Personally, I think those sexy Celtics girls jinxed the game when they danced onto the floor at the exact moment the Pistons stole the Celtics’ lead and never gave it back. Call me old-school, but I believe basketball is about fundamentals, not fancy, ass-shaking frills.