It can be both a blessing and a curse to play for the Boston Celtics.
The blessing is the history. Players look up and see the rafters chock full of white and green banners. Look closely and you'll find that none of them are honoring division, conference, or attendance champions.
All you'll find hanging from the ceiling of the Garden are 17 World Championship banners.
These banners hang right next to the 22 numbers that have been retired by the team, the most of any team in North American sports history. 15 of the former players and coaches that have had their numbers retired are Hall of Famers.
The curse is living up to the history.
Everything that the Celtics do is based on the past. Players are expected to live up to the standards that the legends like Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, and Larry Bird have built.
And Celtics fans know all about those standards.
Boston fans are spoiled. While some other teams' fans continue to long for their franchise's first title, Celtics fans have a "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately" attitude as they wait for another banner to be raised.
There's no let-up in the pressure department in Boston.
Paul Pierce already knew that.
Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen have now realized it.
The new Big Three have given the Celtics and their fans a swagger that they haven't had in over 20 years. The superstars helped give a starving fan base the championship they so desperately desired after years of dealing with the futility of guys like M.L. Carr and Rick Pitino.
The title gave a new generation of fans their own piece of Celtics history.
Pierce, Allen, and Garnett became players that fans will remember for a very long time.
But they can't be talked about in the same conversation as the legendary figures in Celtics history.
Not yet, at least.
One championship is nice. People will see the banner and remember the major contributors of that team. They'll remember some of the struggles that the team had to go through to win it all.
But the Boston icons win multiple rings, sometimes consecutively. They considered winning one championship as the start of something special. The list of Celtics legends and the number of titles they won is staggering.
The original Big Three of Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish won three championships.
Bob Cousy won six.
Frank Ramsey and James Loscutoff each won seven.
Havlicek, K.C. Jones, Tommy Heinsohn, and James "Satch" Sanders each won eight.
Sam Jones won 10.
But they all fail to meet the mark set by the ultimate champion, Bill Russell. His 11 championships give him more rings than he has fingers.
Am I expecting the new Big Three to play for 10 more years and match Russell's record? Of course not. But for them to be mentioned with these great Celtics champions, they must win at least one more championship. And their time is running out.
All three players are in their 30's and they each have contracts that will be coming up within the next few years, starting with Allen after this season. Pierce's will be up the next year and Garnett's the year after that.
The dreaded "window of opportunity" is closing and this looks like the year that they'll have to do it if they want to accomplish this feat.
And with teams like the Lakers, San Antonio, Cleveland, and Orlando stacking up to make a run at the Larry O'Brien trophy, the Big Three are going to have to fight through getting everything but the kitchen sink thrown at them.
But Celtics fans don't care.
They expect to see Banner No. 18 being raised on Opening Night 2010.
Anything less would be considered a failure.
Welcome to Boston.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!