It had been a long and winding road for the Boston Celtics and their fans.
No team should have to endure 22 years of futility, heartache, and unmistakable tragedy, especially if they are the most decorated and honored franchise in the history of their league.
There was once a time in which Celtics fans thought it was their birthright to at the very least contend for an NBA title year after year.
Once the Celtics had raised their 16th championship banner to the rafters of the grand old lady on Causeway Street known as the Boston Garden back in 1986, few could have predicted the free fall that followed.
The agonizing period of misfortune included everything from career-ending injuries to catastrophic deaths that confounded basketball fans for a score and two years.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. Before 1986, the longest the Celtics had gone without winning an NBA title was 5 years. The gap between championships in this instance was a little over quadruple the time.
So you can imagine how happy the Celtics and their legions of fans were last night when Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnet held the Larry O'Brien trophy high over their heads. It was nothing more than redemption for a long and frustrating past.
Back in 1986, no Celtic fan ever thought they could have suffered through a time period of more pain than sitting through "Howard the Duck", the undisputed movie bomb of that year. Trust me when I tell you though, nothing was more painful thsn this.
A few months after their 16th championship, it appeared that the Celtics were going to be unstoppable.
They had just a kid out of Maryland, Bias was his name, and several scouts were comparing him to Michael Jordan.
If their projections were accurate, the Celtics would be perennial championship contenders for years to come.
However, an unfortunate thing happened the night he was drafted. He went to a party and tried some cocaine, he apparently had so much of it that it caused his heart to stop, killing him instantly at the age of 20.
Len Bias's death not only killed the chances for a greart NBA career, but it also served as a harbinger of things to come for the team that drafted him.
The period of doom did not start off that bad, the Celtics were defeated in the NBA Finals in 1987, and the Eastern Conference Finals in 1988. However, after that, everything started to unravel.
In the early 1990's, the Celtics were disseminated by injuries. Larry Bird missed a lot of time with various knee and shoulder ailments, and Kevin McHale and Robert were not as dominant as in year's past. The Celtics were still a good enough team to make the playoffs, but they often would exit in the first round.
Then, just as it appeared that a young man from Northeastern University named Reggie Lewis was about to replace the retired Larry Bird as the team's offensive and spiritual leader, he dropped dead of a heart attack at the all too young age of 27.
The next couple of years were dreadful. The Celrics signed a way past his prime Dominique Wilkins in 1994 to spruce up their defense.
Although "Nique" was still decent enough to carry the Celts to the postseason, he was no longer the flashy and gifted player he was with the Hawks. Predictably, the Celtics were dominated by the young, upstarted Orlando Magic and quietly excited in the first round.
Then came, the ML Carr era, a period of time that is best personified by such quotes as "Who is that", Why is Dino Radja are best player", and Boy do we stink!" The less said about it the better.
That brings us to 1997, when a selfish Kentucky maverick named Rick Pitino was paid big bucks to restore the team to it's championship glory.
All he did was pass on Tim Duncan in the draft, criticize the fans and media for being negative, and cowardly walk away from the team 3 and one-half years into his contract because he couldn't deal with the mess he created.
Next came Jim O'Brien, an underrated coach who led the Celtics back to the Eastern Conference Finals in his first full year as coach.
The next year, the team defeated the Pacers in the first round but were once again defeated by the Nets who were just too quick and powerful for them.
Then, just as it appeared that the Celtics were going to make a run at another championship, another know-it-all executive came roaring down the pike.
At first, Danny Ainge ruined everything. He traded Antione Walker, he fired O'Brien for disagreeing with his methods, and he poorly drafted young players who were clearly not ready for the rigors of the NBA.
He also hired a decent, but often over-matched coach named Doc Rivers who coached the team to a division title in his first year, but then presided over a monumental collapse culminating in a 24-win season a year ago.
Fans had seen enough, just 11 short months ago, Ainge and Rivers were likely going to be run out of town. That's when Ainge swung into action.
A draft night trade brought Ray Allen, a man highly regarded as a great 3-point shooting who is virtually automatic at the free-throw line. Then, the messiah arrived.
In a July 31st trade, Ainge brought Kevin Garnet,a premier all-around point guard to the team for seven players. All of a sudden, the Celtics were relevant again.
Expectations soared from both the fans and the media. Anything less than the Eastern Conference Finals appearance would be a major disappointment.
True to form, the team did not let us down.
Their 66 wins were tops in the NBA, and they had the #1 defensive unit in the league as well.
Perhaps most impressive was their ability to win on their home court, losing there only 7 times the entire year.
As we had hoped, the season ended with the team's 17th NBA title which culminated the end of a long and tedious road back to glory.
Take the time to enjoy this Celtic fans, for we do not know when we will be able to celebrate again.
Given recent history, it may not be for a long time.
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