Boston- Making our annual family trip to the Fleet Center, which later became the TD Garden, we’ll just call it “The Garden,” I would look up to the rafters and hear 16 different stories.
“That one I stayed up late to listen to them clinch in Los Angeles.” “They swept them in 1959.” “That was Cousy’s last year.” “Those years are the eight in a row.” “Russell retired after 1969, they weren’t supposed to win that one.” “That was Bird’s first.” “I was in the old garden when they clinched their last one in ’86.”
These are samples of quotes that my father would tell my brother, mother, and I while we were watching some of the worst Celtic teams in franchise history. Stories of his childhood, and his love for the Celtics. It was also a reminder of how right above our heads were the accomplishments of the greatest NBA franchise. When we looked down at the court, it was a totally different story.
Being born in 1990, I don’t remember Larry Bird or the Boston Garden. The best moment as a Celtic fan was watching them go up two games to one against the Nets in the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals, only to lose the next three. The banners above our heads in the “new garden” were just stories to me. There were pictures, and videos of Red Auerbach, John Havlicek, and championships, but I wasn’t alive for any of them. I was proud to be a Celtic fan, but jealous that my father grew up in Massachusetts in the 1960’s, perhaps the best decade for any professional franchise. My brother and I grew up in Connecticut in the 1990’s, the worst decade for a Celtic fan.
The last trip to Boston came in 2006, when the defending Atlantic Division Champions lost to the Bucks. Paul Pierce and co. blew a fourth quarter lead at home, and walked off the court to booing fans, who had seen the Patriots and Red Sox combine for four world championships in the last five years. While the Celtics hadn’t won one in twenty. The banners above seemed to get higher and higher.
A year and a half later, in July of 2007, the Celtics traded half their team to the Timberwolves to acquire Kevin Garnett. A month earlier the C’s traded their draft pick Jeff Green for Ray Allen. The storybook began.
After a 66-16 regular season, the Celtics eked out two Game 7’s at home, then beat the Pistons and Lakers in six to win their 17th world championship. I watched the entire playoffs at home with my brother and father. It was two of the best months of my life. The next fall, Banner No. 17 was raised to the rafters.
Our hiatus from Boston continued through a playoff season that became a disappointment, because after seeing the Celtics win an NBA Finals, the expectations became just that. No longer being satisfied with mediocre seasons we wanted to see an 18th banner. But before that could happen, a family trip was planned to see the Big Three, and the new banner.
My parents, brother, and I went to Boston on Monday night to see the Celtics play the Hawks. Anticipation grew and grew, not just to see a good Celtic team play, but also to finally set my eyes on a banner that I saw the Celtics earn. The trip from the North Station entrance to our nosebleed balcony seats seemed longer than the trip up to Boston from Connecticut. It didn’t matter. Once we stepped out of the concourse to set our eyes on the parquet floor, there they were.
“1957 was their first one.” “There are the eight in a row.” “All of those they beat the Lakers in.” “They beat the Suns in 1976.” More of the stories I heard growing up gelled together in my head. All the stories I heard about the championships I never saw the Celtics win; I could finally appreciate and understand how much a world championship means.
As the three of us stood there looking at the now 17 white and green banners hanging down, there was one obvious one, which stood out just a little bit more than the others.
“Boston Celtics, 2008 World Champions.”
Nobody said anything about this one. There was no need for my dad to tell the story of Pierce outdueling Lebron or winning the conference out in Detroit. My dad didn’t have to tell the story of Game Four in Los Angeles and the comeback that broke the Lakers will. Game Six in this very building wasn’t ancient history. Garnett’s unbelievable shot against Odom, Allen sinking nine three’s, Pierce winning the Finals MVP, and the Celtics and the city celebrating their first NBA championship in 22 years. My dad didn’t need to say anything to us. Among the three of us, no one told a story.
This time we already knew it.