My first experience with the Celtics came from the Larry Bird poster that hung above a Stinky Cheese Man poster in my semi-converted basement as a kid.

By Shaun Whalen

Mom had a crush on Larry and kept the poster up as a way to rankle Dad.  

I spent hours down there as the younger, chubbier, and—frankly—nerdier brother (yet destined to be charming, funny, and athletic…but who’s counting?) playing with action figures.  I only vaguely knew about “Larry Legend”…I spent most of my childhood calling him Larry Swan/Pigeon in an ill-advised (if not phenomenal) attempt at a Dad joke. In truth the NBA was a distant thought for most of childhood.  I knew Jordan was Jordan and what else mattered?

Basketball took hold during high school with most of my eyes on UConn—the college where my parents had met, my brother chose to attend, and I would eventually join.  I was still just eleven when UConn won the first national championship (for the Men anyway); my family was on vacation in Disney World and I remember my Dad—the humblest of men—making fun of anyone wearing a Duke shirt the next day.  Watching Dad gear up another volley as the line snaked over itself again and again into Spaceship Earth has only gotten better with age.

I entered UConn while my brother was a senior.  For the first time in my life, I had access to CSN and the Celtics on a consistent basis.  At some point, my brother and I agreed to officially become Celtics fans. We had been handed the Red Sox as kids, but the rest has been up to us.  With a Rookie-Rondo, Sebastian Telfair, and Delonte West on the team…how could our fandom go wrong?

In truth, the first team I liked was one of the worst in Celts history.  The result was a top-5 pick—ironically enough—Jeff Green whom would make his way to the Celts.  This, of course, eventually turned into Ray Allen (A HUSKY!), and subsequently The Big Ticket, and then Banner17.  

I had stumbled into a championship, but also an addiction.  The NBA grew bigger and bigger and the Celtics remained in the spotlight, whether because of the injuries that plagued the next few playoff runs (Perk’s knee in Game 7 of the Finals, KG’s knee in the playoffs, or then Rondo’s elbow crushed by Flash) or the eventual trade for the Nets picks. In ten years I had experienced every kind of emotion you are allowed in a team and it was incredible.  Nothing would stop me from there.

Red Auerbach once said, “The Celtics are not a basketball team, they are a way of life.”  In a weary world, the Celtics can still shine bright in their moments of wonderfulness. Not every player will be exemplary, nor will they win the O’Brien Trophy every year, but the Celtics provide an anchor for so much more.  

No matter how we progress, our history matters.  Our is a collective, a word to ensure we are all engaged, and in that way the Celtics have shone themselves progressive.  While Bill Russell struggled with racism throughout his time in Boston, The Celtics showed no such prejudice.  Russell stands as a paradigm of human, activist, and humanitarian.  Oh…he also won eleven championships and had the NBA Finals MVP trophy named after him.

Larry crossed all racial lines by accusing anyone of putting a white guy on him as, “Disrespect.”  The sweltering Garden provided the backdrop for YoutubeNBAPorn. Paul Pierce called game (even if it was in a different uniform).  Rondo was……well, Rondo. IT4 stepped in to fill a vacuum and emerged a Boston legend.

The NBA has grown by leaps and bounds, but its seminal organization matters more than the rest.  While New York will claim the “Mecca of Basketball” and LA will flash its “Showtime” banners, The Parquet maintains as the substance of NBA basketball.  

And now there is a new generation of greatness beset upon Causeway.

To be robbed of Gordon Hayward in his first season in green is mutiny, yet it has provided the sustenance to feed our young Jays and their blooming plumage; wings that will aid the raising of Banner18.  Kyrie’s fortuitous request to leave the Castle of The King has already provided highlights that some Youngbloods do not yet understand the significance of. Marcus Smart and his unending nerve give a base for the old heads to cling to—days when substance and effort mattered more than slick and skill.  The current incantation of the Celtics show us what a well-managed, coached, and constructed team can be capable of.

Until they are capable of more.  And those days are coming.

So often in life (and sports), we forget about the journey.  But the journey is the root of worth. It is folly to think these Celtics will win this year—it is possible, but potential is tantalizing in its richness.  This is not a plea to give up on the season, but rather a challenge to see what can be made. Each step taken is another that will not have to be made next year, or the year after, or the year after that.  And while the NBA can change in a heartbeat, our reality is that these Celtics have what it takes.

Now, all it takes is time.      


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