By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

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The Celtics’ — and Ryan’s — great run

Ray Allen in 2008

I can’t add to what’s already been said about the Celtics — noble, selfless, you know the rest. What is astonishing is that all the good Celtics teams — Russell’s, Cowens’, Bird’s and the current bunch — have had the same basic team ethic in a league of freelancing showoffs. We’ve been privileged to live in Boston.

Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan rises to the occasion, just as we knew he would. Hard to believe he won’t be around for the next NBA playoffs.

And his stablemate Dan Shaughnessy debases himself by asking whether Ray Allen’s improved play was part of his “salary drive.” You’re excused for wondering if Shank is referring to a different Ray Allen. But no, he’s talking about the one in the green uniform, 36 years old, in need of ankle surgery, out there for long minutes every game because of Avery Bradley’s injury.

Emily Rooney lit into Shaughnessy on “Beat the Press” last Friday. Well-deserved.

My basketball predictions are worth precisely what you’re paying for them. But to listen to the chatter, you’d think they were going to finish last next year, and I don’t buy it. Allen will probably leave. But I’ll bet Kevin Garnett comes back and they’ll make another decent playoff run next year — if not quite as thrilling as this year’s.

Photo via Wikipedia.

Hockey, race and the ghosts of Boston’s past

Joel Ward in 2011

No rational person thinks the racist tweets that followed the Bruins’ loss at the hands of Joel Ward on Wednesday represented any more than a tiny, ignorant minority of hockey fans (see this, this and this).

But there’s still something uncomfortable about hockey and race, especially in a city whose racial history is as troubled as ours. (And no, we don’t know how many of those offensive tweets came from Boston.)

The fact is that there has always been a certain subset — subspecies? — of hockey fan who likes the sport in part because nearly all the players are white. I grew up here, and I heard plenty to that effect when I was a teenager, and even in my 20s.

It’s no accident that the Bruins of Bobby Orr (two championships) were far more popular than the Celtics of Bill Russell (11). Or that the Celtics finally became the toast of the town after the face of the franchise turned white, first with Dave Cowens and later with Larry Bird.

Of course, Boston is not the same city today that it was in the 1970s and ’80s. The Celtics of recent years, led by three star African-American players and a black coach, have been as loved as any team in Boston. Even the Red Sox have put their ugly past behind them.

But there’s a context for hockey that doesn’t exist in other, more integrated sports. Among other things, Boston Herald writer Ron Borges couldn’t have made his non-racist but stupid observation about Tim Thomas with any other sport because getting beat by a black player would have been entirely unremarkable.

And the mouth-breathing racist fans who tweeted the “N”-word would have long since come to terms with minority athletes (or stopped watching) if we were talking about any sport other than hockey.

It’s not the NHL’s fault that there are so few black hockey players — it’s a function of geography and culture. Indeed, Major League Baseball itself has very few African-American players today, a demise that has been masked in part by the rise of Latino players of color.

Nor does this have anything to do with the vast majority of hockey fans. I don’t like hockey, but I know plenty of people who do. And they are good, decent people who follow the Celtics, the Patriots and the Red Sox just as avidly as they do the Bruins.

But race is an issue in hockey in ways that it just isn’t in other sports. And when you combine that volatility with Boston’s reputation, what happened this week was perhaps inevitable.

Photo (cc) by clydeorama and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Sox talk

Mrs. Media Nation and I were in a bar along with two other couples on Saturday, pleased to be parked near a screen that had the Red Sox-Yankees game on rather than the Bruins. Once it got to 9-0, I figured even the Sox’ bullpen couldn’t blow it.

By the time we left, it was 9-8. I caught the rest of the disaster after we walked home.

I don’t have much to say about the Red Sox’ start except for a few obvious observations. It’s not Bobby Valentine’s fault. I’d like to see Daniel Bard make it as a starter, but the bullpen implosion might negate that. The injuries have been devastating, but there’s more than enough high-priced talent on the field that they should be playing a lot better. As for the small sample size, I’m inclined to combine their miserable start this year with their miserable finish in 2011. That’s not a small sample.

Anyway — have at it. And I hope the Celtics go on a run.

Dan Shaughnessy by the numbers

Why does Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy keep saying (here and here) that the Celtics were 41-14 before the Kendrick Perkins trade? After all, they were 33-10 without him. No, I didn’t like the Perkins trade, either. But how the Celtics played while Perkins was rehabbing from knee surgery isn’t exactly relevant if the point you’re trying to make is that everything went to hell once he was traded. (Note: Italic section added for clarity.)

A great run by a great team

Congratulations to the 2009-’10 Boston Celtics, who came out of nowhere once the playoffs started and nearly made it to their 18th NBA championship. It looked to me that age simply caught up with them last night. I’m hardly the first to notice that Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and even Paul Pierce are not the players they were in 2008.

And yes, the Lakers played a great game.

For those of us who grew up with Dave Cowens, John Havlicek and JoJo White (no, I’m not quite old enough to have seen Bill Russell play), and who later had the privilege of watching the original Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, the past three years have been a nice reminder of how things used to be.

My favorite Celtic is Doc Rivers. I hope he stays.

Second-best Celtics team ever? (II)

Media Nation reader J.V. notes that Bob Ryan wasn’t exactly predicting glory last August, when it looked to him like the Celtics were going to throw three superstars and a bunch of not-very-warm bodies out there every night. Ryan wrote:

Unless it really is going to be a three-on-three NBA, the Celtics will be forced to place two additional players on the floor, and not just occasionally, but for every one of the 48 minutes.

That concerns me. That concerns me because what I am about to say is nonnegotiable: What’s left on the Celtics’ roster is by far the worst collection of proven talent in the NBA.

Be sure to watch the video, too, in which Charlie Pierce agrees with Ryan. Hey, it wasn’t that dumb when they said it. I guess.

Second-best Celtics team ever?

That’s what Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan says in today’s tour de force: his ranking of the top 10 Celtics teams of all time. He places this year’s winners right behind the fabulous 1985-’86 team.

Ryan’s list is sure to be controversial. Given that the Celtics have won 17 championships, it seems odd that he’d pick three losers among his top 10 — including the 1972-’73 squad, his only entry from the Dave Cowens era. Also, even at my advanced age, I’ll have to take his word for it on the great Bill Russell teams.

But this, kids, is why it’s important that papers like the Globe retain some institutional memory as they desperately seek to downsize their way to profitability. No one else in Boston could have written this piece. Good thing Ryan didn’t take the buyout.

What a game! What a season!

And to think that this year’s Celtics were Plan B, put together by Danny Ainge after he lost out on the first pick in the draft.

What can I say? As a casual basketfall fan, I did not suffer through the Celtics’ 22-year drought. Mostly I just ignored them. But I certainly enjoyed their playoff run, especially last night’s dismantling of the Lakers. It wasn’t just victory for the home team, but the culmination of several dramatic story lines: redemption after all these years; the triumph of character; and the defeat of a team of gutless crybabies led by a truly loathsome egomaniac.

The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan writes:

So they’ve done it. They have claimed the honor of having the greatest single-season turnaround in NBA history. One year ago today, the franchise could accurately be described as forlorn. The Celtics were coming off a 24-58 season punctuated by an 18-game losing streak. They had been cruelly treated by the draft lottery, which left them with nothing better than the fifth pick.

And now they are champions. Again.

Lordy, Lordy, what hath Danny and Doc wrought?

The Celtics were obviously a better team than the Lakers. I suspect the Hawks, the Cavaliers and the Pistons would have beaten them, too. It wasn’t so much that the heavily favored Lakers lost as the Celtics won, with the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen playing as hard and as selflessly as Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale. We shouldn’t take away a thing from what they accomplished.

Still, watching the Lakers fold like a cheap suit was part of the fun, don’t you think? You’ve got to love the headline on Bill Plaschke’s column in the Los Angeles Times this morning: “MVP? More like MIA.” And no, I hadn’t realized until I read Plaschke that the Celtics fans were chanting “You’re not Jordan!” at Kobe Bryant. How great is that?

No, he’s not. Before the Bulls started winning one championship after another, Michael Jordan found ways to ennoble himself even in defeat. Bryant, on the other hand, disappeared after the first quarter in every game that mattered. Check this out, from LA Times columnist T.J. Simers:

They are an embarrassment. They went into the NBA Finals favored, the Celtics suffering injuries to several of their starters along the way, and still the Lakers could not measure up.

The Lakers had a 24-point lead at home, the best coach and player on their side, and they gagged.

Their greatest claim in the NBA Finals is the fact the Celtics didn’t clinch the title in Staples Center, the Lakers’ closing mantra: “Not in our house,” and how pitiful is that?

They should have been going to Boston in Games 6 and 7 with the chance to win one game and win it all, but instead they only proved they aren’t anywhere as good as the Celtics and certainly nowhere near as tough.

Great as the 1980s team was, it was never exactly a surprise when they won. They were large, deep and talented. This team is talented, too, but they made me think a little bit of the Dave Cowens-led Celtics of the ’70s: underdogs, winning through sheer force of will. Or the great Bill Russell, toward the end of his career, outdueling the taller, younger and more physically gifted Wilt Chamberlain. Wonderful.

And has anyone ever deserved to win more than Pierce, Garnett and Allen?

File photo (cc) by Lorianne DiSabato and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Those amazing Celtics

Jeff at CelticsBlog writes:

As soon as the final buzzer sounded, I knew I would remember this game for the rest of my life. When my children are playing sports and get down about playing poorly, I’ll tell them stories about this game. When I’m feeling overwhelmed and overworked, I’ll think about this game. When a friend is feeling low and comes to me for some words of encouragement, I’ll draw inspiration from this game.

OK, I wouldn’t go that far. It’s not like it was a baseball game. But that was amazing, astounding, inspirational — oh, I’ll stop stringing clichés together now.

When it looked impossible, I was clicking back and forth between the game and Olbermann. But that 20-point margin started shrinking, and all of a sudden it was a game.

It’s too easy to say that the Lakers are choking. Look at all the youth-league, high-school and college games even the lowliest NBA player has had to dominate in order to get where he is today. Is winning a high-school championship really any less stressful for a 16- or 17-year-old than winning an NBA title is for a 25-year-old? I don’t think so. But at least from where I’m sitting (that would be in our living room), it appears that the Celtics have more character and team cohesiveness than the Lakers.

One other thing. I suppose you can’t tell much about a person by watching him being interviewed on TV. But Doc Rivers, like Terry Francona, comes across as just a good, decent human being. Stuff like this tends to confirm that.

The Outraged Liberal:

In Boston — and around much of the hoop world — this game will be known as the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history. In LA, well, there will be references to tight neckties.

And in fairness and as a reality check, I will remind all of us (Yankees fans don’t need it) that it is physically possible to come back from 3-0, let alone 3-1.

Universal Hub rounds up more Celtics commentary here.

Curt Schilling, hoop god

No doubt the first thing you did after reading the papers this morning was log on to Curt Schilling’s blog so you could get the full rundown on his criticism of Kobe Bryant. It’s good stuff. Schilling even knows how to be disingenuous. While claiming that he’s a newcomer to basketball, and hey, maybe NBA players are supposed to act like self-centered crybabies, he offers this:

Kevin Garnett, and not that this needs to be stated, but I’ll say it anyway, is as focused and locked in as any athlete in any sport I’ve been around. From pre-game shoot around to last seconds on the clock, this kid is legit. The intensity and reputation are there, wow. His eyes are on the floor, or the ball, all game. What an incredible pleasure it is to watch and be a fan of. I am blown away in that he came out of high school, something that can be a huge disadvantage, and has ALWAYS maintained who he was purported to be.

The first game I saw from these seats the Coach for Washington was basically taunting KG when he was at the line, saying a bunch of things, KG was ignoring him for the most part until he said something that must have been a bit too much, KG pauses, looks over and basically tells him to go piss up a rope.

Last night KG goes to the line, Lamar Odom (who I became a fan of last night) is saying “Hey KG why don’t you help on the ball down here?” Pointing to the paint, and I am guessing he’s referencing the fact that KG wasn’t down in the paint mixing it up. He says it again, loudly, KG doesn’t even acknowledge him, and sinks both. Impressive, total focus.

Schilling also offers a spirited defense of Garnett over that technical that got called Sunday night: “These guys are playing for a world championship, they are as amped up as you expect the best players in the world to be, they are grown men, there’s going to be some PG-13 language, and you are giving a T to a guy for dropping an F bomb? Stupid.”

The section on Bryant comes shortly afterward, and the contrast couldn’t be more stark.

Schilling’s a pretty good writer. He’s got a way with words — who can forget his invocation of Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy’s “inherent ‘toolness,'” a phrase I swear I’m going to steal one of these days. He needs copy editing (who doesn’t?), but other than that, I’d think editors at the Globe or the Herald would jump at the chance to have him in their pages.

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