Preparing for a fan-free Celtics experience

Basketball card of Kevin GarnettIn the midst of looking back on sports past, sports present is basically upon us. The NHL is packing up for the safer environment of Canada. MLS is down two teams but still moving forward with their tournament in Orlando. And their Florida neighbor, the NBA, is getting ready to figure out the end of its season and finalize seeding for the playoffs.

For someone who follows the Celtics, this is an especially intriguing period. Kemba Walker had been slowed by a knee injury when the coronavirus put a sudden halt to the season, just as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were continuing their respective coming-out parties — the latter shaping into one of the better two-way players in the game, the former solidifying into a deadly scorer. With all these guys reasonably healthy, this could be an engaging run for Boston.

It’s still going to be weird, though. All the games will be played on a uniform court for the benefit of ESPN’s cameras but without fans. And it’s not hard to think about how long this is all going to last, and when some sense of normalcy returns to the game.

With that, I thought ahead to next season, when the Celtics are planning to retire Kevin Garnett’s number, and hopefully doing so safely in front of 18,000 cheering fans in the Garden.

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It was impossible to ignore Jarome Iginla’s genius

Hockey card of Jarome Iginla

There’s so much nuance to hockey that it can sometimes take a while watching a player before any inherent greatness becomes obvious. Watch Pavel Datsyuk or Jonathan Toews for the first time, for example, and their overall prowess might not stand out if they’re not putting the puck in the back of the net.

That was not the case for Jarome Iginla. Watch any game, and his virtuosity seemed to jump off the ice immediately.

I covered Iginla’s first game in Boston as a member of the Bruins. My memory — that he had a somewhat shaky first shift, followed by a dominating second swing through the ice — was confirmed by a column I wrote that night. He lined up on the right wing alongside David Krejci and Milan Lucic, and from that shift on, he was a powerhouse. He didn’t score a goal, but it was impossible to ignore his impact on the game.

He would score 30 goals as a 36-year-old, tying Patrice Bergeron for the team lead, and was a rock on that top line. He more than filled the gap vacated by Nathan Horton and was a tremendous cog on a team that won the President’s Trophy. And with this week’s news that he’s earned induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto in his first year of eligibility, it seems like a good time to look back on that single season in black and gold. Continue reading

I’m out

Baseball card of Mike GreenwellI have to hand it to baseball. I always pegged voluntarily killing a season and permanently alienating fans as more of a hockey move.

There are a lot of people upset right now, as they should be. While every other sport is, even if just for the cameras, engaging with their players and working towards a plausible scenario where play can return, baseball is stuck at home, arguing over directions with empty luggage and clothes strewn about the room. “Distraction” may not be the best word, but in such a tumultuous time, there is value in comfort, and baseball could have provided that.

I’m just not one of those people right now.

My anger with how the Red Sox have treated a championship core — as nuisance employees asking for a deserved raise rather than as the bedrock of a winning and profitable club — led me to the decision, months ago, to sit out the 2020 season and spend my money and energy elsewhere. But the conduct of the owners here, and the constant circus surrounding whether this labor impasse will ever lead to a sham 50-game season, has me in a new place. I think I’m out for 2021, too. And perhaps beyond that. It’s a long way beyond 1993, you see. Continue reading

Ray Bourque going to work, every day

This is a man at work. The beard indicates that, in this moment, the guy hopping over the boards is probably in pursuit of the Stanley Cup and in the midst of a particularly stressful day at the office. There’s a couple of week’s worth of growth or so, which indicates that we’re maybe in the mid-stages of the playoffs, perhaps the Adams Division tilt with the Montreal Canadiens.

The guy jumping onto the ice with such cold jubilation is Ray Bourque, of course. He broke into the NHL with the Bruins in the fall of 1979 and spent the next 22 seasons hopping the boards as often as possible. He never played fewer than 60 games in a full season and logged 1,826 games between regular seasons and the playoffs.

This image has lived in my collection for years, and it’s one of my favorites. It’s a unique action shot of no. 77 doing a job he seemed to quietly relish, and a job that he did more often and for longer than most. It was another day, and there was work to do. Continue reading

Five games to get you through the doldrums

Hockey card of Gary GalleyI’ve referenced at several points through this odyssey that I’ve been spending my free time watching an inordinate number of classic hockey games via YouTube. Whatever I can find or whatever seems interesting in that moment, that’s what I’ll go to.

This is where I let it be known that I have spent a lot of time in the 1970s and ’80s, when the boards were off-white and the red line was in play, when helmets were sparse and most masks were of the fiberglass, halloween variety. And even if the pace is a bit slower because of the rules and the conditioning regiments of the time, the game is still largely the same — both teams are trying to get odd-man rushes, both trying to hit a goalie’s weak points, both trying to outdo the other in terms of skill or strength, whatever’s on hand.

To take us into the weekend after more than a month of quarantine, I thought I’d pass along some games that caught my attention. These aren’t necessarily the five greatest games ever, but they were definitely entertaining. And what more can one ask for at a time like this? Continue reading