I’d like to think that, somewhere, Larry Bird was bummed.
So, it’s been quiet around here, mainly thanks to an epic trip to Chicago. I landed last week, and eight hours later, Jonathan Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks were lifting the Stanley Cup on the Flyers’ home ice, sending the city into a frenzy. It was unbridled mayhem, nothing but good-natured folks going out of their minds over their hockey team finally reaching the promised land, 49 years after their last trip.
Last night, I was in Massachusetts, again just in time for another championship game. This time, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers were writing the next chapter in their history, taking their series to a Game 7.
Needless to say, it didn’t go as well.
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First, the Hawks. Of course, I’m a Bruins fan first. The Bruins might mean more to me than any other team I follow, really. But I’ve always had a soft spot for the Blackhawks, dating to the days of Jeremy Roenick and Chris Chelios (who, at 48, is still kicking with the Atlanta Thrashers. Amazing). They’re an original six team, they play in one of my favorite cities, my friends all love them unconditionally, and if that weren’t enough, they have, easily, the best uniform in sports. This year, they were especially fun, with toothless Duncan Keith holding down the blue line and a front three of Toews, Dustin Byfuglien and Patrick Kane terrorizing NHL defenses.
Partying at Comiskey. From left to right: Me, a hoosier, a Cubs fan, Mrs. Jason Varitek and a White Sox fan, all united for the Hawks.
As was our plan, my friends and I made our way to Comiskey Park for the White Sox/Tigers game, with plans to keep tabs on Game 6 as best as possible. And thanks to the Bullpen Bar, that wasn’t very hard at all. Except for one magical inning where the Other Sox scored seven runs, there wasn’t much baseball watched. This was all about the Cup.
The game ended, and the center field scoreboard switched to the Hawks. Down 4-3, the Flyers tied it and sent the game to overtime. But Kane scored that beautiful, no-angle goal, and the place went crazy. By this point, I had totally bought in to the Hawks, wearing the sweater I’d picked up years earlier to the game. I was jumping on top of people, screaming, generally making an ass of myself, but all in good spirits.
The next two days were fantastic. I couldn’t go anywhere without hearing the Hawks’ goal foghorn and the Fratellis’ “Chelsea Dagger,” which has become their anthem. We found the team at a bar the night after partying with the Stanley Cup, and then two million Chicago crazies packed downtown for the parade. By the end of it, I was totally exhausted, but satisfied. Nothing feels better than when your team takes it all home, and for these folks who’d waited so long, it felt great to see them have their day. I’m glad they let me be a part of it.
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Then, there’s the Celtics. They will likely always suffer the fact that I’m just not as into basketball as I am most other sports.
It wasn’t always that way. In fact, the Celtics were the first team I really fell in love with, in elementary school following the twilight of Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, collecting basketball cards to match. Bird’s retirement offered up my first broken heart as a fan, and Reggie Lewis’ death not long after, well, there are still no words for that one.
But basketball changed as the 1990s went on. The Celtics went from great to good to bad, but more than that, the NBA took a turn I couldn’t stand. The referees were horrible (and are somehow worse now), the Knicks and Heat turned the game into a league-wide wrestling match, and the last interesting dude in the game, Michael Jordan, retired in 1998. With him gone, my focus on basketball went, and so did the Celtics.
Dovetailing perfectly with all that was the rise of the Lakers. To summarize, the Lakers represent just about everything I despise in sports. Their “Showtime” attitude, their ridiculous cavalcade of celebrity fans, their $10,000 seats, Phil Jackson’s Montana-sized ego, and, of course, Kobe Bryant. There’s not enough harm that could come to the Lakers to satisfy me. Naturally, going into last night, they’d won four championships since 2000.
Since 2007-08, the Celtics have mattered. With the arrival of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, the maturating of Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins, and the continuing cool of Paul Pierce, the Celtics turned the ship around and reclaimed basketball glory in 2008. And that was nice, though the Celtics’ win seemed just as cool that year as the Lakers’ loss. But I’ll still watch the Celtics, still root for them, and always root for Paul Pierce, who was a baby the last year I really tuned into a full season end-to-end.
So, the night began at a restaurant in Dartmouth, Mass., eating a pizza at the bar and watching the first half. At halftime, following some great work by Rondo and Garnett, the Celtics were up 40-34, and feelings were mostly good. They were still getting out-rebounded and missing easy shots, and the Lakers still had that guy on their side.
For the second half, the show moved to a bar in New Bedford just a quick walk from my apartment, where a band was playing, which I appreciated. If this were the Bruins or the Red Sox, I wouldn’t want that kind of distraction. But I was feeling anxious, and not having to hear the announcers helped.
The third quarter looked great. Garnett was imposing his will, the Celtics ran up a lead, and going into the fourth, I felt slightly better than OK.
In the fourth quarter, it started again. Boston’s complete inability to hit a shot, which had killed them in Game 6, was back for an encore performance. And the Lakers were hitting shots. And soon enough, they had a lead.
With about six minutes left, I went home, and flicked over to Family Guy on Adult Swim. I had seen enough of the Celtics this year to know how this movie ended. After about 10 minutes, I checked online to see that, yeah, they were down by six with about a minute to go. Soon, it was outside for a walk, where the game was visible through a few windows. Through a curtain, there were all those yellow shirts storming the court, with the volume up high enough to hear the chaos in the arena. There was no doubt now.
For a real sports fan, the peaks are few and amazing. The valleys can’t be avoided.