Celtic Pride

May 7, 2009 | By | 1 Comment

As we looked for our seats, we walked past a lot of pictures. There were the legends that I had never seen play – one of whom was a man I had just run into in the bathroom. I pointed him out to my Dad.

“It was a pleasure watching you play, Mr. White”, said my Dad.

“Thank you very much”, said Jo-Jo.

He looked refined. He was decked out in a black suit and had an elegance about him. He carried himself with a sense of dignity and class.

I think back to when I mailed away for Celtics stuff as a kid and received a bumper sticker that said, “Celtic Pride”.

“What does that mean?” I asked my Dad.

I can’t exactly remember his answer, but I think he said something about playing with heart and toughness and never quitting. If you take pride in something, you care. You care about your work. You give it all you have. And then, you keep giving.

I saw a picture of Reggie Lewis after he collapsed in the playoffs against Charlotte. The picture was in black and white. Black and white makes things look so old – like it never happened or was before my time. It wasn’t before my time, though. It was my time.

As a 14 year old kid, Reggie was my world. I loved Larry, but only caught the back end of his career. I was too young to remember the height of his glory days. But Reggie was an up and comer. I had seen his career progress. I loved the way he dunked. I liked his number. I loved his Reebok pump shoes.

Across from Reggie was a picture of Kevin McHale and Bill Walton. I remember waiting forever for Walton to return from his injury. When he finally did return, he wasn’t the same. Kevin was the guy with the long arms and great post moves. My Dad told me about how bigger he looked in person. He was 6’10”. I put Kevin in the “things I cannot fathom category” – kind of like the size of Dominique Wilkins shoes.

I remember listening to the games late at night on my walkman. I had dreams about being at the game cheering the team on. If I was there, I could cheer extra loud. If I cheered loud enough, maybe the team would feel inspired and play better. If the team played better, maybe I could play some kind of a role in helping them win.

Reggie Lewis

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I’ve always loved the Celtics. I found a friend in seminary who knew as much about the Celtics as I did. We fondly recalled the days of Marty Conlon and Brett Szabo and I often couldn’t help myself from breaking out into the Walker Wiggle. Pitino was kind of a let down, but there was that year when O’Brien led the squad to the Conference Finals. It was something else to see them in the playoffs again. I hadn’t seen them playing this hard since going down swinging to Shaq and Penny in 1995.

It was early 2001 and the Miami Heat were off to a dreadful start. We didn’t care. They were in town to play the C’s and my buddy said we could get tickets by calling the players. He said that a friend of his in New York had done so and had been able to watch a Knicks game. The Miami Heat were in town and he started calling some hotels to see if he could track down the players. He tried a bunch of hotels until I told him to call the Ritz. They had to be staying there.

The first guy he got on the phone was LaPhonso Ellis. LaPhonso was also a Christian, and we tried to use that to our advantage. My buddy told him our situation – that we were a couple of broke seminarians who loved basketball and really wanted to see a game.

“You are Christians? Praise the Lord!” said LaPhonso. Still, he had family in town and didn’t have any tickets remaining.

After Chris Gatling didn’t work out and Alonzo Mourning wasn’t available, I reasoned that our best chance was to find a rookie that nobody had ever heard of. After all, these unknown guys don’t get any attention. Nobody – not even hardcore fans – have any clue who they are. As I read through Miami’s roster, one name stood out. It stood out because it didn’t stand out. The guy was a total no-namer. So, we gave Eddie House a call.

House

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There were little things that stood out to me tonight. There was KG clapping for the basketball players with Down Syndrome in the “Heroes Among Us” segment. I’m sure they look up to KG. What they may not realize is that KG was looking up to them.

There was an older lady on the jumbotron who couldn’t have been any more excited or happy to be on there. She must’ve been about 75 years old. Still, she was waving her arms like she was a 12 year-old girl.

I remember my Dad repeatedly saying how great it was to see so many people having so much fun. I think about myself, and times I found myself smiling tonight. I wasn’t just making my lips wider, but smiling. I was really smiling. I can’t remember the last time I smiled with my whole body like that.

I kept texting my buddy who happened to be one section over and about 15 rows down. Every once in awhile he would look back to make eye contact. “Are you seeing this?”, he seemed to be saying. “Yes”, I nod. I am taking it all in.

There is my Dad next to me, getting so excited after each 3-point shot that went in. Just like I can’t remember the last time I really smiled, I can’t remember the last time I saw him so into something. Sometimes the world is full of people desperately in need of some fun.

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I think about the song, “Young Turks” by Rod Stewart. One of the lyrics say “Young hearts be free tonight, time is on your side”. I think often about feeling old and wishing I were younger. Time is not on my side anymore. For me, time is quietly slipping away like air through a tire you didn‘t realize had a hole. Time is fading away for Jo-Jo. Time is fading away for my parents. Time already passed for Reggie Lewis and many of the people whose picture on the wall I couldn‘t even recognize.

As we walked back to our car, I saw something on the side of the road that said, “The Best Neighborhood this Side of Heaven”. I thought this was kind of an outrageous claim. Still, when I think back on the joy and excitement, I wonder if it is that far off.

It’s sort of like when they used to play the “Boom, Boom, Boom” song at Fenway Park. Someone had just hit a home run and the home team was rolling right along. Everyone danced. Strangers gave each other high-fives. You could forget your troubles for a little while. Things were going good and everything was going to be alright. It was a taste of what we were meant for and all know is missing.

And then there was the game itself. You can read about it in the newspaper or watch the highlights on TV. You can see that Rondo had 12 assists in the first half or Eddie’s postseason career-high 31 points. Just know that what you read isn’t the whole picture. Some things can’t be captured in a box score or 30-second highlight clip.

I’m glad that there are things that I still care about. The Celtics are one of those few things.

I can’t really tell you why I care about them so much, just as you can’t always explain why or how you fall in love. All I can tell you is that the pride means something to me. I think it also means something to Eddie House – who went from being a stranger to having his name chanted long after the game ended by fans shuffling down the stairs. Or, Brian Scalabrine who went from being the team mascot to, by playing his heart out, becoming a valued and respected member of the team.

The pride isn’t just about winning over the fans, it’s about believing in yourself when nobody else does. It’s about being able to look at yourself in the mirror when you shave in the morning. It’s also about playing your heart out and, if you must go down, going down swinging.

There is so much more that I could say, but it is late and I am very tired. I leave you with one last thought. The 75 year-old lady having the time of her life on the jumbotron taught me something about age and youth.

Young hearts were free tonight.

Rondo

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  1. Jana says:

    young hearts were so free they lost their voices and took naps… 😉

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