What a Difference a Year (and a Couple of Players) Makes

The Big Green is back!  For all the Boston Celtics’ faithful (and the haters who were getting tired of despising a team that only a mother could love – where’s the fun in that?), the Celtics are off to one of the best starts in NBA history at 31-6 after beating the Trailblazers.

This is the same team that for years has been the polar opposite of its proud tradition.  In the off-season, general manager Danny Ainge, who as a player in college at BYU or in the pros anywhere he played wasn’t hesitant about pulling the trigger, pulled a few in an attempt to revive the arguably most loved and reviled franchise the sporting world has ever had.  The biggest moves were the addition of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

Both of those NBA All-stars have stats and money in abundance, as does the player who for years has been the focus of the ball club, Paul Pierce (who also has a nice collection of basketball and financial numbers).  Yet each lacks the one thing that all the gelt in the world can’t buy (ask George Steinbrenner) – a championship.  It’s not like the franchise doesn’t know how to win them.  No one’s won more (16, including 8 in a row) but the fan base is quickly becoming one of a younger set who weren’t around for any of those (the last of which was in 1986) when the 30-year old multizillionaire “suits,” i.e. the only ones who can afford to be in seats where their friends can see them on live TV broadcasts, were all of nine years old.

A shared goal can become a wonderful bonding experience.  “The ring” is all that needs to be uttered among today’s stars who have all the adulation (and all that goes with it), but lack the defining bling to cap a potential (or, in cases like Garnett’s, a certain) Hall-of-Fame career.  (See my 8/29 blog for a perspective on winning the “ring” from someone who has one).   Garnett, Pierce and Allen (cleverly marketed as GPA – something I don’t believe any of them was particularly known for in their scholastic days) so badly want to win and bring a championship to Boston, all egos (so far) have been checked in their luxury vehicles when the opening horn sounds.

However, as good as these guys are, they need help.  Basketball still has five on a side and, due to the number, pace and brutality of the game, even five aren’t enough.  In the most recent Sports Illustrated article, other Celts were mentioned for their abundant and timely contributions, namely center Kendrick Perkins, point guard Rajon Rondo, post-up guy, Glen “Big Baby” Davis, guards Tony Allen and Eddie House and even newly signed (formerly on the staff of the Houston Rockets) assistant coach Tom Thibodeau.

Head Coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers is a master motivator (the last few years showing that while motivation is an important ingredient, it’s infinitely better when mixed with talent), a guy who truly believes in continual learning.  I discovered this first hand many years ago when I sent my “Fertig Notes,” a condensed version of the latest book I’d read (click on the “Jack’s Notes” page on my website) to a friend of mine who, at the time, was working for Fox .  He had several of the “Fertig Notes” in a binder at a production meeting which was attended by then-analyst Doc Rivers.  Doc asked my friend what he was holding and after hearing the explanation, returned the binder and said, “You’ve got to get me on this guy’s mailing list.”  That was eleven years ago and he’s been receiving them ever since.  The point is (besides the name dropping), Doc is someone who’s not ashamed to pick up an idea, concept or line from whomever, as long as he thinks it will help him – and the team – get better.

With all the praise regarding the supporting cast going around, that championship is fast becoming a possibility (as opposed to a memory).  If and when that day arrives, the incomparable John Wooden’s line will certainly be dusted off:

“The main ingredient in stardom is the rest of the team.”   

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