Regular Season Tilt Carries Personal Meaning

A Daily Babble Production

It has been more than eleven months since I signed on here at CelticsBlog (thanks again a million times over for having me), and those who have been reading for a significant portion of that time may have come to understand what friends and family have long known (and if you haven't picked up, it's time for me to come clean): I'm a bit of a nut.

My clothes don't match.  Way back in my high school days, in the middle of the standardized test that came at the culmination of some silly AP course, I took a break from writing an essay so I could doodle two seasons worth of Celtics playoff schedules and results on the back of the exam booklet.  The number of times I've used a comb to neaten my perpetually messy hair in my career remains in single digits.  I've cried after watching sporting events that didn't turn out quite as I would have liked.  When I was a freshman in college, I got frostbite on my lips for a week after walking four miles each way to a Chinese buffet in ten-degree weather on a Sunday morning because I really craved their almond shrimp.  Which they only served at dinner.  Fortunately, the restaurant is quite good overall.  My alter ego is a fictional character from a television program whose target audience upper bound is somewhere around eight years old.

Only in this space, on this site, does the fact that I'm completely head-over-heels in love with this basketball team of ours not make the "I'm a nut" list.  So thanks to you all for that.

Given the populace of this site's readership, it goes without saying that we want our boys in green to take every game.  Each and every regular season game, each and every playoff game: They all seem like they mean everything for the two and a half hours while they are being played and sometimes for quite a bit of time afterwards.

But every now and then, there are certain nights on the regular 82-game slate that mean just a little bit more than normal. Sweeping the Texas triangle trip last year was special.  Prevailing over the newly confident Hawks last week was big, considering how many Celts fans the Hawks almost put in the hospital with hypertension last spring.

But no matter the quality of the combatants, there is something about the four games with the Knicks each year that just does it for me, that puts my desire to get these games to a whole new level.

The strong feeling likely comes from a combination of factors courtesy of being a native New Yorker.  Growing up in the Weinman household requires an understanding of two key rules for survival: Hate thy Knick, hate thy Yankee.  My father is a Brooklyn product and diehard Celts fan who taught for more than 30 years in the New York City school system and routinely had students desecrate test papers with pro-Knicks and anti-Celtics propaganda at the top next to their names.

This established the healthy dislike of the 'Bockers at an early age.  As the only Celts fan in school, it didn't help my relationship with the Knicks that I knew I was going to hear it from approximately 100 percent of my classmates anytime the C's fell to the orange and blue, and "Standings!" was never going to be a good enough response inside the hallowed and largely sports illiterate walls of the Herricks Union Free School District.  It made those games important no matter when they came in the schedule or how good the teams were.  Though I spend much of the year buried in the Midwest now, the memories remain vivid, especially of the nights I spent pacing my bedroom and listening to the radio before we got the MSG Network my sophomore year of high school.  Meanwhile, negative feelings about the Knicks are an ironically pleasant reminder of home.

Beyond the youthful dynamics with friends and classmates - and the fact that despising the 'Bockers was just one more way to bring me even closer with my beloved father - the Knicks' franchise arc over the last fifteen years has only made them an easier target for my bad feelings.  Through the '90s, they were a perennial Eastern contender while the Celtics suffered through one of the most miserable periods of their existence.  The Knicks gave the city two Finals trips to celebrate but thankfully came away with no titles. 

This decade, while the Celts have regained superiority in the standings (particularly as of late), the way management has run the team in Manhattan has made the Knicks even more detestable, now for their personnel rather than for frustration with their good play.  General managers Scott Layden and Isiah Thomas and the players they have brought in - Stephon Marbury, Jerome James, Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph come to mind as the tip of the iceberg - have been eminently disikable, and the result has been a new special pleasure from seeing this team embarrass itself.  Last year's 45-point stomping by the Celts on national television couldn't have been scripted any better.

Finally, there is that nail in the coffin of my rage at all things orange and blue that comes courtesy of the events five years ago yesterday.  I've still got the scars from 2003, the last time November 17 came on a Monday.  The Celtics visited Madison Square Garden, and The Guru and I went to support our boys.  At halftime, we were high-fiving and chatting gleefully about a 54-38 lead, garnered despite the fact that the team had played far from its best basketball.  Good times.

Because this is a family site, and I'd prefer not to call to mind any particularly grotesque images, we'll skip the details of most of the second-half carnage and cut to this: The Celts completely melted down, Vin Baker was the only competent player in green, Allan Houston, Keith Van Horn and Kurt Thomas killed us, and Michael Doleac hit the eventual winner in the final seconds.  It was a somber train ride home.  While it is a night that I'll always appreciate for getting to spend time with The Guru, it also serves as the defining image in my head for what I consider the most painful Celtics season of the last 15 years: No high lottery pick, no real chance in the first round of the playoffs, no real direction, no more 'Toine, not much hope.  In my warped mind, it started to all come unglued when that 5-4 team fell apart at MSG on the eve of a meaningful day in my life.

What all that rambling comes down to is this: Childhood in New York, the mismanagement and unlovable roster of recent memory and one particularly frustrating night at Madison Square Garden have fostered a special dislike within me for that franchise from the Sizable Apple.

This one means something to me.  Three days before I'm due to return home to New York for the first time in months, four days after a frustrating loss to the Nuggets, five years and a day after that meltdown in New York City, roughly 1,100 miles from Times Square, this rivalry remains magnified to epic proportions in my head. 

It's why I'll be doing what I do best tonight - blowing off the rest of life - and finding myself the rare bar around here that has the NBA package so that I can buy myself dinner, be alone with my thoughts and chow down to watch one of the regular season games that manages to bring forth a passion from me that goes beyond even my usual mind-numbing level of fanaticism.

So that's my sappy personal rant for the day about a November 18th game that strangely means so much to me.  You've got my word that we'll be back to crunching efficiency stats and ripping on Zach Randolph in Daily Babbles to come.  But until then, which games on the schedules get your competitive juices flowing more than usual?

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