Last December, the Celtics were reported to be deeply involved in a deal that would have brought New Orleans' David West to Boston. What happened? West rejected the Celtics in favor of (the relatively small-town, some would say god-forsaken) Indiana Pacers, because, he said, 'the Celtics' window is closing fast.'
A couple of days later, the Celtics' pursuit of Chris Paul ended in failure too as he was traded to the (amazing, league-leading!) Clippers. It was reported that Paul had totally rejected the possibility of coming to Boston.
And so it seemed to us fans, then, that NBA players in general just hated the notion of coming to play on our "old" team, led by a bunch of has-been geezers wheezing their way to their career finish lines, with little to no chance of getting to the Finals, or making any playoff noise at all for that matter.
New season, new day. Jason Terry could hardly contain his excitement at the prospect of coming to play in Boston. Courtney Lee gave up the chance to make more money for the opporunity to come play with Doc Rivers' geezers. Now Barbosa's on his way in. What happened between then and now? Why this apparent change in players' attitudes toward the Celtics?
I'm sure there are many possible explanations. Two jump out at me. The first is the obvious one: this old team, though decimated by injuries, nevertheless took the Miami Heat, the ultimate champions, all the way to game 7 of the ECF, losing only in the last quarter of that game. And many believe that if not for several instances of blatant referee bias, Boston would have won the ECF.
Everybody likes a winner.
But wait... our old guys are even older now, aren't they? Shouldn't that still matter?? Isn't the window closed already, or nearly so by now? (Cuz we know the weather and taxes sure ain't changing.)
Which is why I think the second reason is closer to the truth. It started a few months ago, on June 7, 2012, in game 6 of the ECF. The Cs were getting blown out.... down 20 with about 4m to go in the game. Our starters were already on the bench, looking tired and beaten. The refs had been merciless, and Lebron unstoppable (two intimately-related facts, btw). Anyway, Cs were going down for the count that game, for sure.
It started softly, just a few voices rising from the rear. "Let's Go Celtics," was the scattered, tentative chant. It grew quickly. Soon, the arena filled with it: "LET'S GO CELTICS! LET'S GO CELTICS!" With our team getting blown out and almost no time left, what did the Cs' fans do? Did they boo? Did they all stream out? Nope. They chanted "Let's Go Celtics." And incredibly, they didn't stop until the clock read 0.
I swear that was the first time a basketball game has ever brought a tear to my eye. Even the Heat players looked surprised, quietly taking it in, speaking in hushed tones if at all.
This wasn't just another fan chant. This was a love letter, from us to them. In just three words, it said, "We love you, Cs, and that's not changing. Have No Fear! We got your backs come hell or high water. Win the next one and we'll celebrate with you. Lose and we'll be right there with you next season. Yes, you're going to lose THIS game. And you might even lose this series.... but you'll never lose how we feel about you. Do the best you can, boys, and remember.... NO FEAR."
In that moment, captured forever on YouTube, I think Boston's fans changed the hearts and minds of basketball players everywhere. Almost every single one of them, whether he knows it or not, wants fans like us standing behind him. Ask Josh Smith. Heck, ask any of em. It's one thing to go to work for 10-12-15 years, make a bunch of money and retire. It's a whole other thing -- much more fulfilling and pleasurable -- to be able to play without fear, to know that every moment a whole city's worth of fans have your back, no matter what. Every pro players wants that, even if it means making a little less money.
It's the difference between working at a job and working at a job you love to go to every day.
So how did Boston change the minds of NBA players everywhere? In the end, I don't think it was all that complicated. Three words. "Let's Go Celtics."