My son and I headed to the Garden last Friday, a tradition that has bonded us together for 13 years. Our beloved Celtics were attempting the impossible and we were eager to cheer them on to tie-up the Knicks, sending the series on to Game 7. This time was a bit different than any previous time however. Since I moved to Florida just over a year ago, my son and I have no longer enjoyed what we were accustomed to for seven straight years of being season ticket holders. Although we are now separated by a vast distance, I was fortunate to be able to make it up for 2 playoff games last year against the Hawks and Heat, and then Opening Night this year, and while Friday night may have proved to be the end of an era, it inspired me to see the gift my son and I have because of it.
The nostalgia was thick as we considered the possibility that we may be attending our last game of the KG, Paul Pierce era. As we drove toward Causeway Street from the airport, I recalled the end of the Pitino years, when I first began taking my boy to Celtic games. I had cut my teeth on the original Big 3, watching Larry's career unfold while I was ages 13-26, and I could only hope to share my love of the Celtics with my one and only son. We started going to regular season games when he was 9-10 yrs old, but his love really took root in 2002 when I took him to the Celts first playoff game in 7 yrs against Allen Iverson and the Sixers. Even at 10 yrs of age, he immediately recognized the drastic difference in energy in what was then the FleetCenter, soon to be nicknamed, "the Jungle" during that playoff run. My son and I first shared a unique experience that is part of who we are and another diehard Celtics fan was born that day.
Although the C's did make it to the ECF that year, that team was dismantled not long afterwards, and a couple of lean years followed, yet our attendance at C's games skyrocketed as my son became increasingly passionate about his team. Ironically, I first secured seasons' tickets the year the Celtics had a franchise worst 18 game losing streak and went careening into the lottery. Nevertheless, we cheered on our team, even as drunk fans around us screamed to "trade Doc!" during the worst losses. The sliver of hope we held onto throughout that year were two dominant college players named Greg Oden and Kevin Durant who seemed within reach if the ping pong balls fell correctly. Every Celtic fan knows how that played out, setting back our expectations yet again. But when Danny traded for Ray Allen on draft night, it seemed he might have a larger plan in mind to remake the franchise back into a contender yet again.
I'll never forget the night the Garnett deal was confirmed all over the internet, I excitedly texted my then 15 yr old son with the news, certain our team was on the verge of something huge. His immediate response was “Who did we give up?”, when I told him the deal included Big Al Jefferson and Gerald Green, he replied "I don't like it.” He, like many other developing fans at the time, had learned to love "the young guys" and wanted to follow them as they reached their seemingly certain high upside. I did my best to convince him KG was worth those two guys and more, our best chance at a championship, and told him he would see once the games started being played. As the 07-08 season got under way, he quickly realized he had been mistaken about losing his former heroes.
We had the privilege of attending Game 7 against Cleveland and the epic Game 6 dismantling of the hated Lakers in 2008, oh what joy we had, my son gave me the longest, strongest bear hug he ever has as the confetti poured down around us. It was a surreal moment for me, as this was the first Celtics title in 22 yrs, the last coming when I was 20 yrs old, and I stood with my 16 yr old son who had traversed some of the desert years with me, watching our team climb the highest mountain together. We, like many, were hoping this could happen at least one more time during the new Big 3 era, but I remember encouraging my son to savor the moment because there was no guarantee we'd ever get back here.
The last 2 years we both knew and talked about that we were on the verge of this incredible run being over. Having moved away from Boston and not experiencing the Garden energy as much as I had the previous years, when we entered the arena for Game 6 against the Knicks, I was careful to soak it all in, looking up at the banners, especially 2008, which we had personally witnessed being raised, not far from our seats. The two of us were like kids in a candy store, happy to be reunited with one another, in the place that had brought us so much joy and bonded us like nothing else in our lives.
Then the game happened. The Celts came out flat, leaving the Garden faithful without much to cheer about. There were a few mini-runs which got us all excited, but it just didn't seem like our guys had it this night. Things came to a crashing halt when the 4th quarter began to unfold, and our beloved C's were down by a surely insurmountable 26 pt deficit. Everyone in the building knew it; the end was near, not just the game, but the run of this incredible team that had captured our hearts for years. I was prepared to suffer through every minute in order to pay tribute to the team when it was finally all said and done.
Quite unexpectedly, I looked over to see my 21 year old son with his head in his hands, weeping uncontrollably, and his body shaking. The kind of full body crying born of the deepest kind of emotion, like nothing I had seen from him since he was a little guy. I tried my best to put my arm around him and let him know it was ok, that we should be grateful for what we did have, etc. but he was not ready for that yet. His emotion was raw and pure, and it was all I could do to fight back tears myself, realizing what a life changing experience this journey had been for him throughout most of his formative years, and how we both understood, with my moving away, him growing up, and this team fading away before our eyes, that it would never quite be the same again for us. It was to be a long 9:00+ on the game clock I thought, but I was prepared to get through all of it.
Suddenly however, the Celts scored a couple of buckets, then a steal and another bucket, then another steal, before we fully realized what was happening the lead had been whittled to 10 pts! Something strange was happening on the court. My son got up out of his seat, tears still streaming down his face, incredulous that our guys had a run left in them, after all, they hadn’t even scored 20 pts. in a single quarter up until that point. As they inched closer, the Garden came alive louder and more energetic than I can ever remember it, the mood went from funeral to all out celebration, high fives were exchanged with those in the seats around us, music blaring, every sight and sound we had ever experienced the past six years were suddenly all around us again, it was amazing!! It was as if God himself had reached down to bless us with one more final experience before it was all over.
Of course, the C’s did fall short in the end, but that was of little consequence to me. I walked out of that building, with my still somewhat subdued son, a smile from ear to ear, soaking in all that had just happened both that night and the years leading up to it. We went on and had a fantastic evening together before I was to head back to Florida the next morning. We reminisced until the wee hours of the morning, about the many years we have shared together rooting on our team, and secure in the knowledge that no matter what would happen with this particular group of players now, we were Celtic fans, so we would be back again to loudly cheer on our team, no matter who was wearing the jerseys the next time we saw them play.