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Let’s Lose One For Red

The losing has seemed to last forever. Fans have stayed awake through long nights while replaying the miscues that led to yet another gut-wrenching loss. They have had a difficult time staying with the broadcasts, checking the schedule for other games and fiddling with the TV remote. When will it all end? Sometime in the next decade perhaps?

“I can’t stick with this team forever,” my friend Harry told me the other day. “Oh, no. I don’t want to spend another ten years with a sub-.500 basketball team. I’m getting too old for this stuff.”

There has been no good news to come out of the current NBA season as far as the Boston Celtics are concerned. The excuses are handy and plentiful. On the nights the team plays halfway decent, there is always some little thing that could have been done better according to coach Doc Rivers, some little thing that would have changed the outcome of the game. On the nights they stink? Let’s not go there.

My friend has been unable to sweep his mind of the brutal details of the start of the season as if it were just another deserted seat before the final buzzer. He cannot let go.

Many fans marveled at the Celtics’ collection of young and talented players during the summer months. But now these same fans along with the entire Celtics’ organization are feeling like they are traveling into a headwind. The landscape in front of them has never looked so treacherous. The warning on the rear view mirror of the team bus should be OBJECTS MAY BE FURTHER AWAY THAN THEY APPEAR. The Mapquest directions to Secaucus, New Jersey for the next draft lottery have already been printed from the computer.

Harry and many other fans are worrying about the present of the Celtics, not to mention the future. Some have become anti-fans and are actually cheering for their favorite team to lose games. Is this reminiscent of the M.L. Carr team, which tanked its way to the worst record in the league in a failed attempt to land Tim Duncan? Could be. The prize next year is one Greg Oden, reportedly a very Duncan like big man and a sure-fire future all-NBA center.

But I believe there is something far different, even darker afoot here. Fans have taken to cheering for the opponents because they have become frustrated by a team that is not living up to pre-season expectations. They don’t like the coach one bit. They detest Brian Scalabrine and his goofy, non-athletic game that causes everyone but the coach to cover their eyes when he enters a game. They decry the trade for Sebastian Telfair when there is a perfectly acceptable point guard playing behind him who can defend his position. They are fed up with Paul Pierce and his penchant for trying to dribble through triple coverage. They hope Tony Allen loses his criminal case in Chicago so he will stop dribbling period. If it takes a bunch of losses for the team owners to wise up and rid the C’s of the above-mentioned folks, so be it.

What’s the alternative? Screaming at the television screen for some repeated failure, ripping off your shirt with buttons popping everywhere? Hit the walls, strangle telephones, pull the stuffing out of pillows, flatten the coffee maker with a punch, throw yourself on the ground and start shaking all over?

These fans are sick of hearing the excuses come from Doc for the team’s maddening inconsistencies. Perhaps feeling the heat and pressure, Rivers has become more guarded when he speaks, his words emerging as if they had been considered and approved by some federal inspector and stamped in purple on their sides. I daresay his pre-game speeches probably sound like a Mister Rogers version of Knute Rockne, a variation on the story of the tortoise and the hare. “Let’s lose one for Red, guys.” The Celtics were supposed to have been the hare at the beginning of the season, now they have become the tortoise, grinding their way through games while reacting to the opponent rather than forcing the tempo.

These Celtics fans are embarrassed by the team’s horrific start. The way to salve this embarrassment is to root for the other guys. Who can find dignity in this situation, however? As much as any of us do not like what is going on at the Vault, how can we let ourselves actually hope for losses? Where is the joy in this? Apathy would probably be a more reasoned response.

I do think I understand the anti-fan contingent, though. I mean, who needs to peg the blood pressure meter from watching a game? These folks can stop worrying about what the other Eastern Conference teams are doing because the Celtics are simply not going to be a factor. They can sail through this season as if it never happened and wind up with a high lottery pick at the end. The anti-fans are detached and calm, much better off emotionally than those fans that live and die with each game.