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Taking The Cast Off

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baker_225_p1c.jpg Twenty years is a long time.  Sure, it isn’t 86 years or anything, but when you are talking about a team with the most titles in the sport, that’s a ginormous drought.  Sure, the team that made it to the Eastern Conference Championship was exciting in its own way.  But other than that, since Reggie Lewis tragically passed away, what kind of success has this team really had?  Does winning the Atlantic Division a few years back even count?  Through all of this, through the brief ups and long, long downs, I’ve been a fan.  I wore my fandom like a badge of honor.  I knew that someday my team would repay my loyalty with another banner.

But I have to confess, now that we seem to be on the right path, I don’t know what to do with myself.  I just have very little idea what it means to be the fan of a winning basketball team anymore.

I was raised on Bird, Parish, and McHale, but they slowly limped away and sure enough, they never did walk through that door again.  The duo of Pierce and Walker was fun for a while.  They at least made things interesting.  I wanted this team to win so badly that I looked past their faults and soaked up their strengths like a sponge.  To this day I’m a big Antoine Walker fan, which is a little like admitting to still having a crush on Kirsty Alley.  It’s not that I would ever want him back on the Celtics.  I just love him for making my life a little more interesting for a few years as a fan of the Celtics.

The string of rejects and retreads that have donned a Celtic uniform through the years almost tarnished the legend and legacy of what it meant to wear the uniform.  We’re talking Mark Blount, Vin Baker, Joe Forte, Jerome Moiso, Dwayne Schintzius, Travis Knight, Eric Montross, Todd Day, Acie Earl, the list goes on.

So of course I started looking for diamonds in the rough.  I was so sure about Kedrick Brown.  I just knew that Marcus Banks was our point guard of the future.  All Sebastian Telfair needed was a change of scenery.  Gerald Green is going to "get it" any day now.

As the losses mounted, the mentality changed.  By now you know the drill.  We were the fanbase best known for rooting for losses to improve draft position.  We sold out games that were lopsided routs just because we wanted to be able to say "I saw Al Jefferson back in the day."   We were cool with it because in our minds, we didn’t want to be sort-of good for year after year.  We wanted to go for it all.  We were hoping for that big payday when we’d get really good again and if it took taking 5 steps back to make a great leap forward, so be it. 

We’re Boston fans; all we care about is the banners. Right?  So why does it feel so unfamiliar to be back in the title hunt?

Have you ever broken your arm or had to have a cast of any sort?  Remember what it was like to lose the ability to function normally?  Remember what it was like when you finally got the cast off?  There’s that moment when you have the full range of motion and the ability to move your arm just like you used to be able to, but for some reason your muscle memory can’t quite remember how.  That moment.  That’s where I’m at right now.

I remember expecting to win every game.  I remember rooting for the Lakers to make it to the Finals so we could play someone worth fighting.  I remember knowing that every year we had a really good shot to add another banner to the rafters.  I just don’t remember it vividly.  It’s kind of a fog right now.

I’m hoping that it is like riding a bike and once I start getting a little momentum going, my feet will find the pedals and it will all come back to me in a snap.  In fact, I’m kinda counting on that.

piercefriends.jpg I don’t think I’ll have to worry about "moral victories" and "good losses" anymore.  Lottery day won’t matter much this year.  Draft day will be fun, but it won’t be the most important day of the year anymore.  Draft Express will be a great place to research guys at the bottom of the first round, but it won’t be my daily morning read from April to June anymore (sorry Eric).

Instead, we’ll be looking ahead to the competition and wonder about matchups and gameplans.  When the team wins, we’ll actually break down some of the things that went wrong and how we can still improve in the next game.  When the season starts winding down, we’ll have to start tracking these things called "home court advantage" and "seeds."  It’s a whole new world.

The thing is, after the cast comes off and that moment of hesitation passes, you stretch out, flex your fingers, and you can’t help but smile.  And before you know it, you’re shooting baskets and enjoying all the things you used to take for granted.  This is going to be a lot of fun.