A Daily Babble Production
Note: We're going with the rare two-part Daily Babble today, but we're putting out a warning with this one. Given the backlash we've witnessed from audiences of other Boston sports-supporting writers who occasionally put out a column with a personal narrative quality to them, it seems only fair to caution ahead of time that this column falls into that mold. The Celts' Game 5 win over Atlanta was a special one for me in many regards, and it means something for me to be able to share the experience -- not because I'm pompous enough to believe that it's that necessary for me to enlighten the readership here as to the contents of my personal background, but because it's important to remember how meaningful the personal side of being a sports fan is. More than anything, I give you the following in hopes of providing the impetus for you to share your own personal fanship experiences, be it from last night's victory or otherwise. For those of you wholly disinterested, we've provided you the aforementioned bonus Babble for the day, viewable here. For the rest, thanks for the patience, and know that your own thoughts and experiences are more than welcome as always in the comments section.I've done a lot of talking over the past few weeks about how no matter what happened in these playoffs, I was not going to be the one who messed with the sports karma lords and threw the whole of Celtics Nation under the bus. I've refused to answer questions about future playoff rounds for weeks now, been cautious to a point of annoyance to those around me in using the phrase "if" rather than "when" in referring to the possibility of the top-seeded Celtics advancing past the first round, and I've repeatedly lapsed into coach-speak in emphasizing that the next game is always the most important one, be it against the Hawks or otherwise.
Yet some time ago, I thought it would be funny to engage in what seemed like a harmless birthday prank but instead could well have been what sent all that good karma work to waste.
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You see, Tuesday morning also marked the culmination of the first six decades of life on this green Earth for Papa Weinman, also known as The Guru. As I've detailed in this space before, though I spend much of my time these days upwards of a thousand miles away, Pops and I remain extremely close, and we still talk after every game. For as long as I can remember, among all the other wonderful fatherly acts he has done for me, Pops has always been there to serve as the level-headed pessimist to my eternal optimist when it comes to our beloved Celtics and Dodgers. If there has been a particularly special part of this dream season for me, it has been getting to share it with him, even from afar.
In recent Celtics history, the figure who likely most epitomized this situation between our differing mentalities has been current center Kendrick Perkins. I spent a long time trying in vain to convince The Guru of Perk's potential. That he had the body to be a big shot-blocker. That he was known as a guy who put in the work in practice. That he could one day put it all together and really be something special. That he spent large portions of this season making appreciable improvements to his game.
All throughout, Pops has had none of it. We're talking, after all, about the guy who once sent a waitress at a New England diner en route with coffee scurrying the other way by slamming his fist on a table to scream at me that "Whoever told this guy he was ready to jump to the NBA from high school should be shot!" The phrases "Two words: Career backup" and "Yeah, yeah, he's big. I get it. Great. A big guy with no quickness and no touch. Fantastic," have long since become old refrains with The Guru. And oddly enough, it seemed that every time Perk put together a few good games in a row to start making progress once again, Pops would always manage to end up sitting down for the one in which he reverted back to past form for the night. This occurred with such regularity this season that it became a running joke between us, that if the Celts ended up in a big situation late in the year in which they really needed Perk to be a dominant inside presence in order to have any chance to win, Pops watching the game could have the potential to do the team in.
But with the big man clearly having the best season of his career, and the Celtics playing well enough that the Perk issue was accompanied with laughter rather than agitation in our discussions this season, the time seemed ripe for a joke. April 29 would fall during the first round, one which the Celts were certain to win with relative ease. The coast was clear.
So I went ahead and ordered Pops a shirt with Perk's mug emblazoned on it as a birthday surprise sure to rile him, a riling that would likely be offset by the team's solid play.
Of course, it was not to be.
Not only did the team lose Game 3 in Atlanta to prevent a sweep, Perk didn't exactly set the world on fire in Game 4 (and risked a suspension for Game 5 by stepping onto the court during an altercation), which the Celts dropped to tie the series. So tack on a miserable far-away son and possible Celtics peril to The Guru's 60th birthday celebration...and a Perk t-shirt. Yeesh.
Of course, being the generally mild-mannered guy he is, Pops took it all in stride, remaining fairly even keeled regarding the following day's crucial game with the Hawks and even finding it in him to get a kick out of the shirt.
But it was the events of the next night that brought the world perfectly back onto its proper axis for us.
As the Celtics blew out the Hawks last night, one thought began to stick in my mind in the midst of the fourth quarter, once the rout was on: This one was tailor-made for The Guru.
As we wrote about earlier in the year, the man fell in love with James Posey from day one this season. The hustle, the toughness, the defense and even the underrated quickness Pose gave our boys off the bench: Dad loved it all, adopting Posey as 'his boy' right away. And in a show of continued dislike for Perk, he became a big-time Leon Powe booster off the bench (once Brandon Wallace was cut, at least) early on as well.
On this night when there was plenty of credit to go around, it was The Guru's boys who did plenty of shining. Posey hit just two shots for the game, but they were dagger three-pointers to expand the Celtics' lead into rout territory on both occasions. Meanwhile, he played his usual stifling defense and gave the Celtics great effort in his 20 minutes off the bench.
Speaking of effort, Powe was the man of the hour in that department. He entered the game and almost immediately had five offensive rebounds, courtesy of banging around down low and fighting to the death on every play. LoPo was a huge reason why the Celtics seemed to be markedly improved in their success on 50-50 balls last night, and his finishing line of 10 points and 7 rebounds in just 23 minutes was nearly an adequate reflection of the guts-out mode he played in all night.
It was the type of game in which even from half a continent away, I could feel The Guru beaming.
After three days of miserable discussion about what had gone wrong with this team in Atlanta, the conversation after Game 5 felt like a parade over the phone. The Guru waited patiently for me to bring up his boys, taking the time in the interim to teach me of something previously left unmentioned -- his long-standing dislike of Dick Stockton. He was in rare form: "When this guy came into this business, it was fairly evident that he had left journalism school and hopped into the booth without ever playing in, watching, going to or reading about an NBA game in any capacity. The color guy would say something, and ten minutes later Stockton would regurgitate it. He didn't know anything about basketball. Did he call Tony Allen a tremendous offensive player tonight? And was he watching the game at all? There were at least three fouls that he called on Atlanta, which led me to wonder why the Hawks were presented with the ball immediately afterwards. One of those times, he corrected himself. On the other occasions? Not so much. I have to hand it to this guy; he's improved over the years. Thanks to that improvement, he's now reached the point where I'll settle for calling him an out-and-out moron."
For a guy who usually couldn't be bothered to know what channel the game is on much less who the announcers are, to hear him thoroughly ripping a play-by-play guy was a rare treat. It was an absolute pleasure, and it put me in hysterics.
Just as it was a pleasure to hear him speak glowingly of 'his boys' when we got around to them. And to hear him talk about how thrilled he was with Pierce's play, and how Sam Cassell still makes him nervous even though he happened to hit the shots he took this time around. And to hear him mention that he could 'hear my smile' about this game over the phone.
Even 1,100 miles and several decades apart, sometimes the good life can be as simple as getting to talk hoops with Pops.
A Celtics win just makes it all the sweeter.
Happy belated birthday, Dad. No matter how silly it sounds, I'll go to my grave telling myself that the fellas got this one for you. I can't tell you how much it means to have gotten to share this season with you the way we have all year. Just keep being yourself, and no matter how the basketball results end up, I know I'll be able to leave this season like any other -- with some semblance of a smile on my face thanks to time spent interacting with you (although the winning certainly doesn't hurt and would be preferable if continued).
Here's to the rest of the members of this wonderful community of Celtics fans of ours having their own special silly-sounding reasons to revel in the victory as well. It's nearly impossible to overestimate the value of a personal touch.