Ed: I asked Fabio Anderle, our friend in Italy, to share his thoughts and experiences of this Championship Season. Fabio has a very unique perspective, he covered the team for us in Rome and was there for the earliest days of Ubuntu. This is a fantastic article, thanks Fabio. - Green17
Every Celtics fan enjoyed the magnitude of the last banner, but I feel even more privileged, having witnessed the "birth of the Ubuntu". PalaFonte is a small gym nested in the south-eastern Rome suburbia. The first time I reached the bleachers placed in an elevated area which kept the media afar from the court, I instantly stopped in my tracks due to the level of intensity in the scrimmage the Celtics were playing. It was an unusual October even for Rome, with soul soothing temperatures in the seventies, and the off-the-charts toughness the Celtics were showing on the court seemed exaggerated in the smoothness of that environment. But they were not in Italy to chill out and enjoy the pleasures of the "Eternal City", they were "on a mission from Red."
I know that back in Boston some fans questioned what they perceived as some bites of "Dolce Vita": pictures of Ray Allen driving a bike and Paul Pierce sporting a Roman helmet and news of Kevin Garnett buying "the kids" a full set of tailored Italian suits somewhat passed the notion of a team tasting the Italian autumn in "sweet life" fashion while they should have been working on chemistry and team play. Well, those critics should have been within ear shot of drill sergeant Tom Thibodeau when he started barking his first orders to set up a defense which would have proved to be the best in the NBA, if not one for the ages. And they should have seen the fierce battles during those first scrimmages, when it was evident that veterans and coaching staff were trying to set the pace for a season to remember. But it wasn’t just "war and sweat": words like "togetherness", "camaraderie" and "Ubuntu" seemed to acquire face value as soon as you got to see these men at work.
In the pre-season opener Boston defeated Toronto, but more importantly you could see that the players were acquiring a "roman legion-like" attitude, "discipline and loyalty first". And, like the roman centurions, they were learning from their own mistakes, and they were always looking for ways to keep their "combat effectiveness" at its peak. The week in Rome is filled with memories for me: Eddie House and Paul Pierce jawing at each other during a heated scrimmage, Rajon Rondo’s huge "RR" tattoo filling his whole naked back while he keeps draining outside shots with promising precision, James Posey going baseline and scoring a jaw-dropping reverse layup cheered wildly by his teammates. I asked Danny Ainge if he thought these Celtics could duplicate the success of the original Big Three in the Eighties, and his answer "It’s still too early to tell" (tell me again, Danny!).
I would lie if I told you I knew right off the bat the Celtics would win a championship, after all, "Rome wasn’t built in a day". But I boarded the plane on my way back home with the clear impression that this team was something special.
From then on – and I am sure every fan will agree - it was a blast. The season started, and you could clearly see the Celtics improving on daily basis. The 8-0 and 20-2 start: by then nobody was laughing at the "Ubuntu" anymore, and you could hear the buzz around the league.
It was a tough time for me and my buddies, though. Why? You American guys don’t have the slightest idea of how lucky you are! You can watch the Celtics play while sitting on the couch after a good dinner or - even better - you can drive your way to the TD Garden and then see them perform live. Here in Europe life is more difficult for the average fan. We wake up in the middle of the night, and if the local networks have gently scheduled the game, we will turn the volume down to avoid waking up the rest of the family. Sometimes the game won’t be available, so our last chance will be the internet. I swear I could name some fans so hard nosed that they used to follow the NBA.com play-by-play in the middle of the night! Regularly. And even during the 18-game losing streak.
But not this year. With Garnett, Pierce and Allen life was easier because most Celtics games were broadcasted live in Italy too. We watched Gilbert Arenas eating up his own words in the opener, we jumped from our seats when Ray Allen drilled the winning three pointer in Toronto, and we relaxed on the couch while the Green slaughtered the Knicks 104-59. The regular season was a wonderful green blur, with just a couple of moments of concern: the Garnett injury and the three games losing streak after the All Star Game. But the Celtics Legion always regrouped, and then sank the dagger in the heart of the Lone Star State, mowing down San Antonio, Houston and Dallas in four nights. The fun of this magical tour was heightened e-mail exchanges with Mike Gorman, Steve Bulpett and Marc Spears, who all added a deeper perspective to what we were seeing.
And, suddenly, it was playoffs time. The Celtics learned at their expense that regular season and playoffs are a different beast, which is not easy to tame. However, the rest is history: the Atlanta kids showed that they belong, the Eastern Conference Champions of Cleveland peaked at the right time to give us the worst scare of the whole post-season, and Detroit stole one on the parquet. ESPN's dearies, the Los Angeles Lakers, tried to put up some resistance, but our battle hardened warriors were too much for them.
During the playoffs, the other side of the Green Nation was still waking up at 2/3 a.m., watching the game, taking another short nap and then going to work. We did this 26 times in a two months span. But the final game, the duck boats, the 17th banner were sweet and well worth the effort. Very seldom did we manage to share the anguish of a deciding seventh game with a friend: the wee hours and the need to seize every possible minute of sleep before going to work made the European Celtics fans a bunch of lonely nocturnal red-eyed creatures. We found a way to celebrate the title, though. It wasn’t a duck boat parade, or a Fenway Park brouhaha, though: we met in Milano, played some ball, and dined together exchanging impressions, anecdotes and "war stories". The final touch was a tasty cigar in honor of Red Auerbach…. it was the most appropriate way to celebrate a season for the ages, and now I feel blessed three times.
First, because Boston ended a 22-year drought which was too un-Celtic to be true. Second, since I have always been in Ainge’s and Pierce’s corner, sometimes I have been called "a loyalist": but this win proved that event "loyalists" can be "realist"….it was good for the soul. Third, I was there when everything started, and the pride I got from telling "the birth of the Ubuntu" from the columns of Celticsblog was one of the most terrific basketball-related experiences in my life. No team had ever registered a 24-to-66 wins turnaround, and no Celtics team ever won a title after being in the NBA cellar the year before. And since Rome proved to be a good omen, hey, we should make Wyc Grousbeck think about it for the march to Green18.
Oh, one last thing: "The Celtics Conquer Rome" was a kaleidoscope of faces, colours, impressions. I got to treasure my (sometimes too scarce) time with "Doc" Rivers, Steve Bulpett, Armond Hill, Ed Lacerte, James Posey. But the company I enjoyed most was Mike Gorman. He is a class act while wielding a microphone, but even better off the record.