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2012 Celtics Stand Alone: High Noon or Butch Cassidy?

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I know a lot of people aren’t feeling it, but this year’s Celtics are writing a very interesting story. We are all pretty sure we know how it is going to end.

Usually the best stories aren’t about a perfect entity achieving perfection. It is much more intriguing when the imperfect overcome serious odds and achieves perfection.

It is even more compelling to follow a story of someone trying to accomplish the impossible or the near impossible and giving it everything they have….in spite of knowing the seriousness of the odds against them. Magnificent failure can be a beautiful thing.

If this is the Alamo, then Danny Ainge is Sam Houston and has told Doc and the team there aren’t going to be any major reinforcements coming. There will be a few new bigs added by Friday, we are told. But no heavy artillery is headed this way. The Greater Celtic Cause needs to build up its strength to fight another day in another year.

So, in my mind anyway, this year’s version of the always tough Celtics are likened to the fabled, even mythical stories against incredible odds from our ‘western’ past…like The Alamo. Two classic westerns from film history come to mind as well. Butch Cassidy and High Noon. Granted, it is only life and death in a sports minded way. But this year has all the feel of a sort of permanent ending for the Celtics, the Core Four, and the Kevin Garnett Era.

This year, far more than last year, feels like 1969. Except, with apologies to Kevin Garnett, there ain’t no Bill Russell here to save the day.

Can failure really make a better story?

Many will remember Friday Night Lights. In a recent book*, Donald Miller, who grew up in Texas and remembered that team and that winning season wrote this….

"Friday Night Lights was a great movie, really, a great sports movie about a team that overcame unbelievable conflict, including injuries and abusive parents and undue pressure from the football-crazed community."

But did you know this?….

"Odessa lost and I was confused. I specifically remember the team winning when I was a kid.

I went home and looked up the story and it turned out that Odessa had won the state championship the following year.

"…the screenwriters didn’t write about the year Odessa won the championship. They wrote about the year they almost won."

He found an article that told why the screenwriters wrote about the year before the title. They said the year they won was great, but the year before was better because the team that lost had sacrificed more.

Donald Miller learned…

"It wasn’t necessary to win for a story to be great, it was only necessary to sacrifice everything."

He also discovers that what helps makes a good story is that you care for the lead character(s). First you develop the affection and caring for the character. Then you root for and vicariously go through the difficult challenges with them. I don’t have to tell Boston Celtic fans that those elements are all there. They have shared in every victory and endured every disappointment for 5 years. They will follow to the very end.

For me, it was easy early on to develop compassion for this hard-nosed, tough skinned group of Celtic players who are about to stand alone, perhaps for the last time, in one final post season battle together. Due to the cruel indifference of the basketball gods, they are undermanned, due, in large part, to injury. Others chose not to join in war with them this season. Excepting Rondo, they are much nearer the end than the beginning of their careers.

At the beginning of the year, everyone knew the end of a special run was about to unwind. It was time for fans to take stock of their feelings. At that time I realized, all over again, how much I liked this group of snarling, leering, no nonsense, no excuse, highly skilled, highly professional Celtic basketball players. It was, in many ways, an unlikable crew that I really liked. Celtic fans have been blessed, even lucky to have the privilege to watch this core group perform for 5 mighty years.

Kevin Garnett’s game face, leer, and 48 minute, game long intensity will be most obviously missed when he finally is gone from this child’s game played by men. Garnett is the warrior’s warrior. If Rajon Rondo is Doc’s coach on the floor offensively, then Kevin is his defensive coach, practice coach and locker room assistant coach as well.

One Title – Multiple Great Stories
They were only able to line up one ‘party crashing’ NBA title together. We all thought there might be, should have been…. more. There was Mickey Mantle’s early career affecting knee injury. Ken Griffey Jr. endured multiple leg injuries.The knee injury to Kevin Garnett has given Celtic fans their own eternal "What if…?" Could the Cs have captured another NBA title…or two?

What was viewed as a cruel fate from the basketball gods, in fact, gave us another great story to watch, though few will see it that way. As Mantle and Griffey Jr. did, Garnett continues to play at a very high level and continues to give us the very best of what he has left.

Best Story?
Most will say that the first season, in retrospect, turned out to be the best season of all. It was the closest to perfection that 'that almost perfect team' was able to accomplish. Nothing less than an astonishing run through an adrenaline saturated season. Magnificent.

But I will submit to you that the 2010 season was a far better story. It ended in ultimate failure. Rather, it ‘ultimately’ ended in failure. But it was a glorious defeat. An unexpected and forever puzzling game six will be forgotten. According to their regular season record, and their injuries, that team had no business entering the NBA throne room and almost grabbing the crown. They held it in their hands. It was….. a magnificent failure.

A recent Tom Haberstroh article is an interesting read on what we should have expected from the complete Kevin Garnett Era Celtics. Using his research and statistical logic, 30 teams since 1983-4 have ‘amassed 50 wins in the regular season, but only one other reached the Finals with that win total.’ Only the 2010 Cs came that close to an upset. Greatness, in its own way.

Few Came
So this year is different. Few came to help the aging Celtics make one more try. Maybe the TDBank Garden looked a bit like the Alamo even in December. Instead of decrying and lamenting the additions of Marquis Daniels, Keyon Dooling, Chris Wilcox, Jermaine O’Neal, Sasha Pavolic, and even Greg Stiemsma, embrace them. Like Mickael Pietrus, they chose of their own free will to join this aging team, in their Alamo, when many others chose not to. They are all that came to help.

Over the years, Antonio McDyess, Nene Hilario, Grant Hill, more recently David West, Joel Pryzbilla, and Reggie Evans, among many others, chose to go elsewhere. Maybe Boston appears too cold and more urbane than urban. Maybe Celtic history means absolutely nothing to most modern players. Maybe the calculating Danny Ainge and the eccentricities of Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo are an acquired taste.

Back to the Movies….

For those who haven’t seen High Noon, Gary Cooper, as Sheriff Will Kane, was forced to stand alone, without help from the very Hadleysville (never mentioned- it was on the train station sign) townspeople he had sworn to protect, against an incoming gang.

Cooper was the iconic, yet vulnerable ‘everyman’ American hero. KG and the rest of the Core Four are nothing like that. They will show you no vulnerability. Yet like Will Kane, they have no intentions of leaving town, nor going away quietly. Without public complaint, they have accepted their fate. They will stand and fight together, no matter the odds and without excuses.

There are other interesting analogies you can draw.

After 25 years in the business, Gary Cooper was dropped from the Top Ten box office performers the year before. High Noon reinvigorated his career. Certainly, how the aging Celtics perform in the playoffs will affect how they are viewed next season.

High Noon was nominated for Picture of the Year but lost to the (inferior) Greatest Show on Earth. Miami Heat analogy, anyone? High Noon, the loser, was the better story.

High Noon has been called the ‘western for those who don’t like westerns.’ In this case, it may be the opposite. Only those who really like basketball will want to see how this basketball show ends. In Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the bad guys were the good guys. With this group of Celtics, the good guys seem to be the bad guys.

So, how will it end?

Alone and miraculously, Gary Cooper shot all the bad guys dead, looked at all the townspeople coming out when the shooting stopped, and then, from what I read, shocked the movie audiences when he threw his badge in the dirt, and rode off with his faithful wife. Singularly victorious when no one helped, and none thought he could win.


…will it be more like Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid with Robert Redford and Paul Newman, another team with winning chemistry. The ultimate, overconfident bad guys fought with each other constantly. They never considered losing and ultimately, in the final scene, never even knew they had gotten in way over their heads. But even if they did, you knew they would go down the same way. It was an ‘epic failure’ ending and one of Hollywood’s greatest movie endings ever.

We hope for the first ending. We fear it will be the second. Either way, we will expect you to give it everything you have. Go out the same nasty, team playing, self sacrificing way you came in. Let there be a few dead enemy bodies along the way.

*"It wasn’t necessary to win for a story to be great, it was only necessary to sacrifice everything."

Write us just one more great story.

*(A Million Miles in a Thousand Years) by Donald Miller 2009