If you haven't heard, someone is making their lone trip of the season to Boston on Wednesday night. He isn't heading to the Hall of Fame. He didn't play in the epic NBA Finals match-ups of 2008 and 2010. And he certainly isn't a Lakers legend. But he's someone who deserves a standing ovation from Celtics fans.
If you haven't guessed yet, I'm not talking about Kobe Bryant.
The player most deserving of the envy and applause from Celtics fans is none other than former Celtics forward Brandon Bass. He may not be one of the greatest to ever play the game or a showman like Kobe, but his four seasons with the Celtics were as influential as any role player in recent history.
Bass arrived on the scene in Boston in December 2011 from a Magic team that underutilized him. In the thick of the Big 3 era when every year was championship or bust, he had no more room for error. As a journeyman for years prior he had gained a reputation for being a turnover-prone ball of fire that infamously drove his coach Stan Van Gundy bonkers. So of course, Danny Ainge flipped fan-favorite Glen Davis (and Von Wafer) for him.
Few knew it at the time but Bass would be monumental in the C's final deep run into the playoffs with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. Coming in as an active four who could battle with bigger players and spread the floor, he allowed Garnett to move to the five where he could feast on slower-footed centers. The team was almost ahead of their time in how they played small late that year.
Coming into his own, Bass provided a productive 13.1 points, 6.3 rebounds per game to go with 48% shooting from February 10 until the end of the regular season, a stretch where the team went 24-11. But the real magic from Bass came in the playoffs, where Boston saw him break off for 11.1/5.3/0.8, including a monster performance in the Philadelphia series (14.0 ppg/4.6 rpg, 27 points in Game 5).
The team made it all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in part thanks to the important role that Bass filled alongside the Big 3 (or Big 4, if you include Rondo).
After re-signing that offseason, Bass never quite got the same opportunity he received from the team in 2012, but he took the variety of roles Doc Rivers threw at him in stride.
In 2012-13 he grew as a defender, becoming effective at the side of the floor he once struggled on while seeing time on and off the bench with rookie Jared Sullinger in the mix. By year's end, once the latter went down, his consistent presence on both ends of the floor paved the way into him starting once again into the postseason against New York. By that time his defense grew to a point where he was pressed often into defending Knicks star Carmelo Anthony (38% FG, 26.5% 3-pt) in the six game series in which Boston nearly erased a 3-0 deficit.
Former C's coach Rivers was so high on Bass his praise included going as far as to call his Game 1 perfect:
"I thought Brandon played the perfect game for us...defensively he guarded Melo well, he took shots when he should have, he moved the ball a lot because they were coming. I don't see anything that he did wrong."
Times changed quickly in Boston that summer. Garnett and Pierce were traded, Rivers went west, and suddenly Bass' head was probably spinning finding himself in a rebuilding situation under new coach Brad Stevens.
He could have pushed his way out, especially as a valuable role player, while the Celtics sunk to a horrendous 25-57 record in 2013-14. Instead he played all 82 games while averaging 11.1 points and 5.7 rebound per on 49% shooting, never speaking a word of frustration.
As 2014-15 circled around, before the arrival of Jae Crowder in the Rajon Rondo trade and the departure of Jeff Green, Bass was already setting the standard for the Celtics hustle that we now see every night from this team.
Before the All-Star break, where he only found 12 starts, he was still was able to contribute 9.5/4.2 a night. With the arrival of Isaiah Thomas at the deadline and the team committing to a full-force playoff push, Bass started the final 31 games and was a vital factor to the constant energy Boston played with (12.3/6.0, 55% FG). Over that stretch the team went 20-11 and slipped into the playoffs as an the unexpected 7 seed before falling to Cleveland in four games.
Over the four seasons in Boston until the day he signed with the Lakers on a two-year, $6.1 million deal, he went from a non-factor on Orlando's bench to one of the most sneaky-productive role players in the entire league. Whether it was extending his range to the 3-point line or constantly working on becoming a better perimeter and interior defender or his own rap career on the side; Bass put everything he had on the table to make himself better in Boston.
His persistence as the team went from championship contenders to rebuilding is a big reason the Celtics are where they are today.
For Celtics fans, that should be appreciated more tonight than the retiring Lakers legend.
Brad Stevens also went to great lengths emphasizing the importance of his former forward yesterday:
"I'm very fond of Brandon...[Bass] really worked hard and he helped get this thing going in the right direction just by his work ethic, by the way he took care of his body, the example he set for his young teammates, and I'm really thankful that he was here with us."
Evan Turner added to his coach's praise of his 14/15 teammate, affirming his quiet importance as the veteran of last year's squad:
"He always tried to adapt with how the team was doing. And I think he was one of the big parts of why we were able to make our [playoff] push. He was always poised. You know, he had great days with the Celtics early on. He wouldn't speak on what the past regime did or anything [while Boston navigated the rebuild]. He was just trying to make sure we won. He was a great guy to be around."
So if you're standing up and applauding a Lakers player at the game tonight, make sure it's the one who poured his heart and soul into the Celtics in two different roles over four seasons.