My dad has been a Celtics fan since the days of Cousy and Russell.
All three of his boys are Celtics fans today — although the youngest of us grew up a Bulls fan and roots for the Celtics primarily because rooting for the Bulls has largely been an exercise in masochism for over twenty years now.
A few years ago, my dad started a group chat for the four of us, primarily for discussing basketball because when it comes to football, we divide our loyalties among three NFC Central teams. Last year, he added my two nephews to the chat because when they were both very young and impressionable, the Celtics dismantled the Lakers en route to their 17th championship.
And after the Celtics’ win over the Warriors in Game 1, he added my niece, because it’s 2022, the Celtics are still relevant, and she’s become a fan, too.
I didn’t watch game 1 of the Finals with my dad because I was watching it with my father-in-law, who was visiting from Ohio, and who became a fan of the Celtics in 1968.
Now this could be a nice story about family and togetherness, but we really aren’t that mushy -- or hidebound and traditional.
There are three generations of Celtics fans in our family because the Celtics have, notwithstanding the purgatory of the late 90's, been relevant for a commensurate length of time. If the C’s had followed up even their 80's glory with a decades long slide into mediocrity a la the Sixers, me and my brother might still be fans, but my Dad’s fondness for the team in green would likely be viewed as a charmingly quaint quirk by his grandchildren, sort of like dressing for dinner or wearing sock garters.
Instead, the Celtics are still there. At the beginning of his career, LeBron had to get past the Celtics to win a championship. LeBron’s last two conference finals opponents before he left for LA were the Celtics, and now that he’s unquestionably on the downhill side of his career, the Celtics are still there.
The Celtics traded a pick to Minnesota that the Wolves could have used to draft Steph Curry in order to secure Kevin Garnett. Almost thirteen years after the Wolves used that pick on Johnny Flynn instead, the Celtics are in the Finals again. Curry came into the league when the Celtics were a force to be reckoned with, and they still are.
It is difficult to overstate the shadow the Celtics cast over the NBA.
For as long as there has been an NBA, at least one of its teams has been coached by Red Auerbach, by a player he coached or by a player he acquired via draft, trade or free agency.
The Lakers’ best years in Los Angeles started when Jack Kent Cooke hired a couple ex-Celtics, Bill Sharman and KC Jones, to sit on the bench. And as team president, Bill Sharman drafted Magic Johnson, gave Jerry West his first front office job with the team, and then hired him as the team’s first general manager.
Even during this recent dry spell—with the team only notching two Finals appearances and one championship since acquiring Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, the Celtics still lead all NBA teams both in the number of playoff games won and the number of games played. The C’s have won 105 playoff games in the last 15 years. That’s more than Miami, that’s more than Golden State, and that’s more than San Antonio. They have missed the playoffs only once in that period and have made the conference finals seven times.
And bear in mind that, for the Celtics, that constitutes a ‘dry spell.’
When Nabisco decided to turn their relationship with the NBA into cookies, they came out with a series of ‘Dynasty’ Oreos—and along with the Celtics and Lakers, they included the Heat, the Spurs, the Bulls and the Warriors.
But to me, those last four teams don’t make much sense. The first rule of establishing a dynasty—if you’re a king or a queen—is that your kid has to succeed you on the throne. I mean, that’s the bare minimum. If you want to stretch that premise to professional sports, I think you need to have more than just a bunch of championships that all came with pretty much the same cast of characters.
Winning a handful of championships in close succession is great, but what comes next?
If you’re the Bulls and you’re unfortunately owned by Jerry Reinsdorf, nothing. Nothing at all. Jordan retires and the Bulls go back to being a nicely profitable and generally depressing part of his real estate portfolio (I’m a lapsed White Sox fan; I know of what I speak). That’s not a dynasty. That’s a generational player and a GM who was smarter than he gets credit for ending up in the same place at the same time. That’s an accident.
With the Celtics, you can actually construct a dynasty: Red Auerbach won the team’s first nine championships as a coach, and he hired the coaches who won the next seven. The 17th championship team was assembled by a guy Red drafted, and if the C’s win Banner 18 under the current regime, the GM will be a guy hired by a guy Red drafted. The Celtics have never truly ‘blown it up,’ unless you count their brief and disastrous fling with Rick Pitino.
Now, you could make a case that the NBA is riddled with other sorts of dynasties—it is surely a testament to a perverse sort of skill that the Knicks have been simultaneously so rich and so bad for so long. And the Kings’ failure to even advance to the playoffs since 2006 in a league where more than half the teams do so suggests a degree of determined incompetence that has triumphed even against the law of averages.
But if you’re going to talk about teams that have sustained excellence for more than just a snapshot in time, you’ve really got just two teams to consider. The Lakers and the Celtics.
And when it comes to the Lakers, they didn’t become a dynasty until they brought in some Celtic blood.
But tonight there’s going to be a different sort of Celtic dynasty in the basement of my parent’s home in Brookings, cheering for the C’s to get one win closer to Banner 18.