The game of basketball has evolved over the last 75 years and with it, so has its reach, coverage, and how fans consume the NBA. Here’s a candid conversation with three fellow CelticsBloggers from three different generations on how being a Celtics fan has changed over the years and how age and perspective have affected their relationship with the Celtics.
Bill Sy (46 year old): Mike, you’ve seen everything, but I’m curious what your first memory is when you got absolutely hooked. What was that moment when you became a fan?
Mike Dynon (71 years old): As a kid, I was a baseball/football fan, and only discovered the NBA as a teenager. My best friend read a Sports Illustrated article about Frank Ramsey, the first Celtic to fill the role of sixth man. My buddy liked it so much he decided to become a Celtics fan, so I did too. This was 1965, and not many games were televised then, but I distinctly recall watching Game 7 of the Finals, Celtics-Lakers in the Garden. It was Red Auerbach’s last game as coach. Bill Russell was immense with 25 points and 32 rebounds, and I was amazed by his shot-blocking. The Celtics won 95-93 and from that point I was all in.
BS: I’m always jealous reading your pieces because they’re so rich with firsthand details. My experience was far different from yours. I grew up in Saudi Arabia and the only NBA games we got were reruns on Sunday and the occasional VHS that my uncles would send us of All-Star Weekend and the playoffs. I’ll never forget watching Game 5 of the 1991 Playoffs against the Pacers where Bird fractured his cheekbone before halftime and came back halfway through the third. I didn’t get a chance to see a lot of games, but I watched that one a hundred times. What’s interesting to me is that you got into it fairly late in life as a teenager.
MD: Bill, yes, I was about 14 or 15. Grew up in Brooklyn and the Knicks were terrible most of the 60s, so maybe I just didn’t pay attention. I knew the names of some of their players, and I knew the Celtics won the title every year, but that was all. There was no 24/7 media where you could follow a sport or an out-of-town team easily. I began buying basketball publications and listened to games with Johnny Most on the radio. And then went to MSG whenever the Cs came in, which back then was about five or six times per season.
BS: That’s actually a perfect segue. I think when Mike and I were growing up, we were starved for any content that we could find about the Celtics. I remember cutting out box scores and Sports Illustrated articles and creating these little yearbooks about every season. Now, everything is at your fingertips.
Alex, becoming a fan in the internet era, what was the draw for you?
Alex Walulik (20 years old): I think the main draw was the complete and total access to everything. It’s so easy and has always been so easy for me to YouTube a postgame interview with a player, or look at a box score to see who played well on ESPN. For my entire life, it’s felt like I’ve had a somewhat interactive and close relationship to the team and the players just because of the exposure and attention they get
I have this somewhat close-knit relationship to the team because I’ve seen almost everything Jayson Tatum says and does. I’ve grown up with Marcus Smart as he’s spent time with the organization. Same with Jaylen Brown. None of that would’ve been possible without social media and the Internet
BS: Mike, do you think a lack of access affected your early fandom?
MD: It probably made me more committed, because I had to work at it. After high school, I chose to go to Boston University – I wanted to go there for several reasons, but the location was one of the most important. After graduating, I went back to Brooklyn and began working in Manhattan. There was a newsstand in Times Square that carried out-of-town newspapers, so on Mondays I’d make a stop there on my way to the office to buy the Boston Globe. I learned a lot from Bob Ryan. Alex is right, the internet and Twitter are such valuable resources. I don’t take them for granted.
BS: So, this is the heart of what I wanted to talk about. There used to be a mystique around your favorite players and teams. Now, every little thing gets scrutinized. I’ve certainly become more of a fan of front offices and the business of basketball, but sometimes, I wish I didn’t get so much of a view from behind the curtain.
AW: It’s so interesting too because a lot of people in the media want to capture what goes down in a front office, because that’s something fans haven’t been able to experience up until recently. GM’s and POBO’s go on podcasts, get interviewed, and are very much in the media nowadays. Is that by choice? I think it depends on the person but it’s the way business is done and it’s a major way of making money. All of this is to say that the NBA’s become more of a business. It’s always been a business but I think it operates more as a business currently than it used to
BS: True. Do you see this as better for the game you fell in love with 60 years ago, Mike? I’m torn.
MD: Business has really always been an integral part of the NBA, the difference is now it’s infinitely more complex. In Red Auerbach’s time, the main goal for every franchise was to sell enough tickets just to stay in business. When a player’s contract expired, he wasn’t a free agent. His only option was to visit Red’s office and haggle for a contract of $8,000, while Red was offering $7,000. That’s why players such as Tommy Heinsohn had to sell insurance in the offseason, and why Tommy and others fought to establish a players union and a pension plan. I do miss the simplicity of those days, just like I miss a good three-on-two fast break that finishes with a layup, but time marches on. Basketball has evolved on and off the court. I accept that and still appreciate everything about it – even though I don’t understand the salary cap any more than I do rocket science.
BS: I’m just so curious how aware younger fans are these days about the dollars and cents of it all. Even when I was in college, I don’t remember ever really getting into the salary cap of things. Sure, I marveled at somebody signing a multi-year contract, but it didn’t factor in to how hard I rooted for the Celtics. Now, the offseason is just as entertaining as the games.
Alex, you grew up in the age of tying a player’s points per game to what percentage of the team’s salary they occupy. How much of that plays into how you watch the game?
AW: I like to watch the game from a very much analytical viewpoint. I’m not too big into the salary side of things, but I do pay attention to it because this is something I want to do for a living. But I’m certainly no expert. Where I do consider myself pretty knowledgeable is player analysis - and that’s how I watch the game. Does this player have this skill? Does this player need to develop in this area? It’s really evaluation of players and just how truly talented these guys are is pretty much why I watch the game. There’s just something so special at watching people master a skill and become so talented at something that’s so difficult.
BS: Mike, how do you think the years have affected how you enjoy the game? Has writing about it changed, for better or for worse, your perspective?
MD: I’m an O.G. fan and blogger, and proud of it. I write about the Celtics, their history, and how that history relates to today. I don’t write about Xs and Os, player evaluations, or salary cap maneuvers. There are more than enough other writers covering those topics. I’d also take back the ‘80s NBA in a heartbeat. Give me post play, the running game, and referees making calls without going to the monitor.
With all that said, writing about the game today has kept me in touch with current trends. As you’d expect, I’m an eye test guy, but I have learned about and understand how advanced stats, player tracking, and other metrics influence today’s NBA. So, my perspective is better. I appreciate today’s game and players just as much as I do the past.
BS: So, when this summer’s drama came up with Kevin Durant and potentially including Jaylen Brown, what was your first impression? Did being a fan for so long numb you to the churn of rosters? Did Brown being drafted by Boston and “our guy” possibly cloud your judgement?
MD: First impression was “No!” Of course you’d want Durant on the Celtics – he’s a historically great player who’s still performing at a high level. But the price was too steep at this stage of his career. He’ll be 34 this season and has had injuries the past three years. People who favored the trade said Durant would guarantee a title for Boston. Not so. As great as KD is, he won his two rings only after joining a 73-win Warriors squad that already had three all-NBA players (Curry, Thompson, Green).
Another argument was Jaylen might leave in free agency in two years, while Durant is under contract for four. That wouldn’t matter. KD is under contract now, yet still tried to force the Nets to trade him. What happens if Jaylen goes on to be a star in Brooklyn and Durant is unhappy again?
If the Celtics weren’t yet contenders, then maybe you’d roll the dice for a superstar. However, these Celtics made the Finals and added Brogdon (and Gallinari before he got injured) without touching the core. They’re now the betting favorites to win it all. There’s no reason to give up JB, plus probably Smart or White and a slew of future first picks, when a title is already within reach.
BS: That’s a far more analytical approach than I had, Mike. I’ll bet Alex had a more visceral response.
AW: I’ve kind of grown up with Jaylen Brown. As a fan, I’ve learned so much more about the game and I’ve decided to pursue it as a career. So, it was really just shock because you never think it’s going to be one of your guys until it is. I have more deep thoughts on it that I wrote about. Once I thought about it more, my opinion shifted from a state of shock to just trying to understand the why of it all. But when the news first broke, it was mostly just a sense of “wow.”
BS: It’s funny. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown much more sentimental. In my thirties, I was much more obsessed with results and winning. That’s all that mattered. But into my forties, my relationship with the team is more similar to what it was like when I was a kid. The connection is more emotional. There was a time when I wanted to be a more intellectual fan that knew the cap sheet as much as the whiteboard, but nowadays, it’s become much more of a love affair again.