“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good ol’ days before you’ve actually left them.” ― Andy Bernard (The Office)
“They blew another lead!”
“They are so predictable in the clutch!”
“This team is so frustrating!”
I get it. Expectations are sky high and as a result, so is the pressure to capitalize on this moment. That can be stressful and frustrating when things don’t go perfectly. Forgive my “old man telling stories” moment but it seems like a good time to provide a healthy dose of perspective.
I started paying attention to the Celtics in 1984-85. I was almost 10 years old when Magic hit that running hook. I really got into that 85-86 team that went 40-1 at home and lost just 15 games all season. I was hooked for life (and totally spoiled). I had so much youthful hubris that I was actually disappointed when the Rockets knocked off the Lakers because I wanted revenge for the prior year. The Celtics were THE dynasty in sports. They were a way of life and destined for continued greatness for forever and ever and ever. Until they weren’t.
Doing some quick math here. 2008 was 16 years ago. Sure, the team hasn’t won a title in that time, but if you try calling this the dark ages I’ve got a history lesson for you. A little more math (please give grace, math is hard) tells me that if you are 21 years old, you were 5 years old for that title year (give or take). With all due respect, you didn’t live through the real dark days of this franchise.
First, there was the decline of the original Big 3. Injuries and age reduced their impact. Young talent was drafted, but two of the best prospects tragically passed away (Len Bias on Draft Night and Reggie Lewis years later). It was a slow but sure decline that eventually led to ML Carr tanking the 96-97 season in hopes of drafting Tim Duncan. We all know how that worked out.
Then there were the Rick Pitino years. Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker were all that made that era bearable. After three seasons of missing the playoffs, Rick unleashed an epic rant on the negativity in Boston and was soon replaced by his chief assistant Jim O’Brien. He fully embraced the 3-point shot (a man ahead of his time) and inspired the team to make a run the Eastern Conference Finals.
That team was fun in a plucky, overachieving sort of way. They didn’t have a realistic shot at a title, but it was at least an oasis of fun in a desert drought of losing seasons for fans. It didn’t last though, and a few years later, Danny Ainge was brought in to fix things. He brought in Doc Rivers and traded away Antoine Walker. The team bottomed out again hoping for Kevin Durant (reportedly Danny’s preference over Greg Oden). Once again, the lottery balls defied those dreams, but things ended up working out alright.
All told, the Boston Celtics record from 1993 to 2007 was 472-644, a 42.3% winning percentage over 14 seasons. Compare that to the 813-510 since 2007, good for a 61.5% winning percentage over 17 seasons.
This is the Boston Celtics and championship banners are the only true measure of success. So I’m not trying to diminish the importance of breaking through and winning the title. This core group is so good that anything but a ring would be a disappointment, regardless of history.
However, I think it is occasionally worth taking a step back and appreciating the consistent competence (with some brief exceptions) that this team has committed to over the last several years. Now let’s go win another Championship banner!