BOSTON (CBS) — When they broke ground on TD Garden, before it was the Fleet Center, before it was even the Shawmut Center. All we had was hope.
Hope that one day, there would be nights like this. Nights like we had at the old Garden, to celebrate the roads of history that were paved on its floor.
It seemed like an awful lot to ask. But what do we have in Boston if not outrageously high standards thrust upon us from the ghost of Russell and Orr and Williams…not to mention modern-day descendants like Brady, and Papi?
But tonight we have one.
And while most of Celtic Nation mourned the trade that allowed Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett one more season in the NBA sun, it gives us not only the night ahead, but a number of retirements and the very best of reminiscence.
It gives us tonight. The Homecoming. The Rockwellian ceremony bestowed only on those that left a permanent mark.
Paul Pierce’s career began juxtaposed with dysfunction. His draft stock slipped…slipped so far that the one waiting for him at number 10…was Rick Pitino. He was in the process of shoving so many round pegs in square NBA basketball holes, that Paul’s NBA childhood was pre-determined.
But through love of the game, the ignorance of youth, a beautiful combination of both…he got better as the team took a turn for the words. Even forming an unpredictable alliance with Antoine Walker and Jim O’Brien to make a surprise run at the top in 2002. But as that Fool’s Gold turned to dust, the seasons got shorter…they just felt longer. And after a brief flirtation with the not-so-righteous me –first NBA path, Paul Pierce found his basketball religion and his superstar game. Though it felt he was destined to be the first great Celtic, the first, without a championship.
Celtics fans treasure history, and always will. But until Kevin Garnett arrived in 2007, history was all the Celtics had. For 12 long Minneapolis winters…and trust me…the winters are long…the NBA watched as the Da Kid…became the Big Ticket…and eventually..the Franchise in Minnesota. But one star-crossed run with Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell in 2004 was all he had. The other side of that un-scaled mountain was an ugly place for that ultra-competitive heart. And yet still..he resisted the trade. Why? Passion and loyalty. Little did he know he was coming to one of the few places on earth that could match his. Kevin Garnett didn’t know what he was getting in Boston…but Boston had no idea what it was getting in Kevin Garnett.
It was love at first bar fight.
“Change the culture” is a buzz-phrase now. Very easy to say, extraordinarily difficult to do.
It seemed Kevin Garnett did it in minutes. And there will never be a question on whose shoulders the biggest one-year turnaround in basketball history rested.
He had a coach that understood him…a new city that fueled him…and across the locker room…a childhood friend and it turned out, a basketball soul mate.
The story is so perfect because for years, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett carried their respective franchises. But didn’t win. All the while everyone wondered what they were lacking…what they needed to become two of the greatest players of all time.
Turns out all they needed, was each other.
Tonight…they return together. What better way? You could say…as Celtics.
You could say they should have retired as Celtics.
That Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are Celtics.
They are…and always will be.
If you question that…even a little, even a little tiny bit, even a fraction of an inch, stick around tonight.
You won’t ever again.
Sean Grande has been calling Boston Celtics games since 2001. You can hear the 2013-14 Boston Celtics on 98.5 The Sports Hub — the new radio home of the Celtics!