BOSTON (CBS) — It was sometime in January, on the west coast trip, we arrived in Los Angeles in the wee hours of the morning following a pretty horrific loss in Denver.
Brad Stevens and I stumbled on to the elevator, dragging luggage, and just dragging in general. It was about halfway through this Celtics season that was, what most of us thought it would be. I caught the coach’s glance, one of those private moments of disappointment he so meticulously kept to himself all year. It was an extraordinary display of emotional discipline and selflessness.
It was a strange year for me, I’m not going to lie. I’ve been the youngest this, and the youngest that since I started in this business. And it took me a while I think , to digest that the head coach was now younger than me. Your 40’s I’m quickly learning, are apparently full of humbling realizations like that.
Anyway, it occurred to me at that moment, 16 years into my NBA life, that I should say something, anything to make it at least a little better. “You knew there would be nights like this.” I said, implying “right?” with my tone. “Yeah, I guess” was the gist of the reply. So I dug into my addled, late-night brain for any wisdom I could conjure. And stumbled onto something I couldn’t have spoken on a few years ago. “It’s like having kids,” I said. “Intellectually, you know what’s coming, you’ll never sleep again, all of it. But until you’re really in it, you don’t know.”
And with it, there was that shared moment of understanding. Just one moment in a six-month marathon of flights, hotels, arenas, busses, cities, days, nights, losses and once a week, wins. That there is no easy path. And every day you get through, puts you one step closer to where you’re going.
(Having a kid has upside, too, for the record. My son screaming “baseball” when he’d pop up on Facetime and see me in the broadcast booth in some ballpark last summer. Plus teaching him the John Cena “you can’t see me” hand motion, which has been my proudest moment so far in my two and half years as a Dad.)
Point is, he made it.
And so have you.
The Celtics close out the 2013-14 season tonight. No more sleepless nights, no more last second turnovers, or defensive lapses, or missed shots that make that one inch of NBA difference between winning and losing.
And with it, you’re one year closer to where you’re going.
I was asked the other day who the MVP of the team has been. And like a lot of things about this season, it wasn’t easy. You could literally pick a different player for each month of the season. Jordan Crawford was the key to the Celtics best stretch, the 8-4 run in December. Avery Bradley has finished the year as one of the hottest shooter in the league. For the first two-thirds of the year, no one was consistently better than Kris Humphries when called upon. Rondo had his Rondo games in February and March. Say what you want about Jeff Green, he led the Celtics in scoring and for the second straight year after heart surgery, will play in every game, starting all 82.
But of course, it has to be Jared Sullinger, right? Playing undersized at center, showing an uncanny ability to score, an Al Jefferson-like second year, with defense. We’ve talked about the plus-minus numbers, which even with their statistical flaws, are pretty stunning. So sure, if you’re talking about the 19 guys that played for the Celtics (where you at, Vander Blue?) this year, it has to be Sully.
But when you think about these six months, it seemed like something was missing.
Then it hit me.
You, have been the MVP.
Celtics fans. The fans that didn’t take the year off. The ones who filled the Garden to 97.2% capacity, in a year there was maybe a 2.8% chance of making the playoffs. The ones that screamed their lungs out down the stretch of close games. And the ones that made the returns of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers, goose bump nights, historic, remember-forever nights that will bridge the gap between what was, and what will be.
Next week, Paul and Kevin will play for the Nets in the playoffs. And Doc, who led the Clippers to their best season in franchise history, will now try to bring them a title.
But they’re all Celtics. Just like you. They know it, because you told them. Told them in a way they’ll never forget.
So yeah, I guess I’m saying something nice. And as Max often points out, that’s like Halley’s Comet or Andre Drummond passing back out of the post. Believe me, I’m as surprised as any of you.
But here’s the thing, in this year the Celtics were demoted back to the NBA’s relegation pool of 7pm starts. In this year and sitting at home watching TNT on Thursdays, watching ABC on Sundays rather than playing. In this year, we’ve traveled to Milwaukee and Philadelphia and Detroit and Minnesota. To cities that will have playoff games next week like Washington and Atlanta. The empty seats, and the empty feeling in those building by comparison was striking.
These are the years that make the payoff sweeter. Curtis Rowe and Sidney Wicks made the 80’s even better. Rick Pitino walking through that door and the resulting desert, made the Jim O’Brien-Paul Pierce-Antoine Walker oasis special, and the 18-game losing streak in 2007, a plague that lasted literally forty days and forty nights, was the dark age upon which the New Big Three renaissance was built.
So when the Rondo-Carmelo-Kevin Love Celtics get back to the Finals in 2016, you’ll remember all these nights of near misses and outrageous basketball fortune.
(OK, that’s my little fantasy of a “Newer Big Three”, I guess. No harm. As one of that last group once said, anything is possible.)
So thank you for that, for being Celtic fans when the name on the front of the jersey outdistanced the names on the back. Thank you for hanging with Max and me for another year. For staying up late with us out west. For finding us on the dial, on the web, on your phone. For listening, tweeting and sharing the season with us.
Max and I have done this about 1,200 times for you now, and while we may be getting old, it doesn’t.
We’ll talk to you at 7:30 from the Garden tonight, nowhere else we’d rather be.
(Tomorrow, I’ll post my NBA Awards Ballot here before I file it with the league.)
Sean Grande has been calling Boston Celtics games since 2001. Hear Wednesday’s game on 98.5 The Sports Hub — the radio home of the Boston Celtics!