BOSTON (CBS) — As sports fans, it’s irrational how much we care about certain issues. Most issues. Hell, any issue. Especially in Boston.
Think the Patriots should trade Jimmy Garoppolo? Was Claude Julien responsible for the Bruins’ collapses? Should David Ortiz have retired? Is the Celtics’ season still a success if they lose to the Wizards?
You’ll get passionate reactions to any or all of those inquiries if you ask the common fan. Despite all the successful television and radio networks already operating in this region, we could handle more. We crave “hot takes” and sports debates like air.
That’s why I’ve said for years it’s time the Celts’ last championship regime mends fences with outcast Ray Allen. It’s been time.
This five-year-old feud jumped back into the news cycle in March when word surfaced now-Bulls guard Rajon Rondo was planning a players-only summer reunion to celebrate the 2008 NBA title. Everyone was invited, other than Allen (and, perhaps accidentally, Scot Pollard; after all, who’d he offend?).
Rondo and Allen had their differences, sure. Most theorize many of those surrounded Rondo’s rapid ascent on the floor and which of the two had to be the smartest person in the room. However, it was hardly just Rondo.
The other two members of the New Big Three, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, were irate when Allen left for Miami. They haven’t spoken to him since. They felt betrayed because Allen went ring chasing to the enemy Heat while Pierce, Garnett, and others believed there was still something left in the tank for the aging Green.
We’ll never know for sure. Injuries prevented the group from maxing out its window.
Monday on “Area 21,” Garnett hosted a mini ’08 reunion. The newly retired Pierce was there, along with the out-of-work Kendrick Perkins and Glen “Big Baby” Davis. Even their old coach Doc Rivers video-conferenced in.
No Allen. Not invited.
That didn’t stop everyone from talking about him and, if you have six-and-a-half minutes, it’s a great conversation.
Garnett called it a “sensitive” issue and implied he didn’t view Allen as loyal or part of the group anymore after “he moved on” to pursue another ring.
Pierce said he was hurt Allen never told his old teammates he was leaving. He stepped outside the “brotherhood” after five years calling the Garden home and failed to explain himself, though Pierce admitted the veteran guard and Rivers didn’t have the best of relationships after Avery Bradley started taking Allen’s minutes.
Perkins all but quoted “The Godfather” or Dominic Toretto talking about family.
Davis awkwardly tried to shift the conversation to, you guessed it, food, then echoed Pierce and Perkins’ sentiments.
Rondo opted to stay silent during the segment, which spoke volumes of his feelings.
You could tell, though, the overall emotions aren’t as strong as they were when Garnett refused to even acknowledge Allen on the bench upon his return.
Perkins acknowledged someone needs to break the ice and insisted that needs to be Allen, to admit he handled his departure the wrong way.
Pierce has said he’s “over it” and is ready to move on.
Davis confessed weeks ago he believes Allen should have been invited to the summer gathering and he’d love to see him again.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge doesn’t hold a grudge and certainly has no plans to exclude Allen from any team functions.
Even a cruise line wants to see old wounds healed.
Garnett? He’s still not there.
Enough. It’s absurd, and I’ve outlined this a bit in the past.
One of my closest friends and a die-hard Celts fan has asked me numerous times why I care so much about those players working out their differences. I suppose it’s two-fold.
For starters, that team is one of my favorite of all-time. Any sport. Any era. I was a season-ticketholder going to game after game, night after night, watching Pierce, Garnett, Allen, and Co. take the team from irrelevance to prominence and the franchise’s record 17th banner and first in 22 years.
I won’t overdramatize the thing and say it physically pains me that the crew doesn’t hold weekly Sunday dinners like something out of “Blue Bloods,” but it stinks seeing a group you considered your sports family at odds. When Pierce’s number goes in the rafters, Garnett and Allen should be there. When the team holds its 10-year championship reunion next winter, all three should attend. Comfortably.
But, more than that, the double-standard drives me up a wall.
You know who quit on the Celtics? Doc Rivers. After nine years, Mr. “I am a Celtic” went from “bleeding green” and contractually committing long-term to a rebuild to essentially orchestrating his own trade to the Clippers the second that reality was staring him in the face (how ironic he may have one on his hands in Los Angeles now). Thank goodness he did, by the way, because there’s absolutely zero chance Rivers would have Brad Stevens’ C’s at 53 regular-season wins and two shy of the conference finals – a destination he’s yet to reach out west.
Yet, how is Rivers received by the vast majority of fans? A hero’s welcome every time he’s back in Boston! Deafening standing ovations for an opposing coach. Why? Because he guided the team to a title a year after trying to tank for Kevin Durant, amidst “Fire Doc!” chants? Because he’s charming and more likable? Because he managed a collection of veteran egos that were already prepared to trade in stats for basketball immortality?
Rivers ran for the hills the moment the going got tough and set himself up with more power and a new, younger squad of future Hall of Famers to do just what Allen did: Chase a ring. The difference? He actually had term left on his contract, but no longer wanted the job. He laughed at Ubuntu, just like his old guard, and failed to live up to the loyalty he always preached.
Fans who cheer Rivers and booed Allen with a half-decade of hate should be ashamed.
Despite the cute, “Jesus? More like Judas!” headlines, Ray Allen didn’t quit on the Celtics. As Garnett said, he moved on. His old mates just didn’t like where he went. Allen took less money in free agency to do what every athlete in any sport has the right to do when the opportunity comes along: he chose the place that provided him the best chance to win. And he did, in large part thanks to his efforts.
Allen didn’t owe the C’s anything. Ainge had tried to trade him multiple times. Offering a no-trade clause and an extra year in a new deal doesn’t suddenly make those emotions go away. Coming off the bench behind a kid in Bradley rather than a vet in Dwyane Wade isn’t all that easy to swallow either. Allen did what was right for him. Garnett was breaking down, Pierce was getting older as well, and the way the Celts competed with the Heat in the 2012 East finals gave players a false sense of their window. It was closed. Allen saw the end.
Should he have expressed that to Pierce and Garnett? Sure, that would’ve been right, but that isn’t reason enough to virtually proclaim a guy dead to you.
Maybe this hostility will never be resolved, especially after Allen’s response Tuesday morning to all the chatter in KG’s crib.
It’s no coincidence Allen chose a picture of himself going against Rondo. The bad blood’s real.
Rivers was the coach. Pierce was the face and master of seizing the moment. Garnett was the heart and leader. But, know what? Allen was the sharpshooter who averaged 20.3 points and buried nearly 53 percent of his 3’s during the Finals. The Celtics wouldn’t have won in 2008 without him, nor reached Game 7 of the title round in 2010.
This is petty. Members of a locker room may feel like family, but business comes first most places. Legends Way in Boston is no exception. Hopefully a few Boston legends will allow cooler heads to prevail soon. It’s time.