By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub
BOSTON (CBS) — Every now and then, I return to a text message from a friend that I will never delete:
This team wasn’t 12 guys playing ball. It was my return to Massachusetts, the weddings of friends, and the only years I will talk about when I’m old.
The text was received in the late hours of June 9, 2012, after the final horn sounded on another Celtics season. For an instant, we had believed anything was possible, again.
A disjointed, lockout-shortened campaign began with veteran David West spurning the Celtics to sign with Indiana, continued to erode with Jeff Green’s heart surgery, Chris Wilcox’s heart surgery, the inevitable tow truck call for Jermaine O’Neal and a season-ending shoulder injury to promising second-year guard Avery Bradley. And yet, somehow, 36-year old Kevin Garnett dragged an ancient and desperately thin Boston roster to the doorstep of the game’s biggest stage. As was his custom, KG was all heart as he posted averages of 19 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game in the playoffs and Boston charged to a 3-2 Conference Finals lead over LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat.
They couldn’t get that last one. Chris Bosh came back, LeBron went nuclear in Game 6, and the Heat slammed the window with a thud in Game 7 before a throng of freshly minted, white t-shirt wearing LeBron acolytes. With the Celtics continuing their collective trudge to AARP membership, many viewed it as the end of an era.
Rewind five more years, to the summer of 2007. For the second time in a decade, the Celtics tried to tank for the No. 1 pick and failed. I was unemployed. My buddy had just moved back after a stint working on the west coast and yes, all of our friends were getting married.
In fact, it was ten years ago this past weekend that I attended the very first wedding of a childhood friend. The festivities took place just outside of Seattle. I spent a couple of days in the city, visited the Space Needle, saw a Mariners game, and checked out Sue Bird and the Storm over at Key Arena, a building all but condemned by the fracking cowboys who’d just purchased the Sonics, but one that had actually hosted an NBA Finals in the preceding 20 years (unlike Boston). On July 31, 2007, I returned to the east coast.
And when I stepped off the plane, I learned Kevin Garnett had been traded to the Celtics.
This changed everything. Celtic Pride had largely been dormant, amounting to little more than a trite catchphrase for the better part of two decades. A 2002 Conference Finals run behind Jim O’Brien’s three-happy offense only briefly rustled fans from their collective slumber. But Garnett: the glowering, ultra-talented power forward prototype, in green and flanked by Paul Pierce and Ray Allen? That was a wakeup call to the entire region. And to the league.
What’s more, following a twelve-year run in Minnesota where he stood as the sole living monument to the history of a franchise, KG was ready to be part of a tradition. Garnett embodied Celtic Pride by his sheer nature: a hyper-competitive madman ready to run through a wall to win a basketball game. He was the guy you hated if he wasn’t on your team but loved with your whole heart and fiercely defended if he was. But he also exhibited a unique awareness as to why it all mattered. KG launched himself into the arms of the city upon arrival, ushering an embrace that hasn’t let up in the decade since.
A roughly quarter-ton TV in the living room of our semi-squalid three bedroom apartment in Quincy brought us most of the action that first season, one that began with expectant buds and blossomed in the spring and early summer of 2008 as the Green dispatched Kobe and the Lakers in the Finals. It was beautiful basketball, night in, night out, and it ended with our wiry seven-foot hero reduced to tears as he secured his rightful place in the pantheon of Celtics legends.
Meanwhile, day in, day out, five people crammed into the apartment. One of the roommates was headed to the altar, one slept on a couch, another was primed for grad school and I held down my first real job as an adult and convinced myself that a long-distance relationship was a good idea.
We were at the precipice of a span of our lives marked by a floundering economy, failed relationships, the realization that our bodies weren’t as young as they used to be, and various poor decisions that people probably don’t even think about anymore, but we know we made. We struggled to find a foothold as adults, to balance real world responsibilities with pipe dreams, to make sense of everything and roll with the changes.
All the time, KG and the Celtics were there. Even on your worst day, they had a chance to do something great. And while the team never again ascended to the top of the mountain, there was magic in the journey and the love was pure.
By 2009, the living room featured just two Celtics fans and an ornery Bruins fan. Following a 27-2 start to the season, KG’s knee problems ground the quest for back-to back championships to a halt. We all moved out after a 2010 Finals trip that saw the team reborn as indignant underdogs, a narrative that persisted when LeBron bolted to Miami and Boston was left to not only fight off an ascendant “king,” but also the slog of time. Shortly thereafter, my friend found a snake in his ceiling. We kept texting throughout the 2012 playoffs, resulting in the aforementioned text I’ll never delete. And we’ve been to a lot of the same weddings over the years; he attended mine in April of 2016 – which coincided with the final month of KG’s NBA career.
For the Celtics of that era, it ended relatively quietly – Garnett and Pierce discarded to Brooklyn on a Friday afternoon during the summer of 2013. Allen had departed the organization the previous offseason amidst a storm of negativity, with KG holding on for dear life to Celtic Pride as the wheels threatened to fall off a rusted out vehicle. Doc Rivers begged off an inevitable rebuilding assignment, and it was all over. The franchise moved on, and we were squarely in our thirties, just like that.
I’d like to think I’ve figured some things out in these past few years. My wife and I recently purchased our first home. And the 40-plus weddings I’ve attended in the past decade? They’re producing the next generation of Celtics fans. Who knows who their favorite player will be, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll be a seven-footer who doesn’t shoot the three. Just as life is changing, the NBA is changing at a spectacular rate.
But we’ll never forget the KG era in Boston. Someday, I plan to tell my son or daughter about July 31, 2007, about my friends, about KG – his unbridled intensity concurrent with my own unsure footsteps into the real world – in the years when anything was possible.
Sean Sylver is a contributor to CBSBostonSports.com who can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can interact with him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.