It’s me, Amber. I know you’re a little busy right now. But I wanted to tell you how much you mean to me, because maybe, just maybe the great collective energy from fans watching and listening from everywhere really does affect games. (Not just the cheers in the actual Garden, and by the way, ticket holders, you better keep it loud and wild in there the whole time, even during rough patches, or I’m going to fly down there tonight and personally kick all of your rich asses.) Honestly, it makes me physically ill to watch Celtics games at a lag or, God forbid, after the fact. I just can not stand it because I want my wanting and cheering and hoping to be contributed LIVE and added to the force. Or whatever.
Anyway, you may not recognize me now that I’m 33, bedraggled, and living in Seattle. You and I were closest when I was a fresh-faced kid, and then a sour-faced teenager, living in Natick, Massachusetts. I was nine when, with a mixture of total confusion and bouncing-off-the-walls excitement, I watched you win the 1986 NBA championship. I stood in front of the TV, slack-jawed, feeling both confused and thrilled. I wondered, aloud to my dad, “Why are they patting each others’ butts?” and to myself, “Why was this game so important anyway?” I didn’t even understand the rules of basketball at that point. In fact, I didn’t understand them until after I’d played two full seasons of basketball in middle school. So clearly, I didn’t grasp the significance of your achievement. But, hoo boy, a seed was planted.
Soon, Larry Bird posters covered my walls. I’m not sure he ever felt the same way, but I had a bond with him. He and I had some things in common, you know, besides blond hair and n0n-supermodel-esque faces and unfortunate hair styles. He wasn’t very social, you know. He didn’t feel obligated to charm people–definitely not the media. He just didn’t give a crap about all that. He just wanted to play basketball. That was me, and a lot of people misunderstood it and wanted me to be perky and outgoing like all girls are supposed to be, apparently. It’s been said far too many times, and it’s not completely true because, “Hello? Lightning fast first step, anyone?”, but Bird wasn’t the kind of gifted athlete you think of when NBA greats come to mind. Me? I was a small, weak stick and a very late bloomer and no one thought I could do shit on the court. Because at that point, I really couldn’t. Okay then.
As Bird’s career trailed off, I watched you Celtics (mostly) lose. But for whatever reason, my fan-ship only grew. Every game was captivating and hopeful to me–everything my real life was typically not. You became my spark. Around the time I sported black Reebok Pumps (nothing like an adorable little basketball-shaped squeeze pump to intimidate the competition), I attended the Robert Parish / Dee Brown Basketball Camp.
To the best of my recollection, there was one other girl at that camp, in a sea of at least a hundred boys. Felt like thousands due to high levels of obnoxiousness and talent. Upon arrival, I was matched up against a gangly African American kid two feet taller than me and a few years older. Yep, one on one. A quick, fun game to 3. Holy shit. After swallowing my heart and stuffing it back into my quivering chest cavity, I managed to score once, due to an effective fake and, probably, that fact that I was just slightly too underrated by my opponent, who by the way, was friendly and bemused and respectful during and after the ass-kicking. One of many character-building moments you’ve inspired, Celtics.
In fact, here’s another. Due to an incredibly high level of on-court effort despite incredibly low results (mostly I just beat everyone up and down with the court, yet was rarely if ever trusted with a long pass for an easy layup), I was awarded “Camper of the Week” honors. It may sound or actually be pathetic, but it was a defining moment in my life. It was my “You really love me!” moment in front of the Academy. As part of the award acceptance process, which took place in absolute silence despite the gym being packed with adolescent boys crowded together on bleachers, I ran out on the court and shook Dee Brown’s hand, and then my hand was engulfed in Robert Parish’s paw and I left it there a little too long. Awkward in an adorable way, really–really! They smiled ear to ear, and seemed astonished and pleased and that melted my little heart, and turned my shock into well-hidden (I hope) tears, as in “I finally won an Oscar after years of critical acclaim!” tears. It was that huge for me. But I didn’t let anyone see, because my stupid, partly flirty, partly mean boy teammates would literally not have ever shut up about that. Ever. It was bad enough that my hair was stringy–you would not believe how far they ran with that, comedically. But it was CELTICS camp and it was heaven and I won an award and I realized something about myself that I don’t think would’ve occurred to me otherwise at that perilous, vulnerable stage in life.
Speaking of which, you Celtics taught me intensity. In general, I’m kind of scared of everything. But I have this place I can tap into where nothing can stop me. Not Wellesley or Framingham (our high school rivals). Not even my screaming toddler. Dee Brown schooled me in this area. In the crowd at one of those end-of-week camp ceremonies, I watched Dee posterize a kindergartner in the strangest, most awkward and pointless one-on-one game ever played. He just soared right over the child’s head and mercilessly slammed it. The lesson, according to Dee? You don’t half-ass it for anyone, for any reason! (I wonder what that kid’s therapy bills are like today.) Kind of like Larry Bird’s all-out all-the-time mentality, but with just a touch of sociopath thrown in. Honestly, it felt like Dee was trying so hard to send us an important after-school-type message, though the delivery was awkward and pretty much heartless, it made me like him/you more, actually. He seemed totally human and superhuman at the same time. Another unforgettable moment, Celtics. You really know how to deliver. Jesus H.
At some point during the early part of high school, I had the jackpot fortune of attending a freethrow shooting clinic put on by Larry Bird himself–you know, other than the ones he put on during ever game he played. I remember that during the clinic, his volunteer shooter was a girl, just like me but way better, and he helped her perfect her technique in like two minutes. He said he could hear her nail clicking against the ball as she shot it and remarked that when he was really young, his form was similar because he hadn’t develop enough strength yet. He encouraged her and shared a few laughs. (He’s wicked funny, that Larry. Another reason I love him.) As I sat there just a few bleacher rows away from him, I was afraid to breathe. I felt unworthy and inspired at the same time. It was official: I was obsessed, in much the same way as girls at that time were enamored with Marky Mark and his ilk. I actually skipped a Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch concert because, unlike my friends, I didn’t want to miss a critical (ie meaningless) mid-season game with the freshman basketball team. Would Larry Bird skip a game to catch some overrated, over-muscled pop star? Highly unlikely. Hence my choice.
On the downside, as high school progressed, I didn’t do my homework. Like, at all. I’d show up to English tests about books I never touched. I stayed up late to watch you, Celtics. I shot around whenever possible–indoors, outdoors, straight up in the air in my room while sitting or lying on my bed. During this time, as academics plummeted and basketball ascended in my tiny world, I suffered a huge loss along with you, and attended Reggie Lewis’ funeral at Northeastern. My new hero, Birds’ successor, gone–before I could get to know him and before he reached his amazing potential. He seemed like a sweet guy with a humble demeanor, and to be completely honest, I thought he was as cute as he was skilled, as evidenced by his usurping of wall space in my room. I had to go to pay my respects, partly because it was just so hard to believe he was gone. There was so much hope pinned to his jersey. That was one of the very hard times, an incredible low among all the highs, as a fan. And it took time but you rebuilt, thereby honoring Reggie and everyone else who’s put on that jersey as a player or fan.
Celtics, along with my parents, you convinced me it was possible to be great. To overcome. To defy odds that others laugh at. You’ve shown that you can take some major hits, and bounce back. You told me that if I worked hard enough, I could pretty much do whatever I set out to do. And now, I can teach Stella.
No. I’m not saying I ever achieved greatness on the court. I was a good shooter and I worked my ass off and exceeded everyone’s expectations and that was enough to help me out of a hole I’d been falling into. A giant gaping chasm of insecurity known to girls all across this country. You helped me begin the process of defining myself as a person. By senior year, after shooting around for three years during every free moment, I was good. The fact that gossipy players from nearby towns were saying, “She isn’t that good,” didn’t matter. I let it roll off my back, just like you do when people count you out. I just wanted to win as many games as possible (not too many, as it turned out), and play basketball to the best of my ability. And my senior year, I led the Bay State League in scoring. Not bad for someone who played for the freshman team, then the JV team, all the while watching others get promoted before me. I wasn’t a member of the varsity team until junior year. But I never gave up. I kept working because you said it was possible. You made me believe in myself. And what greater lesson is there to learn? Maybe for me, that was more important than reading Beowulf. Thank you for that. (And again, for the Camper of the Week award. Seriously! Dude! That’s my Oscar!)
I know. I’m just one fan and every fan has a story, a relationship with their team. But I like to think that ours is special. You are a part of me. Even now, when players get shuffled around like pawns and stadium crowds are skewed toward the wealthiest casual fans rather than the die-hard, everyday fans. A lot has changed for both of us. I’m a mother now and sadly, I haven’t played basketball in a few years. But you still inspire me. You mean a lot to me, even though that might not even make sense to most people, the kind of people who read and enjoyed Beowulf.
The game starts in 90 minutes. Ray’s already been shooting around for at least an hour. As a whole, Boston is steeling itself for the face-off. You know in Boston everyone thinks they’re so tough but they’re not–the ones that act like assholes when you lose only do so because they care so much and just can’t cope with the crushing disappointment. They invest a lot in you. People always say, “Beat LA” but I prefer “Go Celtics.” Because while I can’t stand Kobe and company, I really love you guys. You know I’ll be a fan win or lose, but it’s been a tough year so if you could bring the magic for me once again, I’d appreciate it.
Besides, he’s got four, KG. You’re due.
P.S. Rondo, my one-year-old daughter wears glasses. As far as fans go, it doesn’t get much cuter than that. You are her favorite player. She yells, “Rondoooooo!” and “Hooray” when she sees you on screen. I do the same thing in my head. I have no right, but I’m proud of you! I want you to shoot more. I know it’s a tough balance, but you’ve shown that you can achieve it. Trust yourself.
P.P.S. KG, Ray and Pierce. I believe in your old asses. Show them. What’s. Up.