When the dust settled and LeBron James had finally sent the Boston Celtics home from the NBA Playoffs, it was actually LeBron that said it best. As Craig Sager asked him about the Miami Heat and Game 5, LeBron wanted to talk about the Celtics.
"They make you fight for everything. You can never take your foot off the gas, you can never take a second off against that team. ... It's a great team." And then this: "They're the reason all three of us came together. It's because of what they did. That blueprint they had in '08 when they all came together." There's no better testament to the impact this Celtics core had on the NBA.
In just one year, the way they took over the NBA in 2007-08 is ultimately what sparked James, Wade, and Bosh to start plotting a revolution during the 2008 Olympics.
And if this year's loss to the Heat is what ultimately kills the Celtics as we know them, then they deserve some respect here. For the past week or so, with the Lakers losing, and on the heels of the Spurs loss in round one, you've heard all sorts of NBA fans saying, "This is the year that dynasties die." The Spurs, Lakers, and Celtics. Each empire crumbled in its own way.
The thing is, these Celtics were never really a dynasty. The Lakers, for instance, won five of the past ten titles. The Spurs won four. Boston? 50 years from now, people will look back at record books (or Wikipedia, probably) and lump the Celtics in with '06 Heat and '04 Pistons.
But they feel a lot more like the Lakers and Spurs, don't they?
If nothing else, that's a testament to how they've played together as a team, fought through age and injuries, and generally just kicked ass like nobody else we've seen in a decade. They didn't have as much talent as the Lakers and never had the ruthless execution that defined San Antonio, but when you think back to what a basketball team can and should be, you'd probably think of the Celtics before either one.
50 years from now, when I think back on this era, I'll remember the Lakers for their ability to dominate despite obvious dysfunction. I'll remember the Spurs as the basketball equivalent to Kafka's killing machine. But my Celtics memories will be filled with a lot more warmth than either of those.
They cherished the opportunity to play together, they fought their asses off, and thrived off irrational confidence and a toughness that trickled all the way down the roster--it's not an accident that guys like Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo came to embody the Celtics ethos as much as KG and Pierce ever did. So the past few years, when you saw Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett hobbling around, or Ray Allen defying the aging process, it didn't matter that they won ugly almost as a rule. The past few years, there was beauty in them winning at all.
If all this sounds overly sentimental and ridiculous, then I understand. Their fans annoy the crap out of everyone, their whiny announcers are just as bad, KG became a caricature of himself in Boston, Paul Pierce could get knocked over by a stiff breeze if a referee was around, and Ray Allen... Well, no matter what you say, he's pretty awesome. As for the others, none of it really erases the imprint these Celtics left on the league.
It all goes back to Ubuntu, the hokey African concept that Doc Rivers adopted before the '08 season. Ubuntu ultimately boils down to this: "I am what I am because of who we all are." Strip away its tribal origins, and... Yeah, pretty basic cliche right there. But it was perfect.
The Celtics really have been greater than the sum of their parts. They fight for that inch. I don't know if they'll die for that inch, but I'm pretty sure KG will murder someone in a dark alley for that inch.
"They make you fight for everything," as LeBron said. No easy buckets.
They want it more. They do things the right way. They believe in team, not me.
Pride matters to them.
I always thought this stuff was bulls--t reserved for sports movies and crappy sports columns, but then KG got traded to Boston four years ago, and things changed. This past week, with Rondo reduced to one arm and KG, Ray, and Pierce playing on dead legs, Boston had every reason to lay down for Miami. Without Rondo healthy, they had no chance. But where the Lakers mailed it in the second they realized they had no chance at beating the Mavericks, the Celtics went down to Miami and fought to the bitter end, just like always.
No easy buckets, and if LeBron wanted the torch, he'd have to take it from them. He did.
Now, given that Wednesday night was probably the last real stand we'll see from this Celtics team, we'll probably hear a lot about what their legacy will be. And for me, I'll always remember them as the team that took a bunch of idiotic, imaginary sports cliches and made them real.
So how did a team that embodies everything we love about sports spawn a team like Miami, that personifies so much of what we despise? It just goes to show, not everybody understands Ubuntu. And in the end, the rise of the Heat is the best reminder of all to appreciate the guys who did.