Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What's Up With the Shirt?

As a kid in upstate New York in the late '70s, you were pretty much a free agent when it came to forming your sports allegiances. A three-hour drive from Boston, three hours from New York City and 4 1/2 from Buffalo. There was no real "home team" so my pro sports affiliations were mostly influenced by my parents, but in inconsistent ways.

For example, my mom was a Bruins fan and a Red Sox fan, so I was, too. But something weird happened with football and basketball. My dad liked the Steelers, my mom liked the Giants, so I chose to cheer for...the Cowboys. It probably didn't hurt that they were always on TV, and that their cheerleaders were on The Love Boat.

My mom didn't care much about basketball, but my dad rooted for the Celtics. So I became a 76ers fan. I'm sure a therapist could have a field day with all of this stuff, but for now let's just accept that it is what it is.

The Celtics got the best of the Sixers more often than not, but that was all right by me. They had their one shining moment in 1983. I even won a dollar betting Sheila Kleinmann that Philly would beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals that year. The little snot paid me with a Ziploc bag filled with 100 pennies, but I still got mine.

I really hated those '80s Celtics teams. That little punk Danny Ainge. Kevin McHale, some weird mix of Alan Alda and Frankenstein. Dennis Johnson and his freckles (God rest his soul). Robert Parish, even scrubs like Scott Wedman and Greg Kite. And of course, Larry Bird. Man, he bugged me -- the mullet, the total disdain for anything remotely athletic, and the fact that he was really, really, really good. I rooted for the Lakers to beat them when they met in the Finals, and the Pistons to beat the last remnants of that team when they met in the playoffs in the latter part of the decade.

I've held on to some of my old sports animosities. Even though I live in Denver, I don't like the Avalanche in part because they used to be the Bruins' old rival, the Quebec Nordiques. And because Patrick Roy was their goalie when we moved here and they acquired him from the Bruins' other rival, the Montreal Canadiens. And I think I'll always have a special place of loathing in my heart for the Yankees. But over the years I've softened on the Celtics.

Maybe it's because they became pretty bad and irrelevant for a while, and it's not as much fun to root against a team when they stink. Maybe Jerry Seinfeld was right that with free agency resulting in so much player movement, at the end of the day you're just rooting for laundry. Maybe it's because since my dad passed away back in 1998 I haven't had a Celtics fan to debate with and keep a degree of personal competition afloat. But once again, it is what it is.

Here's the real twist in this story -- I'm absolutely rooting for the Celtics to not only beat the Pistons tonight, but to win the NBA Championship. And I think the single biggest reason for that is the addition of Kevin Garnett.

Garnett's always been an appealing personality to me since he did his ESPN The Magazine and Nike commercials in his early years in the league. I like his nickname, "The Big Ticket." I like his intensity on the court -- ESPN writer Bill Simmons actually refers to him (affectionately, I believe) as TCIKG for "The Completely Insane Kevin Garnett." And I think for most casual fans, he's put himself into the category of "athletes you'd like to see win a championship before they retire." The sports media tend to like those types of stories -- see Jerome Bettis with the Steelers a few years ago.

Now, I'll admit I'm starting to get a little oversaturated by all the hype around "The Big Three" of Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Overexposure could result in a backlash (David Beckham, anyone?). And don't get me started on how the NBA completely ripped off their "There can only be one" playoff ad campaign from Highlander. But for now I'll keep pulling for the C's.

Well, for Kevin Garnett anyway. Danny Ainge is now the Celtics general manager, and he's still a little punk.

Maybe sports hostility never completely dies after all...

UPDATE: Garnett scored 33 points -- his most in this year's playoffs -- and hit a pair of free throws in the closing seconds to put the game out of reach in Boston's 106-102 win last night. I'm officially declaring being featured in this blog the anti-SI Cover Jinx.


Danh said...

'm also rooting for the Celtics because I grew up rooting for them in the 80s. Nobody like the pesky Lakers and the NBA always featured those two teams. Maybe it is good that they are both in contention again, something the League needs to bring back older fans.

SteveHarbula said...

It's amazing how conspiracy theories seem to attach themselves more to the NBA than other leagues. The 1985 draft lottery and the frozen envelope, Jordan's secret gambling suspension when he left to play baseball, and now the Lakers and Celtics both possibly being back in the Finals.

Derek Fisher doesn't get called for fouling Brent Barry in San Antonio in Game 5, and now L.A. is in. If the Celtics are the beneficiaries of a borderline call or two and advance, you can expect to hear more of that sort of talk.

galsinsuite100 said...

We, too are rooting for the Celtics - but forgive us for not joining in on the discussion more regularly...this BLOG Word Verification thang is killing us.

Oh yeah....and Sheila Kleinmann is evil.

SteveHarbula said...

Nice to hear from the "suitest" gals I know! :)

Reading Bill Simmons almost makes me want to NOT root for the Celtics. But then I see Kobe sneer at one of his teammates again, and I stick with the lesser of the two evils.

We were visiting family in Dallas a few years ago and I decided to take Zak to the aquarium. He got a little too far ahead and I shouted to him to stop, then a voice behind me said, "Steve Harbula?" I turned around and it was...Sheila Kleinmann! She didn't even live in Dallas -- her family was visiting from Jacksonville, and she had decided that morning to take HER son to the aquarium.

I don't think saying "small world" even begins to cover how much of a coincidence that was. But yes, she is evil. ;)