I wore the Tom Ford fragrance Tobacco Vanille today. It’s the perfect fall/winter fragrance; I fucking love it. It dropped in 2007, the same year I began wearing it. How or why is this particular ‘cologne’ relevant to a post that is seemingly supposed to be about the pride and glory of the greatest sports franchise of all-time — the Boston Celtics? I’ll explain.
For most of my life, up until the said year of 2007, the Celtics were a pretty piss poor franchise in regards to performing and coming up with wins once Larry Bird and Kevin McHale retired and Robert Parish left. You could blame this on the sudden and tragic death of Len Bias on the night he was drafted or Reggie Lewis’s passing, you can chalk it up to simply not having the right players, coaching or philosophy, but the bottom line is, up until the year 2007 all I knew about Celtics’ basketball in my lifetime was them failing to get the job done. Sure, I read about the history of their dominance in the late ’50s throughout the entire decade of the ’60s, and I used to watch old game clips from the 1980s with my dad when I was a kid, but up until the said year of 2007 I wasn’t able to say I saw this amazing sports franchise win a title in my lifetime. The closest they got was in 2002 when they lost to the New Jersey Nets in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In the summer of 2007, the Celtics acquired Ray Allen in the draft from the Seattle Supersonics and ensuingly brought Kevin Garnett onto the team. This was directly after the worst season in the history of the pride and glory of the Boston Celtics, back in 2006 when they only won 24 games with a team headed by an oft-injured Paul Pierce and the likes of Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Delonte West and one rookie out of the University of Kentucky by the name of Rajon Rondo… I could keep going… Yeah. With the acquisitions of Allen and Garnett, Pierce finally had some goddamn help, and with center Kendrick Perkins primed to be the brick wall of a center in the frontcourt, the team was ready to do amazing things, and they were automatically dubbed — by ESPN and Co. — the favorites to win the title.
That November, I watched the Celtics play the Bobcats live, in Charlotte, NC — the Celtics won 96-95. Six years ago. I was wearing Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille. Ray Allen hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to win the game for the Celtics. I knew, on that very night, that the season was going to be special. For the first time in my life, barely less than seven months later, I watched my Celtics win 66 games en route to winning their 17th NBA championship by defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in six games, winning the said title on June 17, 2008 (Celtic legend John Havlicek — who wore number 17 in his heyday — was in attendance, too). I’ll never forget that season or that year (or the following two years).
Those days are gone. The Celtics returned to the Finals once more in June 2010 when they once again challenged the Lakers, but this time the Lakers exacted revenge on the Celtics by upending them in seven games. In 2011 and 2012 the Celtics failed to return to that level. Ray Allen left the Celtics in the 2012 offseason to sign with the Miami Heat (and in the NBA Finals back in June, in game six, he hit a 3-pointer that staved off elimination for the Heat to help them come back with a win to force a game seven in which they beat the San Antonio Spurs to win their third NBA championship) and Paul Pierce (Celtic since 1998) and Kevin Garnett were traded away to the Brooklyn Nets in the offseason.
Now, as a Celtics fan, I’m back to what I know, or what I knew, from before the 2007 NBA season.
When you learn how to drive a car, you understand how important it is to keep your eyes on the road. But not just anywhere on the road. Look too close to the front of your hood and you’ll miss what’s coming up ahead. Spend too much time looking backward and you’re in even bigger trouble. The right idea is to focus on the horizon and everything else kind of works itself out.
What I’m getting at here is perspective. I’m a die-hard Boston Celtics fan, and to us Celtics fans, the only thing that ultimately matters is adding another banner. That’s a destination but even the GPS can’t tell us how long it will take us to get there since there’s several different routes and the traffic could hit at any time.
There will be some phenomenal days where the Celtics play well above their heads and beat the best in the world on a last fraction of a second 3-pointer. There will be days when the team plays well below their level and gets routed from the opening tip on through the end and players get fined for their accurate (if crass) description of the game. Those are outliers and the true identity of this team lies somewhere in between those extremes.
And in truth, I’m not sure if it really matters what “identity” this team develops this year. Call it a bridge year, or the start of the rebuilding project, or call it tanking for all I care. It doesn’t matter because it is temporary. This team was built and designed specifically to change.
There are no guarantees and I don’t gamble, but I’d be drop-dead shocked if Danny Ainge didn’t make a trade at the deadline with more of an eye toward the future than the present. Even if that doesn’t happen, by definition things are going to change next summer.
So when it all boils down to it, I couldn’t care less if the team wins or loses on a night to night basis. Mind you, I’m always going to root for my team to win, that’s just an unchanging instinct. But losing doesn’t bother me much this year and winning doesn’t mean that much either. Does that mean I’m “rooting for them to tank?” Not at all.
I get the arguments for “tanking” and I don’t need anyone to explain to me the dangers of becoming a mediocre team year in and year out. I know the draft class is special and every loss gives us more ping pong balls closer to landing one of the studs at the top of the board. I just don’t see the value in losing on purpose and I think it would do a lot more damage than good in the long run.
The Celtics already have several lottery level players on the team right now. They might not be elite stars, but they are certainly rotation players on good teams. The Celtics also have a cornerstone level player returning from injury in the not too distant future. Sending those players a message (through words or deeds) that they are not expected to win is not helpful. They are all developing habits and they will be called upon to win basketball games for us when they really matter. If they don’t learn to win now, why would we assume they’d just figure it out once we decided that they should?
The players and coaches are rightly programmed to be competitive and look to win every single game. While on one level I don’t think what we do or say as fans makes too much difference, on another level I think it actually does. If they hear through the press that all we want is for them to lose, that has to be demoralizing. Sure they can rally around the “us against the world” mentality, but that can only last for so long. Statistics have proven over time that teams play better at home and that fan support is a huge part of it. So yeah, I’m against tanking.
Still, rebuilding I can totally get behind. Leveling the team as we knew it to make way for the next generation was painful but necessary at some point. You can’t lay a foundation when the old structure is still in place. Now we’ve got a new coach, a bunch of young, talented players, and a lot of future draft picks to build upon. That’s both comforting and exciting in the long term.
We don’t have enough talent to win a lot of games this year, so yes, our draft pick will likely be pretty good. If the lottery comes up aces (“may the odds be EVER in your favor”) wonderful. If not, well, that’s the breaks and we have to make smart drafting decisions and continue to develop talent. Even with the worst record there’s a good chance that we’d be picking 4th and even with the top pick there’s a reasonable chance that the player would be a bust or get injured. Things happen and all you can do is hope for the best.
I suppose I can summarize it thusly: I’m going to root for every win, but not get too worked up over each win or loss. I want the team to focus on winning but I wouldn’t mind if they got a high draft position. I want my pumpkin pie and I want to eat it too. As long as I’m focused on the horizon, I think all of this mental gymnastics makes some amount of sense too.