I have seen dozens and dozens of championships, in multitudes of different sports, on the professional, college, and high school level, and I have never, ever, EVER seen a happier team than this one.
How many times have you seen the Gatorade dump at a basketball game?
(the answer, by the way, is never)
How many times have you seen a seven-foot superstar so overcome that he gets down on his knees to kiss the parquet floor?
I've rooted pretty hard for some teams, and while I don't think any championship will mean as much to me as the 2004 World Series, this one came pretty close. Watching the team during the fourth quarter as they celebrated on the sidelines, even as their bench continued the domination on the court, and then seeing that bear hug between Pierce and Rivers as the final seconds ticked away, it all gave me goosebumps.
But it was seeing Garnett at the end as Michele TaFoya tried to interview him, unable to look up, unable to speak, too choked up to do anything that really got to me. Garnett has been in a zone all year, his head totally dedicated to this one goal that's eluded him the entirety of his storied career. And tonight, getting it, he looked like it was all worth it.
And then Pierce, holding that MVP trophy over his head, standing on a bench in the middle of the parquet and yelling at the crowd, too excited and proud to even notice the microphone ABC was trying desperately to hand up - that's when I got the lump in my throat. Pierce has been the face of the Celtics for 10 long, tough years, and we've always loved him for sticking with us. For years, the Pierce moment that defined his toughness was the day, two weeks after he got stabbed 11 times in the chest by a crazed fan, where he went out and played in the Boston's first exhibition game. That was when we knew we had someone special.
Bill Simmons has written a great piece about seeing the Celtics finally take home this championship, and of course it talks about this being the 17th championship for the Celtics. That's been the focus of all the articles written in the past 24 hours, but to me, it's not the 17th championship, it's the first. I've grown up with a Celtics franchise completely lost - I've followed them for 12 years with barely a hint of any kind of hope. I don't have a golden era to look back on; this is my golden era.
Almost exactly a year ago, after the 2007 lottery when our bad luck turned on us again and we only got the number five pick in a draft we'd specifically been losing to get Kevin Durant or Greg Oden, I wrote a post giving up on the Celtics. We'd just thrown an entire season on what proved to be the false hope of landing a superstar, and there was no light at the end of the tunnel. We were going into another season with a collection of young guys who'd combined to win 24 games the season before, plus one more raw, unpolished talent like Yi Jianlian in the mix. One more year of wasting Pierce's prime. I was done with the Celtics, I was done with waiting for someone in the front office to wake up and say "y'know, we're never going to compete with this bunch of kids." I've been a diehard NBA fan since I was in the sixth grade, and I'd seen teams rebuild their way into contention, and whatever it was we were doing, rebuilding wasn't it. I gave up.
And then, suddenly, the front office did wake up. We traded the #5 pick and pieces to Seattle for Ray Allen, then managed to send 7 different players to Minnesota for Kevin Garnett, and suddenly - we were a real team again. We had players who wanted to play hard, who wanted to win, who believed that they could. And for the first time in my life, I got to root for a team that I could actually believe in.
And for the first time in my life, I got to see them win it all.
And it feels good.