Five years ago, the Celtics took the 15 minute bus ride from their Miami hotel, here to American Airlines Arena. The same ride we took tonight. It was the final road game of one of the worst seasons in Celtics history. 58 losses, an 18-game losing streak and no real signs of the clouds parting. Hours earlier, 32 people were killed in a senseless, mindless, soul crushing massacre at Virginia Tech. Riding to the arena that night, I remember wondering if a Celtics game would ever feel like it mattered again, if a Celtics game could ever resonate joy like it had so many times…so many years earlier.
Two weeks ago, the Celtics also faced a Game 7. But it was never going to end there.
The end of the New Big Three era began the second the era itself began. It’s been five years of clocks ticking and windows closing. It’s been three years of trade rumors and rebuilding scenarios.
And yet here, on the 9th of June in 2012. With 27 other teams on vacation, they’re still standing.
The borderline obsession with the end of the era has almost entirely overshadowed the simple fact..that the era itself hasn’t yet ended. Despite the daily question.
Doc Rivers has been asked. So has Paul Pierce. And Kevin, and Ray, all of us have.
Is this the last ride?
Their answers have been scrutinized, hidden clues sought, double meanings interpreted.
But they’ve all answered the question. They’ve been answering it every day.
Not with their words, but with their games. Not with their minds, but with their heart.
The games themselves are the answer. These playoff performances that have erased an uninspired regular season that featured at times, losses no legitimate contender could possibly suffer. More 25-plus point losses this year than the previous four combined? A 5-9 start, under .500 at the all-star break? And yet tonight, one win from the Finals. You really think they haven’t answered the question?
Ask Doc Rivers if this is the end. He’ll tell you he hasn’t thought about it. Then he’ll bond this team with a voice of unanimity and a single mind of purpose. And coach with such force in Game 5 in Miami, coach with so much of himself, that it left a permanent mark.
Ask Paul Pierce if this is the end. He’ll shake off the question. And then carry the Celtics through a must-win Game 2 in Atlanta without Rajon Rondo. And bleed on the sidelines having fouled out, hoping for one more turn at bat.
Ask Ray Allen if this is the end. He’ll talk about how you never really know. And then he’ll ride out searing pain in an ankle that has a date with a surgeon…soon. And he’ll stand in front of Dwayne Wade as if he wasn’t a 36 year old on one leg and fight.
And ask Kevin Garnett if this is the end. You won’t get anything close to an answer. But that’s only because you’re listening, not looking. For the three years since the injury in Salt Lake, more than a few said he’d never be the same. That his best years were now behind him. Instead, he whipped those voices in his head into a frenzy of doubters that he alone, must defeat. The result, a season at 36 years old unprecedented in the league’s history. Dominating a new position they said he couldn’t play, taking shots they said he wouldn’t take. And making them. Again and again.
Do these Celtics know the final chapter of this era has arrived?
Of course they do.
The answer’s been on the court every night.
But there is also the reality of the moment. A Game 7 on the road. In a series, the Celtics have been outscored by the Heat. They’ve been out shot, they’ve been outrebounded.
Youth is against the Celtics tonight. Health is against the Celtics tonight. So is the building. Logic, history, everything we know about the NBA says the Celtics can’t win.
No team, no franchise has made more basketball history than the Boston Celtics.
And tonight, five years after reclaiming their birthright place among the NBA elite.
Four years after regaining the throne.
Three years after a dominant title defense season.
Two years after an improbable run that left them inches from the title.
And one year after they decided to go all-in one last time…the obstacle course of the shortened season...and the self-inflicted elongated playoffs…has brought them here.
It is one final night…one final chance…at one last Final.
And one last resonant moment of joy, to add to a list five years ago…you couldn’t possibly have dreamed.
(Just for perspective, I went back to see if I’d said anything about Virginia Tech at the start of our broadcast that night, April 16, 2007. I hadn't remembered it, but this is how we opened that show…)
WE ARE LIVE AT THE AMERICAN AIRLINES ARENA IN
MIAMI. I’M SEAN GRANDE.
IN ABOUT 60 SEOCNDS…WE’RE GOING TO START OUR SHOW…THE CELTICS TONIGHT OPEN WILL HIT AND WE’LL BRING YOU TONIGHT’S CELTICS GAME WITH THE HEAT.
BUT WE PAUSE..IN THE UNSETTLING WAKE OF THIS MORNING’S MASSACRE AT VIRGINIA TECH. MAKING A BASKETBALL GAME..AT FIRST GLANCE..EVEN MORE TRIVIAL THAN NORMAL.
ONE DAY AFTER WE CELEBRATED THE 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF JACKIE ROBINSON INTEGRATING BASEBALL. A DAY THAT REMINDS US WHY WE CHOSE SPORTS AS A PROFESSION…A DAY THAT REMINDS US WE’RE PROUDEST WHEN SPORTS LEADS SOCITEY..RATHER THAN FOLLOWS IT.
ONE DAY LATER…A DIFFERENT KIND OF REMINDER. OF WHAT IT IS WE DO..AND WHY WE DO IT.
A DAY IT SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE TO BELIEVE OUR NATURE EVEN HAS BETTER ANGELS.
THEY SAY SOMETIMES THAT THERE’S SPORTS..AND THERE’S THE REAL WORLD. BUT THEY FORGET THAT SPORTS OFTEN IS…WHAT THE REAL WORLD SHOULD BE…AND AS WE WERE SO BRUATLLY REMINDED TODAY…WHAT IT SO OFTEN IS NOT.
A PLACE TO FIND JOY…WHEN JOY SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE TO FIND
A PLACE WHERE CONFLICT IS RESOLVED THROUGH COMPETITION…NOT VIOLENCE.
A PLACE TO FIND INSPIRATION IN WHAT CAN BE ARDOUSLY ACHIEVED…NOT WHAT CAN SO EASILY BE DESTROYED.
GOD BLESS THE 32 WHO LOST THEIR LIVES THIS MORNING IN BLACKSBURG. AND MAY THEY FIND PEACE NOW IN THIER WORLDS...AS WE GO ABOUT THE BUSINESS…OF WHAT BRINGS
US PEACE IN OURS.