A champion’s swagger

I never realized a championship could feel so good. Of course, I had never felt so much emotion toward a team. Not the Pacers. Not the Bulls. Until now, I’ve never really felt like a fan, never been willing to watch every game, to count every point, to become a livid and inconsolable fanatic.

(c) ESPNAnd before this season, I couldn’t have been. There was no Boston Celtics last season – at least, no Boston Celtics like this team. In just a few months, a franchise went from laughingstock to contender, rebuilt to championship level like a phoenix rising from the ashes of lottery hell. The right moves were made, and luck was on their side. Red Auerbach looked on, winked and said “That’ll do.”

A legion of fans have latched onto this team, and they’re all deserving of their new fandom. Because this isn’t a team like the Spurs or Pistons. This isn’t a bandwagon that everyone can jump on top of. This wasn’t even a team last season. This was a blackened shell, a mockery of legend. It took a firestorm and a miracle to rebuild it, and we’re looking at a brand new team.

Seriously. Did you see this team last year?

Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen brought new life to the team. Ultimately, they brought new life to Paul Pierce, creating a trio that could not be denied. A series of legendary games was highlighted by a group of legendary players – guys that you could love, guys you could respect.

For a long time, I wasn’t sure how to do that anymore. Five years of Ron Artest and Jamaal Tinsley can do that to someone.

More than anything, I feel the best for Kevin Garnett, my favorite player in the league, an amazing talent, a paragon of intensity. Up until a few minutes ago, he was arguably the best player never to win a championship. He was a player so tied to his word that he hated moving out of Minnesota, hated himself and hated the idea, until it became evident that everyone else expected him to. One night in a steak house. One night, the beginning of selfishness, of getting what he wanted. Of not turning his back on his fans, but instead turning toward greatness, the exclamation point of a career.

This was the spark that changed the landscape, that shifted the parquet floor beneath the team’s feet. One choice, one forced hand, and we’re looking at a different team – an animal that we never thought we’d see, a joining of three nearly also-rans to form a holy triumvirate.

And just like for KG and Ray Allen, everything for me started over this season.

At the beginning of the year, I was a Pacers fan. I was a Garnett and Allen and Pierce fan, but above all, I was a Pacers fan. I was a Larry Bird fan; a Bill Russell fan; a Kevin McHale fan. But before all of that, I was a Pacers fan.

Then, something happened.

The Boston Celtics created a championship team not by adding a superstar to an already talented team. They did it the hard way, building a team from the bottom up, changing the culture from one of dishonor to one of intensity, of a dominant streak that makes the Celtics teams of the past proud. They did it with honor, bringing in good players and good people and meshing them into a team – a team, by God.

My fanhood made a similar shift this year. It was spit upon, thrown around and abused by a team that had broken my heart more than once. I started the season without any allegiances, refusing to pay attention to the trainwreck in Indiana, instead rekindling fond memories of my father preaching the gospel of the Celtics. I remembered my love for Larry Bird, my reverence for those 80s teams, my respect for the green and white, my hatred of the Lakers, and one by one, each piece fell into place, as if I was building my own team of discarded and forgotten role players and disgruntled future hall-of-famers.

I built a new way to watch basketball this year. One steeped in history. In legacy. And it coincided with a championship. And I feel like I’ve been rewarded.

This feels natural. This Celtics team is exactly what I’ve always wanted to follow.

I never thought a championship could feel so good.

For Ray Allen. For Paul Pierce. For Kevin Garnett. For a legion of fans that have felt cursed since Len Bias passed away, followed by Reggie Lewis. For people who have been following since the 1960s, and for those who have stood behind them for just this season. For Boston residents and transplants, and for those who have never stepped foot in the city. For the history. For the future. For the sake of everyone who has thrown on a Celtics shirt, or donned a hat, or screamed at the television screen, or wiped a bead of sweat from their nervous forehead as the Celtics snuck out another win.

Soak it up. This is as good as it gets.

This feels good.

This was lovingly handwritten on June 17th, 2008