Portraits of a Champion
I’ve watched a lot of championship games in my lifetime. I’ve seen pretty much every reaction a person can have to “winning it all.” The smiles are never more broad. The tears are never more free flowing. The hugs are never more bountiful. There’s the yelling, the screaming, the jumping up and down, the dancing, the high fives, the words of encouragement to the runners up, and the congratulations to the winners that never seem to end. Last night, I finally saw something new.
A Gatorade shower at a basketball game. Really, I sat there and tried to figure out if I’d ever seen that before. Of course there’s a reason I don’t think I’ve ever seen it. Basketball is played on hardwood floors that get slick if they’re wet. Football (the typical venue for Gatorade showers) is played on a more absorbent surface. But this…this was meaty. I was incredibly impressed with Paul Pierce’s guts and Doc Rivers’s thankful reaction:
I fell asleep during the 3rd and 4th quarters. Apparently, so did the Lakers. I woke up with 2 minutes left and the lead at near 40 points. I can’t honestly remember a win that lopsided in a Finals game. Boston really wanted this one, and I’m really happy for them. I have a soft spot for talented people like Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen who spend the better parts of their careers on teams with no help. Basketball isn’t a game that can be won by a single individual (unless you’re playing one on one or against yourself). It’s a team sport. Let me repeat that for all the Kobe Bryants and Lebron Jameses out there. IT’S A TEAM SPORT. And when all the pieces of the puzzle come together, interlocking just perfectly, you get what I saw last night: a cohesive group of people that wouldn’t for one minute let the lights go out on their dream.
Then you get a celebration that is almost beyond compare. You could see in their celebration how much they all wanted this, how they had worked their entire careers in order to come together for this one year for this one goal. It’s not supposed to be this easy. Organizations aren’t supposed to be able to trade and draft the kind of talent the Celtics have and make it work the first time out of the gate. It’s supposed to take years to identify team leaders, to understand everyone’s work ethic, to adjust attitudes, to get everyone on the same page, if you will. But these guys didn’t buy into that. They believed in what every single one of them came to the NBA to do: win a championship, and that is what carried them through, what gave them the strength to come back from a 24 point deficit in game 4, what enabled them to put 2nd and 3rd string players in the game in the 4th quarter because 30-40 points was a strong enough cushion that the starters could take a load off.
The celebration when the final seconds ticked off the clock was incredible. It wasn’t so much about the storied history of the Boston Celtics as it was about what each of those players had been through to get to that point. I still remember the Chicago Bulls’ 1991 championship. It was the first of the first three-peat and Michael Jordan’s first. He clutched that trophy as if he would never let go with his father sitting by his side as proud as a father could ever be.
And then I remember the 1996 championship, which was the first of the second three-peat. Michael’s father had been killed three years earlier and the Bulls won the 1996 championship on Father’s Day. Michael laid face down on the floor of the locker room for what seemed like an eternity sobbing and shaking. And every one of us who knew anything about that man knew exactly what he was thinking. “I want my daddy.” Michael and Scottie and BJ and Steve and John and Bill and Phil and the rest of the Bulls went through a lot together for those six championships, but those two are the ones I remember the most from the six.
Last night, a new memory was made. I’m hopeful that sometime in the next two or three weeks Kevin Garnett will be able to gather his thoughts and say something coherent, but until then, I completely appreciate the rambling of this interview with Michelle Tafoya. I often say that the way I feel after a team I follow wins a championship can’t be put into words, and this just seems to prove that there actually are no words for that feeling after all:
What is missing from this clip on YouTube is Kevin’s embrace with Bill Russell. Kevin simply said, “I got one of my own. I hope we made you proud.” Yes, the Boston Celtics are world champions of the NBA. And they managed, throughout the playoffs and the finals, to Become Legendary: