Thursday, June 19, 2008

"Defense Wins Championships"

The Green and White did it again: the Boston Celtics are the 2007-08 NBA Champions!

I must admit, I was a bit skeptical during the start of the season when GM Danny Ainge swung two megadeals that netted first Ray Allen and then Kevin Garnett. With a paper-thin bench and two young players starting at point guard and center, the challenge to rise to the top of the East, much more win the championship, seemed daunting.

But these players came together and displayed a passion for defense never seen for a long time. While Pierce was the heart of the team, Garnett was its soul. His intensity, his dedication to the team, his commitment and competitiveness, permeated the entire team and changed its entire team philosophy.

While establishing the season-best regular-season record at 66-16, the Boston Celtics came together and embodied the concept of team defense.

A lot of things --- what I would call "essential accidents" --- had to happen to get the Celts to victory. There was of course, just plain old luck. However, I believe this success is a reflection of the hard work of the basketball players who believed in the team and sacrificed for each other on the court. I wouldn't put my money on the front office, given some of its missteps along the way, but hey, they did get the job done, even if some people allege they got a huge assist from outside the organization along the way.

Success in this team was not an overnight thing. The players, the coaching staff, even the front office made a commitment long ago on how they will succeed, and it all came together wonderfully this season.

And like defense, this commitment is not accomplished simply by relying on skill, but by dedication, passion, and consistency. Sure, on some days the team could be killed for laying off a little, or playing less than its best, and it took big-time scares from upstart Atlanta and one-man army Cleveland to get them to focus.

Defense is discipline. In basketball as in life.

It's hard to comment on all of these things, on the heels of the first major championship of the team I've grown to love the most over the years. Our local equivalent, the PBA, hogged our screens but we did catch a few games now and then. My first idol was Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers, mainly because I liked seeing players dunk. Of course I was about eight or nine then, what did I know?

It took the amazing 1984 season for me to be converted to Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish. I despised the bonhomie of Magic Johnson even as I admired the passing game of the Lakers. What won me over with the Celtics was the grittiness of the players --- they may not have been the best athletes on the court, but certainly they played with savvy, intensity, and true grit. It took a transcendent effort by Magic Johnson and the Lakers to prevent the repeat in 1985, and by then I was soaking in as much basketball knowledge I could get.

1986 was a banner year for a number of reasons, including the Edsa Revolution and my graduation from grade school, but it was also an unbelievable season for the Celts.

Well, after that championship came the decline and the fall ... it was tough rooting for the Celts after Larry, and then McHale, retired. I detested Rick Pitino and Antoine Walker, though because a fellow named Michael Jordan was beating up on the whole basketball world, everything was just fine.

The post-Pitino years made following the Celts unbearable, and all I could do was keep the faith that the Eastern Conference teams would win the championship.

So now we are here.

It was great that I got to follow the playoffs on television (despite the snafus of our local cable service, Solar Sports came through by showing the Finals on network television), though I had to make do listening on ESPN Internet radio to catch the last three games - Game 4 was on while I was on my layover in Hong Kong, while I had to get up for Games 5 and 6 because the local affiliate here bought the rights to Euro 2008. Schmucks.

So now we are here.

Banner 17 is hanging up in the rafters of the Boston home arena. On to Banner number 18...

No comments: