Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Defending Like Champions

My favorite non-Boston athlete ever is undoubtedly Pistol Pete Maravich (yeah, I know he played half a season in Boston, but he's not really of Boston). Granted, at the tender age of 26 (though my back, shoulder and pancreas tell me I'm closer to 86), I was far too young to witness the sheer greatness of the Pistol's prime, but through the magic of ESPN Classic, stories from my basketball-crazy uncles (and Mom, who loves basketball more than should be legally allowed) and the "Pistol Pete Homework Basketball" VHS tapes that I nearly burned holes through, the Pistol remains alive and well in my memory bank, as well as my jump shot. I've read, watched and purchased nearly everything having to do with the man, and when my girlfriend bought me a Maravich jersey and biography for my birthday, I realized then that she was, in fact, the one.

Oddly enough, my favorite Pistol Pete story wasn't scoring 50 in his first college game, or his performance at the 1970 NIT Tournament at MSG, or even any of his ahead-of-his-time NBA performances. Rather, my most treasured Pete Maravich story actually regards his death. Pete Maravich, knees shot, career over and personal demons finally overcome, passed away at the age of 40 playing pickup basketball. Now some may think his death tragic, but I've always seen it as poetic - a great man died doing the one thing he loved. Any of us should be so lucky.

This may seem an odd segue for a recap on the Celtics-Magic season and their unsuccessful defense of Banner 17, but to me, it's quite similar. This year's Celtics, beset by injury (including one to their undisputed leader), a stunning lack of depth and the bodily trauma of playing 204 games in less than 19 months, said "fuck this, we're going to go out doing what we love - play basketball." They overcame a younger, more athletic and fearless Bulls team primed to knock them off, and they then took the much talented and healthier Magic to seven games. The C's had every reason to roll over, give excuses and go quietly into that good night, but instead they fought like warriors and defended their title honorably. As a C's fan, I really could not be prouder.

Now one might argue that the C's rolled over in Games 6 and 7 against Orlando (in fact, I'm shocked that Shaughnessy hasn't written his usual contrarian bullshit to this regard), but the fact is that, by last weekend, the Celts were absolutely gassed, and playing on sheer fumes against a supremely talented team. I said before the series that anything that the team was "playing with house money" against Orlando and that I truly didn't expect them to win. So to take a team with the league's most athletic center (seriously, if Howard ever learns a post move, that dude will put up 40-20s every game) and insane three-point shooters to seven games - well that in itself was an accomplishment, and is nothing to be ashamed of. The more athletic team won. The more talented team won. Dare I say, the better team won. And I'm completely fine with that, especially because my last memory of this year's C's won't be of LeBron going 50-15-10 in a four-game sweep, but rather a hard-fought series in which we took a very good team to the brink of elimination.

What happens next year? I truly don't know. Big Baby will probably get a sweetheart offer from some free-spending bottom dweller, KG's knee might never get better, and Allen and Pierce could continue to look as road weary as they appeared in the Orlando series. But I have hope. Rajon Rondo firmly established himself this year (and especially in the playoffs) as a point guard with an insanely unique skillset and an All-Star for years to come. Perk grew by leaps and bounds, and only seems to be getting better. Leon Powe will be healthier, and Eddie House will continue to drain threes at a ridiculous rate. The youngsters (I'm looking at you Bill Walker) could step up and inject the team with some much-needed depth and athleticism.

But whatever happens next year and for the forseeable future, I have confidence in one thing: the Boston Celtics will not give up. This team has balls and heart, and those are two qualities you cannot teach. No matter what happens, these Boston Celtics at least promise to always go out on their sword, and if they fall, they'll do so doing what they love, just like Pistol Pete. And that's all we as Celtics fans can ask for.