While the dynasty that once was the mighty Boston Celtics waned in the ’90s and ’00s (the last NBA championship won by the Green was in 1986 – it was the team’s 16th) the memory of their legendary battles against the LA Lakers remains firmly in the heads of most Celtics fans – even younger ones. The refrain, “beat LA,” being chanted by the Boston Garden fans and, for that matter, everyone in or around Boston proper, might be the strongest memory of all.
Having grown up in Philadelphia, I always hated the Celtics. 76ers fans thought of the Celtics as our nemesis and that the Philly-Boston rivalry was the center of the basketball universe. Battles between LA and Boston happened far more frequently, though, and when Milwaukee was thrown into the mix . . . well . . . the Sixers were good, but they just never were the Celtics nor even a perpetual rival to them like LA was.
As a Boston-area resident, I eventually broke my allegiance to the sports franchises of the town I grew up in and adopted their Boston competitors as my teams. The process took me about a decade. It might have taken longer, but in the Celtics case, at least, the fact that they so consistently won championships made it easy for me to side with a winner. I’d be a crappy Cubs fan . . .
I think that most Bostonians are a little hesitant to reconnect entirely with the Celtics at this point. There have been so many hard years as a fan, especially when the Celtics are so closely identified as NBA champions (the team’s 16 NBA victories are the most in the league and include an entire decade – 1960-1969 – in which they only lost one championship). While the town is abuzz with the concept of going for number 17 (their 17th championship), the team’s status is still only discussed after the previous night’s Red Sox scores and the latest news from Patriots mini-camp.
A new championship and a promise of a few more years of success should quickly change that, though. While it’s unlikely that they’ll ever get billed ahead of the Sox, they ought to be able to easily take over the number 2 slot from the Pats.
In the mean time, the chanting of “beat LA” seems to be growing in volume every day. A victory tonight, in the first game of the NBA championship series – held in Boston – might raise the volume somewhat. A victory in the series might result in a roar announcing the Celts’ reemergence as a charter member of Title Town (yeah, that’s Boston).