foreword: There is a lot of wrong in the world and sport is largely a distraction from it. However, it can also be a unifying experience and a visual lesson in the same troubled world. So I’ll try to put that feeling in the context of the sport – not to dismiss or belittle the rest of what’s going on elsewhere.
“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you actually left them.” ― Andy Bernard (The Office)
there is something Special about this team. That’s not a guarantee of anything, mind you. Everything could fall apart at any moment, and that’s part of the point here. Winning an NBA championship is very, very difficult and rarely comes without drama and overcoming huge obstacles along the way. So while we sit on the proverbial edges of our seats and fret over every missed free throw, let’s also enjoy the moments that make this type of playoff run unforgettable.
My wife has this wonderful quirk where she’ll pinch pennies on “stuff” that we buy for everyday use, but will willingly sign up for more expensive (within reason) vacations. The reason: “I want to invest in memories.” I love that so much.
Each year we start with the same basic goal: raise another banner in the rafters. Most of the time, this dream dissolves. Sometimes right away, sometimes in the middle of the year, and sometimes in the final seconds of an elimination game.
Right now this dream is still very high definition in technicolor and it’s glorious. This team understands the moment, knows what’s at stake and has bought into it wholeheartedly. That is rare.
After winning Game 5 in Miami and getting close to the NBA Finals, Jaylen Brown’s moment was not wasted. “This is a great opportunity. Leave everything on the ground. They don’t want feelings of regret. We got a special opportunity with this group, so let’s not take that for granted,” he said.
So much has to be right for a championship to happen, some of which is completely out of the team’s control. They must have stars in their prime. You need to have the right mix of players around you. For this moment you need the right coach. You also need to be as close to “full health” as you can hope to be at this time of year, get the occasional favorable matchup, and have a string of lucky bounces.
But maybe the biggest thing you need is also the hardest to define and replicate. They require 100% full buy-in from each rotation player on the team. The 2008 team called it “Ubuntu”. Every team starts the season buying in and playing for each other to the point where it’s become a cliché. But when it actually happens, it blossoms beyond the cliché and develops into the personality of the team.
“Let’s come out on our home court on Friday and play the best version of basketball we’ve played all season,” Brown said of tonight’s Game 6. “It’s a big game for us. Breathe at the same time. Relax. Sometimes we can get too tense because we know how important those moments are. Just come out and play our game and we’ll be fine.”
These are largely the same core players from last season. This is not to detract from the influence of Al Horford, Derrick White and others. But a lot of that team was here last year and they could never get on the same page. I firmly believe that Brad Stevens is a phenomenal coach who has gotten several teams to buy in (with several of those same players!). But for some reason the message stopped coming. Enter Ime Udoka.
It didn’t happen overnight, but through consistent, brutally honest (but caring) communication, he got through to her. Now they will run through walls for him and each other. And the team gets recognition for that. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart in particular had to take the lessons learned in the past, apply them to the present and channel that hard-earned wisdom into the future.
And here is the crucial point. Even if everything was right at that moment, it doesn’t mean that it will always be like this for these guys. We’ve seen it over and over again. Teams win one year at a high level, come back the next year expecting to repeat the same formula, and somehow fall short. Sometimes it’s overconfidence, sometimes a lack of urgency, sometimes it’s just another mix that’s a little off. Just because the core of this group is young does not guarantee sustainable success.
All the more reason to welcome this moment and this team. The path is not over yet, the goal is not yet reached. With a chance to eliminate the Heat, Tatum said: “I’m looking forward to it. It will be challenging but it will be fun.”
We still have five more wins before we can really celebrate. But I’m determined to appreciate this ride for all it is right now.
My son is about the same age as I was then Celts won the championship in 1986. That was the year that cemented my fandom for life. I don’t know what his passions will be when he grows up, but it’s been a blast watching him embrace this team with me over the past few months. We invest in memories and I wouldn’t have it any other way.