The Celtics didn’t win it all this year, but they still make me happy

I grew up on the south coast of Massachusetts as a child of Lebanese immigrants. My undeniable attraction to basketball? Michael Jordan – just like millions of other kids in the ’90s.

I’m a die-hard Celtics fan now, but back then I was deeply rooted in Jordan and those epic Chicago Bulls teams. My immigrant parents wanted to help me fit in Americanize me. They bought me a Bulls starter jacket in middle school, a Bulls hat for the cold Boston winters.

When I was a little kid, the Celtics weren’t very good: Larry Bird retired when I was a baby, and the teams of my youth were hardly the indomitable team of the ’80s heyday. But I eventually got around to cheering for my home team, especially as the dynamic duo of Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce made headlines in the early 2000s.

I bought a limited edition Pierce jersey from Champs Sports at South Shore Plaza that was white on the front and gold on the back. I wore it to basketball camp, complete with headband, armband and leg warmers of course.

I wasn’t a very good player, but I definitely attracted the role.

The author with snacks at a Celtics game in the 2017-2018 season. (Courtesy of Danny Hajjar)

And the Celtics have never been far from me. I remember watching them on long family trips to Lebanon to visit our relatives. (Interestingly, NBA-TV was one of the few TV channels we got in English.) During the 2010 NBA Finals, when the Celtics lost to the Los Angeles Lakers, my sister and I woke up in the middle of the night to watch the games .

I watched the Celtics as a kid because I loved the game. But as I got older — and became more aware of the world — the Celtics became something more than just a basketball team to me. Lately, the Celtics have become my way of escaping the world for a while and finding some semblance of calm. Put simply, the Celtics make me happy.

I moved to Washington DC for college to pursue a life in advocacy. I serve the diaspora population in the Middle East and North Africa in the United States and the community at home in the region. Because I am part of this community, I also live this intercession every day. This work takes place not only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but around the clock.

The last two years have been a lot for all of us that we have to reckon with professionally and privately. The fear caused by the pandemic coupled with the trauma of seeing police killing black men and women, deadly acts of anti-Asian racism and Islamophobia, mass shootings across the country, an unpredictable economy. All these acts together are too big for a single person to process.

With all that’s going on, it’s hard not to scroll Twitter… Enter, the Celtics. For those 48 minutes of basketball, even if they lose, I feel like it’s okay to be happy.

As an Arab American, watching the complete collapse of Lebanon and the enduring trauma the region is suffering – most recently with the assassination of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by Israeli forces – adds an extra weight of grief and despair.

Seeing Lebanon in this way hits me and my family and really everyone in the diaspora hard. In the last few years alone, the country’s main currency has lost over 90% of its value, and shortages of food, medicine and electricity persist. There is still no accountability for a devastating explosion at the port of Beirut in August 2020.

In recent years I’ve been spending more and more time online – and particularly on Twitter – following every little development in Lebanon. Conversations with friends and family who are either still in Lebanon or who have recently left due to the dire situation underscore the added personal level of frustration, heartache and, frankly, guilt I feel.

With all that’s going on, it’s hard not to let Twitter fail. I keep asking myself: what is going on?

Come in, the Celtics. For those 48 minutes of basketball, even if they lose, I feel like it’s okay to be happy.

I was excited for every game we played in the bubble in Orlando in 2020, the COVID season. The next year I was back and I was rooting for the Celtics to lose to the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs.

The author in the far right Celtics t-shirt at a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2017-2018 season.  (Courtesy of Danny Hajjar)
The author in the far right Celtics t-shirt at a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2017-2018 season. (Courtesy of Danny Hajjar)

With Ime Udoka as our new head coach and another year of growth for our young players, it seemed like this could be our year. Then we got off to a terrible start (18-21) and it felt like we couldn’t figure it out – some national media even asked if Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown could exist on the same team – but my faith in the Celtics never did swayed.

Watching the team shift its energy – pushing its way through the playoffs and into the NBA Finals – was special

The Celtics missed their chance to put Banner #18 on the rafters this year, and that stings. But it’s hard for me to feel anything but joy about how we’ve shot this season. I’m excited for the future of this team and grateful to them for putting me in a different headspace briefly every game.

To get my job done, to get the daily chores done, to name injustice, I have to find ways not to burn out. Much like the Celtics, I need to find the energy to keep going.

Only four months until the start of the 2022/23 season.

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