Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Used to Bitterness

As a lifelong Red Sox fan, it is not uncommon for me to feel bitter and pessimistic about my favorite team, its performance, and the solution. Sure, since we won in 2004, everything has changed. But the mentality is slowly shifting that way, and if we make it far in this year's playoffs only to fall short, the same frustration will probably resonate throughout New England.

But I'm not talking about the ups and downs of being a Sox fan.

I am, however, talking about May 22nd, which is the biggest make-or-break day in Boston sports since mid-October, 2004. May 22nd is the NBA Draft lottery, in which the Celtics have the second-most ping-pong balls. In most years this would only be somewhat somewhat important, but it is well understood throughout the country that this is the best draft in years. The Celtics have the second-best shot of getting Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. For most fans, this is a time of optimism. We are so close! We're virtually guaranteed the pick!

I'm not buying it. Not just yet. Still recovering from 1997 and looking at the team's track history for the past twenty years, I've become almost totally convinced that bad things are bound to happen to us. Len Bias. Reggie Lewis. Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer. I was never alive for the years where the Celtics controlled the NBA- I missed out on it. I couldn't even appreciate Larry Bird in my youth, because I was simply too young to understand that he had once been the most clutch player in the franchise's history. In my nearly 19 years in existance, I have not seen one thing from the franchise that does honor to the teams of the past.

People fail to remember that even with the second-worst record, the Celtics only have a 40% chance of landing the first or second pick. It is likely that the Celtics will not get Oden or Durant. And honestly, on any other year, this would be okay. If this was happening last year, who cares? There was no player who was close to being above the rest. If we were debating about Adam Morrison vs LaMarcus Aldridge, it doesn't matter who we go with. They were supposed to be good. Oden and Durant are supposed to be superstars.

Everything could change on this fateful Tuesday. If the Celtics get Oden or Durant, the franchise essentially gets restored. Paul Pierce will finally be partnered with someone who can score 20+ a game (not that Big Al won't eventually get there) not named Antoine Walker. The Celtics would immediately become a contender in the East, and the prestige of the franchise would be restored.

If we don't, we take Joakim Noah or Brandan Wright, have to wait a few years for their impact to be felt if they pan out, which will waste more of Paul Pierce's prime, which will make us a 45-48 win team at best, which won't be good enough to contend. Yes, I've been worrying about this for weeks now. Yes, I expect this to happen totally.

I can remember sleeping at my uncle's apartment as a kid- I was probably about ten. The Celtics were playing the Grizzlies in a pretty tight game. My cousin and I kept cheering them on, while my uncle watched the game rather apathetically, occasionally chiming in with a bitter comment. I don't remember exactly what was said, but he said something to the effect of "I've seen them blow so many, it doesn't even surprise me anymore." I didn't really understand the significance of this until years later- sometime around an hour ago. My uncle was alive for every single Celtics championship and has not even become unhappy about the team's shortcomings- he reached a point, only 13 years or so removed from their last title, where he was just bitter and sarcastic. And I figure he's become more apathetic since.

And so, to continue with the title of this article, I guess that myself and all others who follow the franchise are used to being bitter about them. I appreciate and understand that we have won more than anyone else, but what do I know about that outside of finals games from the Bird era on ESPN Classic? I've seen two dynasties in the NBA in my 18 years- the Chicago Bulls ('91-'93 and '96-'98) and the Los Angeles Lakers ('00-'02). The Celtics last won in 1986. I've never been able to appreciate this in the same way that I've never been able to truly feel the agony of Mookie Wilson's ground ball rolling through the legs of Bill Buckner.

My proudest moment as a Celtics fan was game 4 of the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics overcame a 26-point deficit to beat the Nets. It was incredible. Antoine Walker showed emotion for the first time in his life, and inspired the team to outscore the Nets 41-16 in the fourth quarter. We lost the next two games, but I was still incredibly happy and proud of my team. We were finally showing the greatness I'd only heard about. And this one pick could bring us back to that and then some.

And so, on May 22nd, I'm going to worry, sweat, and agonize over the lottery. If we get a top-2 pick, I'll be ecstatic. If we don't, I'll be disappointed.

But hey, I'm used to it.