Saturday, February 10, 2007

In Boston, winning no longer matters

The older you get, the more you become aware of shifts, some glaringly obvious, some more subtle and some that you are aware of, but can’t pinpoint when they occurred. The world of sports is definitely one of those places where changes of seismic proportions have occurred.

When I began adopting teams to bequeath my affection upon, many of these were local. I mostly knew the players and never for the life of me did I ever pour my heart and energy into these surrogates, wishing they would lose. Later, when I started to follow professional sports, I never recall rushing to the kitchen table to scan the previous night’s results in search of the boxscore of my favorite team and I know I never felt joy and happiness wash over me when I saw that they were on the losing end of the tilt with their opponent.

Apparently, however, not only has the world of sports been turned on its head by the large amounts of cashish showered on even marginal talents, but fans no longer grasp that following a team means that you harbor hope (even when it's not reasonable from a mere intellectual standpoint) that they’ll come away with a victory.

While this winter’s version of Boston’s pro basketball team is one of the worst in recent memory, rather than pine for a victory to break a losing string stretching back to just after New Year’s Day, fans, writers and analysts are almost giddy with each mounting loss. I’m sitting here, listening to the drivel that passes as sports talk and even, dare I say, sports journalism and I’m scratching my head—when did it suddenly become fashionable to hope that your team would be a loser? When was the big “L” etched on your forehead a badge of honor and not some equivalent to sport’s scarlet letter?

The sports community, at least in places like Boston and Memphis are no longer interested in seeing elite players named Gasol, or Pierce, carry their teams to victory. They’re not even interested that burgeoning talents like Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Rajon Rondo, or even Rudy Gay, learn what it takes to win in the world’s elite basketball league, which by the way, is much more intense and difficult than even the top Division I ball played at the college level. Dominating the competition in the Big Ten, or Big 12 doesn’t automatically translate into being able to stop a Shaq, or Koby, or Agent Zero.

Hoping your team will lose, or that your multi-million dollar superstar doesn’t play, so some ping pong ball comes up Celtics' Green is absolutely stupid. I do recognize that some people who follow sports aren’t terribly bright and even some in the sports media also are lacking in intellectual acumen, but enough is enough!

In Boston, at least, Danny Ainge needs to have a strategy beyond accumulating youthful chips with potential and start assembling a team that can compete. The Eastern Conference is weak and a general manager worth his salary would have had a team in place by now that was able to compete and even win 55, or 60 percent of its games in a very weak conference. Instead, we have to witness a debacle like last night’s (which due to FSNE’s ineptness, I missed large portions of, which isn’t the first time—more to follow) loss to a team that was ripe for the picking and should have resulted in being the end to the Celtics’ losing streak. Instead, players were standing around, missing assignments and relying on Paul Pierce, playing his first game in nearly two months. Was Ainge at the game? Is he so inept a general manager, like he was a professional baseball player that he can’t see that he doesn’t have anyone that can carry this team past even weak NBA opponents?

Maybe Boston’s recent championship success has changed the sports landscape in a town that used to hunger for wins. I guess getting off the snide in baseball, as well as the Patriots’ three Super Bowl titles has made losing easier to take. When the media trumpets Boston’s sports pedigree and superior knowledge about whatever sport is being featured, apparently they are just blowing smoke, or relying on a community that no longer exists—that being a cavalcade of knowledgeable sports fans.

Personally, I'm sick of hearing that Danny Ainge, Doc Rivers and the rest of the Celtic brain trust deserve a free pass. While the Celtics have had a significantly large number of injuries of late, injuries are part of sports and championship caliber teams don’t allow themselves a "get out of jail free" card on this front. They make deals, sign players off the waiver wire and use creativity to get their teams over the hump. The Celtics, in my opinion, have more than their fair share of young players that have been slower than expected to develop and play key roles. Ainge's strategy of going with youth has failed miserably. He needs to stop this foolish charade. He is an inept GM, in my opinion—a good role player who continues to ride what little sheen is left from the luster of the 80s Celtics' dynasty.

I know I’m in the minority, but I’m glad that Pierce is coming back. While last night’s re-entry was oh-so-painful to see, as "The Truth" was obviously sucking wind and had no legs under him, which explains the 4-16 night shooting the rock. Here’s a superstar, who obviously is hungry to play, when he could easily collect his cake, while holing up in his high-end Boston pad and no one would think less of him. To me, it’s refreshing that Boston has a player who cares and is thinking in terms of his team and finding a way to help them. As today’s article in The Herald indicates, reporting on last night’s game, Paul's decision to play is part of a strategy, one that should be lauded, but instead, will only draw even more criticism from the hacks that make up most of Boston’s sports scribes.

“I decided (to return yesterday) morning,” said Pierce, who felt good at the team’s shoot around. “I wasn’t going to go until (tomorrow against the Timberwolves in Minneapolis), but I just got anxious. I just have to use these games to get back into shape, because the practices are so few with the All-Star break and the West Coast trip coming up. I thought these last three games (before the break) would be good for me to start getting a rhythm before we go out west.”

Rather than merely being content to count his cash, catalog his bling, or run with his posse, here’s a superstar who actually has a focus for the future—it's Pierce indicating to Celtic Nation that "I’m paid to play and I want to get ready and see if I can help my club turn it around and maybe build for the next year."

Oden or Durant aren’t guaranteed, lottery odds, or not. Even if they were locks, there is no assurance that having one of them will mean a season that’s better than a .500 finish and another one-and-out playoff appearance.

I know that whatever I write will have little influence on the mindset that now values ping pong balls and lottery slots over the heart of a lion. The fact that the Celtic brass aren’t doing anything to counter that, by coming out and publicly stating in no uncertain terms that they are going to do their best to win as many of the remaining games as they can, is beginning to make me wish that maybe Pierce could be dealt to a place where heart and winning is all important, so this worthy superstar can win the championship ring he deserves.


For what has become a regular feature of FSNE’s Celtics’ coverage, problems with the feed resulted in large blacked-out portions of last night’s game with New Jersey. This has occurred during every game for the past two weeks, where segments of the game went black, apparently caused by problems with the live feed. What made it even worse for me was the lack availability of the Celtics' radio broadcast, as neither WJAB (Pirates’ hockey games supercede the Celtics), or WRKO, was carrying the game.

Professional sports coverage used to assure that broadcast integrity could be counted on—apparently, even that is becoming a thing of the past.

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