On Wednesday, Carmelo Anthony and his band of knuckleheads dressed in all black for the “funeral” of the Boston Celtics, their first-round playoff opponent, despite the tactlessness of such a gesture two weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings.
So today let’s clad ourselves in green and cheer for the Celtics — and for some karma to catch up with the Knicks.
Friday will be a remarkable day in Boston, for basketball and for the city. No team in NBA history has ever recovered in a playoff series from a 3-0 deficit and gone on to win. The Celtics, along with the Houston Rockets out West, will attempt a huge step in rewriting that history.
So much will be folded into this game: An outlet for a town still feeling the raw shock of the bombings; the perplexing stupidity of a Knicks team that from utter ignorance or self-centered insouciance pulled their “funeral” stunt in Game 5 only to cough up another loss; an aging, proud, fierce Boston team without Rajon Rondo and most likely looking at its final days together as the near-dynasty they’ve been since winning the title in 2008; and the good feeling most of us outside of New York would see in watching an unprecedented comeback and an all-time comeuppance in one fell swoop.
It is unlikely, to be sure, which is why this hasn’t happened before. The Knicks are a two seed for a reason; the Celtics are a seven seed for a reason. It seems unlikely J.R. Smith will get himself suspended, as he was for Game 4, between now and tip-off. It seems just as unlikely he will miss his first 10 shots, as he did in Game 5. And while ‘Melo has been a stunningly awful postseason basketball player for most of his career, he is still this year’s scoring leader, still a remarkable talent, still dangerous.
And Boston remains a not very good basketball team. Not anymore. What we have seen in their two-game winning streak is a combination of Boston pride and willpower (Kevin Garnett’s rebounding, Paul Pierce’s big shots despite poor games) and the Knicks playing scared, iso ball with a star looking like anything but.
But it is also true that cities and their people can exert an energy and a life on a special game, just as sports teams can do the same for its people. Boston did that, and the Red Sox and Bruins did that, and the Celtics were part of that, when two weeks ago the Boston Marathon was bombed, three people died, hundreds were maimed and injured, and a city was plunged into a lockdown and its own modern-day waking nightmare. Sports as a part of the civic life of the city played its role bringing hope and meaning and perspective to the events, in small and big ways. That is what sports do at their best.
So why not now? Boston will teem with hope Friday, not because sports really matter in the great scheme of things but because people coming together matters; because resiliency matters, in whatever symbol we see it; because Boston should and does matter, to every one of us, even if those Knicks players who dressed in black did not understand that.
I am no Celtics fan. I am no Knicks hater. But I had a visceral reaction Wednesday when I saw some of those funeral outfits: total, absolute anger. I wrote from that place then.
On Thursday, when I woke up and checked my email, I sorted through those angry New Yorkers who I do not believe represent their fine city and found note upon note from Bostonians and others expressing what I had felt as well: anger. And then they went further, and touched on Boston and that bombing, and I felt something else: a stirring Celtics pride that I doubt will ever be emulated.
I am no Celtics person, not in any way that is either for or against that team. On the whole I would probably casually root against them in most cases. Except for today. Today I am a Celtics fan.
Tom in Boston wrote he’d had the same reaction to those Knicks players: “As a person who was brought up in Brighton, a small part of Boston, but also a part that was directly involved in the attempted getaway of the terrorists, I know the area amazingly well. I spent 30+ years in and around Boston as a fan and fanatic of all Boston sports! That being put aside (as best as it can be) I was appalled as a human being by the Knicks behavior. Thank you for speaking not only for the "Boston Strong" but for ALL people (never mind Americans) that were brought up with some sort of respect and decency!”
Another man summed up the words of dozens of others: “I don’t understand how one, just one of these guys didn’t realize how wrong that action would be.”
Even a New Yorker named Robert, like others from his city, understood: “As a die-hard Knick fan I really appreciate your piece!”
Why had I been so angry? Because it was wrong. Because people in Boston would and did feel it crossed a line. Because, whether those Knicks thought about what they’d done or they did not, they deserve to lose, to whatever degree sports matter. It’s just a game, so I can say it and mean it and understand that if they win that too is fine.
And the Knicks probably won’t lose even though I hope they do. I hope Boston gets some small respite from reality, both in a cool playoff comeback to celebrate and the enjoyment of those Knicks players having to eat their words and actions.
Can Boston do it? Will they? No clue. And if they do not it is not the end of the world; it is just a game.
But it sure will give many of us something fun — something more important than sports — to root for.