Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Random sports blogging

[DFH edition]

Oooooowwwwww!!!!!!!! Danny fuckin' Ainge! (GM)

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Could be a new day, baby.

<>Okay, here's the thing:< /kathy griffin voice>

My elder brother was the sports-nut in the family. Of the three brothers, he was, by body type, probably the least suited to any sport except, maybe, aquatics (although, unlike the other two, he tended to sink like a stone when he swam): tall, very thin, light-boned, low body fat. But he was by far the most fanatical of any of us--followed every pro sport all through high school, spent several seasons as sportswriter for the Harvard Lampoon (where, in the '70s, the chief recreational sport was probably bong-construction), only decided against a career as a sportswriter when he realized what a low-paying crapshoot that career path was, and every Thanksgiving and Christmas would chivvy the siblings and visitors out to play touch football or soccer. He still writes very eloquently about sports, and with a perspective that most of those jumped-up jocks and failed weather-casters can't even touch (his stories of Superbowls 36 and 38 read like great short fiction).

But I do remember the 1970s-80s Celtics, who were the biggest bunch of homely white boys in the world in the era, and could not have been more different than the slick, grinning, top-dollar superstars of the Lakers, their great foes. You always got the sense with the Celtics (Bird, Parrish, McHale, Ainge, Danny Johnson [RIP] was the classic lineup) that they were a bunch of homely, not-naturally-tremendously-talented kids who didn't date a lot in high school, and stayed out back of the barn or the playground practicing jump-shots instead of being popular. They were gangly (McHale), stumpy (DJ), or jumped like they had lead weights on their feet (Bird)--and against the superstars of the '80s Lakers, led by the genetic freakery of Kareem and the card-sharp con-man genius of Magic Johnson, they looked like a scrubby high-school team.

But in DJ and Ainge they had two incredibly scrappy, tough, long-minutes-playing guards--with the added bonus that Ainge's on-court demeanor was that of the smart-mouthed bratty kid who would pick fights on the court and then, when he was getting his ass kicked, would run to get his big brother. And in Bird they had what was, in the '80s, the greatest coaching player in the league. Bird just understood the game better than anyone except, possibly, Pat Reilly or Phil Jackson, with the incalculable bonus that he was out there on the court. He didn't have to tell his team-mates how to play with a brilliant strategic sense--he could show them. Add to that his assassin-accurate shooting (product of all those thousands of hours out back of the barn in high school) and astonishing peripheral vision (I read somewhere that Bird's peripheral vision is freakishly wider than the norm: an enormous advantage on the basketball court), and his absolute chess-player's calm in the eye of the hurricane (a trait he shared with Michael Jordan, who, in describing the clutch shot at the close of his career which won the Bulls one last championship, "It was like one of those Zen moments Phil [Jackson] describes, when everything just goes very slowly, and you know the shot's going to go in), and you had a team who didn't look like they could even play even with the Lakers. And yet they kept winning.

[The Celtics other nemeses in the Bird era were the infamous '80s Pistons, easily the dirtiest, whiniest, and most cheap-shot-prone in the league, with that dirtbag Bill Laimbeer (compensating for mediocre skills by specializing in dirty play, now coaching women's basketball) the chief culprit.

If the Garnett deal is as good for the Celtics as the writers think, this deal instantly catapults them into "contender" status for the Eastern Division. And that means three once-in-an-era teams (Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox) in my home town.

Yeah baby!
Playing when published: The Standells, "Dirty Water (Boston, You're My Home)"

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