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2014

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February 2014

He ended up wearing the hat on the air that very same night, which believe me, was not the plan.

You always remember the first time you saw certain things; things you just knew were going to have a place of semi-permanence in your world. Maybe the first time you saw Tiger Woods. Maybe the time you saw Michael Jackson at Motown 25, or a 21-year old Eddie Murphy steal an episode of SNL by blowing the doors off a 12:55 a.m. sketch. Sometimes your eyes and ears just know special when they see it and hear it.

The first time I saw Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith together on Inside The NBA, going through the highlites, I knew it would become the center of the league. It just had that feel, you knew it instantly. Sometimes something magical just clicks immediately, without explanation. Take for example, I don't know, a team constructed almost from scratch over the summer that wins 29 of its first 32 games, matching the best start in NBA history (see below).

TNT nailed it; the studio, the production of the game broadcasts and the personalities of the talent mixed perfectly with what the post-Jordan NBA was going to be.

I felt no shame during my three years in Minnesota about slipping references to the show into Timberwolves' telecasts. Because when they played those clips later that night on Inside, it brought the team I was working for, and the show I was working on, closer to that center, if just for a couple of seconds.

It was with that thought process, as TNT and Inside the NBA were live inside TD Banknorth Garden before Game 6 of the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals, that I grabbed Kenny "The Jet" Smith as a guest on our pre-game show, The Celtics Tonight, to talk about the series and the impact of Inside, then still its in post-infancy, toddler stage.

You know your team has arrived when TNT is carrying your game on its Thursday night double-dip of NBA action.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty

When it was over, I gave him a hat. Not just any hat, but a fishing hat. A fishing hat with the logo of our then-flagship radio station. Kenny's Gone Fishin' Photoshop segment, picturing him in full aquatic gear with the key players of a team that had just been eliminated from the postseason, had become a metaphoric staple of the show. The gift was both a tribute to the show and its impact, and also an attempt at a cheap plug on national television.

Of course, I hadn't anticipated him wearing it on the show three hours later, sending the Celtics off on their summer fishing trip, after dropping Game 6, and the series, on their home floor.

Seemed like a good idea at the time, though.

There are countless ways in which the world has changed for everyone connected to the Boston Celtics over the last six months. The winning streaks, the magazine covers, the talk show calls when they dare lose two straight, one winter removed from doing that nine times in a row. But tonight at the Garden, they step into another very big part of that world.

The center of NBA culture has been personified in different ways over the years. It's had a different stamp and a different feel for each generation. In the 60's, it was ABC, Chris Schenkel and Keith Jackson, beaming images of Elgin Baylor and Willis Reed from municipal auditoriums; games with the ABC Sports logo hanging over glorified card tables at courtside.

In the 70's and 80's, CBS was there throughout the NBA's explosion, from tape-delaying the NBA Finals through the Celtic-Laker fortnights that defined a basketball generation. If you're old enough, you can close your eyes and hear the theme music, bringing you back to a Sunday afternoon that almost invariably featured the Celtics battling Dr. J, Magic or Dominique.

The Michael Jordan era went hand-in-hand with the NBA on NBC: Rock fights, and real fights between the Knicks and Heat; the rise of Shaq, the fall of Detroit's Bad Boys and Michael's jumper over Bryon Russel in Salt Lake, the lasting image of the decade soundtracked by Bob Costas and Marv Albert.

Times change, culture changes, media changes. It's a 600-channel, internet, Y2K world. There is no shortage of ways to gather information of the NBA. We're a click of the mouse from Rajon Rondo's high-school stats, Lindsay Lohan's rap sheet and the instant written transcript of the latest Mitt Romney/John McCain slap fight.

Which always reminds me of one of my favorite on-air lines; "for those of you who want a written transcript of tonight's broadcast...learn to write faster."

I don't know, that's just funny to me.

But by definition, there still has to be a center of that world. A clearinghouse. An epicenter. And in today's NBA, it's the TNT Thursday night doubleheader.

It's what Monday Night Football used to be, what Sunday Night Football wants to be, and what Hockey Night in Canada still is.

It's the center of NBA culture, and the Celtics are once again a part of it.

One year ago tonight, the Celtics lost their 13th consecutive game. And they did it, while the crowd chanted "MVP" at an opponent. A Laker, no less: Kobe Bryant. The significance was that one year ago, Kobe and the Lakers were a part of that NBA TNT culture, and the Celtics were light years away.

Tonight, it's the Celtics back on the league's center stage, top hat and tails, with the league's brightest light shining on the team with its best record.

And that's a hat this franchise is very happy to wear again.

FOR THE GEEK SIDE OF YOUR BRAIN...

Here's a final look at the extraordinary start of this year's Celtics, and maybe some perspective on where it ranked in the 62-year history of the NBA. In those 62 years, there have been 1,178 team seasons in history. Only four, out of the 1,178, have ever started 29-3. Here's how those four rank in terms of scoring differential.

Best Records Through 32 Games by Scoring Differential
1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers 29-3 +13.28
2007-08 Boston Celtics 29-3 +12.97
1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers 29-3 +12.22
1995-96 Chicago Bulls 29-3 +11.63


That said, compare the average points per game scored in an NBA game in 1972 as opposed to 2008, and you can make a very good statistical case that this years Celtics team had, for what its worth, the best 32-game start in NBA history.

I have no idea how Mercury Morris feels about it.

** Five losses in the subsequent eleven games of course, and the C's have fallen back in the pack of best teams ever. For the record, here's what happened to the other three...

Best Records Before Fourth Loss of a Season
1995-96 Chicago Bulls 41-3
1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers 39-3
1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers 37-3
2007-08 Boston Celtics 29-3
1969-70 New York Knickerbockers 27-3
1990-91 Portland Trail Blazers 27-3


** With New Orleans winning streak ending on January 30, everyone else in the NBA has lost 13 games before the Celtics lose their 9th. By how much are the Celtics lapping the field to this point? The 8th loss, in Orlando on January 27th, came a full 22 days after the Pistons became the next-to-last team to lose their 8th (at the hands of the Celtics no less).

Last Team To Lose Their...
7th game San Antonio Spurs December 19 (C's 7th Loss January 23 - 35 days)
8th game Detroit Pistons January 5 (C's 8th Loss January 27 - 22 days)
9th game Detroit Pistons January 9
10th game Detroit Pistons January 13
11th game Detroit Pistons January 18
12th game Detroit Pistons January 19
13th game New Orleans Hornets January 30


** And if that doesn't convince you how far ahead of the pack the Celtics still remain at this point, there remains this...

Fewest Losses by More Than 5 Points This Season (Through January 30)
Boston Celtics 2
Dallas Mavericks 8
San Antonio Spurs 9
Phoenix Suns 9
Detroit Pistons 10
Los Angeles Lakers 10
New Orleans Hornets 11
Orlanmdo Magic 11


** Under the heading of resiliency, the 30-point win in Miami January 29th, following that 8th Celtics loss of the year, pushed the Celtics record to 7-1 following losses, with an obscene +17.25 scoring differential.