From the Booth: Father’s Day
There's a certain acknowledgement you have with people.
One you may not even be fully aware of, it's just second nature, a reflex.
With people you know, you work with, been around for years. People you pass in the halls. People with whom you've established a certain comfort level that there's no long "what's up" kind of greeting required every time you see them.
As the elevator door opened last November, a Sunday morning at the Four Seasons in Toronto, the first face I saw was that of Doc Rivers. It was early in the morning, at least by a play-by-play guy's standards, so as I walked past towards the workout room, I didn't think much of the fact we didn't share that comfortable acknowledgement, the one we've honed over the last four years.
But at some point, on the elliptical machine, or bent awkwardly over a Swiss ball, it struck me kind of odd.
As I walked back to the elevators, casually scanning the group, but failing to spot the head coach, I asked someone else if something was wrong. He told me.
Doc's dad, Grady Rivers, had died.
He would see only the first win of his son's greatest season behind the bench.
It hadn't even occurred to me.
Last Sunday I packed a few extra things before the trip to Los Angeles. It was a trip I felt all along would end with two Celtics wins and tonight, Sunday, June 15, with Banner 17.
I could end up wrong, of course. Wouldn't be the last time and I can assure you beyond any reasonable doubt, it would be far from the first. But my gut feeling, my spidey-sense, as Max and I like to call it, said I'd be calling a title-winning game on this trip, so it might be cool I thought, to have some things with me.
I'd like to say I had put a lot of thought into it, but I really hadn't. Last minute idea, just some mementos, things I've collected over the years, that might bring me some luck in calling a good game.
But the other part hadn't occurred to me.
Hadn't occurred to me when I found one of my father's ties in a box in the closet and threw it in my bag, with the idea of wearing it during a clinching game, that Sunday, was Father's Day.
I'm not sure why my Dad was on my mind as I was packing for the trip, it was probably triggered when I wrote last week about Jim McKay.
But as I rode the bus back from Staples Center Thursday night, as the paint was still drying on the historic comeback win that will most likely define the 2008 NBA Finals, I thought about that tie, about Grady Rivers and about what very well could happen on Sunday.
On Father's day.
It is one of the many gifts sports unwittingly provides us. The fellowship. The connection to another person, another group of people with whom you may have nothing else in common. Race, background, even geography. But you are a Celtics fan, and the last eight months, this magic carpet ride of a season has no doubt bonded you with others who share your passion. For the game, and your team. That passion may have been dormant since what are referred to Celtics Nation-wide as "the Larry Bird years", it may be a torch that burned, albeit flickering through the thin years. Through Pervis' hair, Sherman's shoes and the Big Ham. Through Pitino, through draft lottery disasters, through a biblical losing streak last winter that lasted exactly forty days and forty nights.
But you probably have something else in common.
It most likely began, the love of the Celtics, the love of sports, the connection -- it most likely began with your father.
You may be lucky enough to watch the game tonight with him. But if not, there are no doubt, in your mind, the memories of Celtics' playoff games past, of June barbeques, of Father's Days in New England that were synonymous with titles and parades and the games that begat them.
It may have been your Dad who brought you to the Garden to see your first Celtics game, with a program and a hot dog. You may have been with your Dad in the car, turning on the radio to get a Celtics score, and just being drawn in listening to Johnny call a game.
But wherever it began, your love of the Celtics, the one that continues to this day, and what could be this special night, came from somewhere, and it lives on through you.
Father's Day isn't about Hallmark, or bad ties, or a box of Old Spice with all the kids' signatures attached to the card.
It's about what he gave you...what lives on in you.
When you tie your tie the way he showed you, when you hold a baseball the way he first taught you, when you say something they way he would, when you remind someone else of him...that is Father's Day.
Every time you're watching a game, whether you're watching it with him, or remembering the times you were, that is Father's Day.
And the year in which Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, James Posey and Leon Powe, four men who grew up largely without one, became one.
And the year in which Doc Rivers lost his.
The Celtics can now become champions of the basketball world...
...on Father's Day.
And that too, would live on forever.
TALE OF TWO COMEBACKS: '02 VS. '08
Here's how you know you're getting old.
I mean, there are many ways, most of which involve creaking body parts or receeding hair lines. But here's another one. You get asked to compare different moments in Celtics history...and you've not been around long enough to have called both of them.
In the aftermath of Thursday night, there were immediate comparisons to Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2002, the 21-point fourth quarter comeback win over the Nets, and which of course, was the "bigger" comeback.
Now since my call of the final seconds Thursday pretty much gave away my answer ("they just topped it"), here's why. The 2002 comeback was about adrenaline, and youth, and not knowing what was possible. It was a team that had missed the playoffs six straight years and was considered an underdog in the opening roung against Philadelphia. It was house money, and the enthusiasm, almost wonder of "why not?"
Of course, it was later in the game, the 2002 comeback didn't begin until the fourth quarter. But Thursday's was more impressive, not for the stage, a road game in the NBA Finals, but rather because you could truly see it coming, It wasn't whimsical. It was cold, it was professional and it was relentless. It was the better team, systematically dismantling its younger opponent.
The 2002 comeback was magical, and the signature moment of some undermanned Jim O'Brien teams that did what few thought they could for those three years. 2002 was how you get back into the limelight.
Thursday night, was how you get to the Hall of Fame.