Banner Year: 17th Title Reclaims Heart of Championship City

BOSTON, MA - For longer than anyone would care to remember, and during a period where admittedly, too few remembered to care, the Boston Celtics, 16-time World Champions and the NBA's most storied franchise, were just another NBA team.

Tonight the Boston Celtics are World Champions, and for those of us old enough to remember any [or all] of the last 16, a hole in our collective hearts has been filled.

For a city that's seen five other World Championships in just under a decade, as the Celtics add the sixth title since 2002, these luminous times in Boston sports have never been brighter.


Wyc Grousbeck holds the trophy aloft for fans in the Garden.

Tonight, Boston is, as U2 would say, the city of blinding lights. And boy, do we look beautiful tonight. With fans still basking in the glow of three Super Bowls and a pair of World Series titles, the Celtics' 17th NBA Championship takes Boston and New England to a level few cities will ever see.

Admit it, when you saw the New England Patriots win their first title on February 3, 2002, you were overwhelmed with pride, but just a little jealous. And when the Red Sox finally snapped an 86-year drought in 2004, it was euphoric, but you looked at a basketball team with less-than-indomitable talents like Jiri Welsch and Mark Blount and doubted the Celtics ever get to this point.

Even with a glass-two-halves full and overflowing optimist outlook, it seemed like a ridiculous stretch. But from Manchester, NH, where basketball hoops went up all over the neighborhood when the Celtics were winning three titles in the 1980s, to outposts in rural Maine where kids cherished their gaudy, one-size-too-small Celtics jacket, NBA basketball once owned Boston while the city's other franchises came tantalizingly close but never quite reached the top of the mountain.

Expect communities across New England, not to mention transplants from Manhattan to Manhattan Beach. to renew their long-lost love affair with Boston Celtics. If you've been driving an empty bandwagon through the passing of Red Auerbach, 24-win seasons, Jerome Moiso jerseys, draft lotteries and summer league box scores, it's time to expect company. And that's not a bad thing. After all, why else were total strangers embracing in the stands at TD Banknorth Garden tonight and high-fiving at Sonny McLean's in Santa Monica, California, a Boston sports stronghold in the heart of Lakers country?

It's simple. Humans like company, and shared experiences like watching the Celtics knock off their most hated rivals engenders a sense of pride between the best of friends and the most perfect of strangers. It brings us closer together.

A lot of things had to happen to get the Boston Celtics to this point, and sure, luck played a part, but this championship, more than anything, reflects the hard work of basketball players who sacrificed for each other on the court, and a front office that came up with a plan and hired the smartest people it could find to pull it off.

There's a lot of sweat-equity, thought-equity and old-fashioned financial equity, invested in this championship team.

You'll probably read a handful of stories today marveling about how the Celtics have returned to glory in the span of a year, but nothing could be further from the truth. The resurrection began when ownership changed hands in September of 2002, and a group of people who loved the team decided they would restore the franchise.

You may know this team as the Boston Celtics, but every other Thursday, there's a group of people working in Boston and Waltham depositing paychecks from Banner Seventeen, LLC, daring to dream out loud about the next chapter in the Celtics' legacy.

As of press time, there's no word on when the company will rename itself, but after a little bit of well-earned celebration, the focus will soon shift -- where else? -- to Banner 18.

There were bumps along the way; certainly mistakes were made and well chronicled, but ultimately, the organization's philosophy of building a strong business off the court to put the team in position to field a championship-caliber basketball team on the court paid off.

When you celebrate this championship, you have to think about Danny Ainge, a feisty member of the 1986 team who was entrusted with the team's basketball operations and faced many potentially franchise-altering decisions. Inheriting an aging team that had made an improbable run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2002, Ainge blew the team up and started the rebuilding process, trading a mercurial star in Antoine Walker who'd become the face of the franchise and opting to instead build around Paul Pierce, who was just coming into his own.

Meanwhile, Ainge began accumulating draft picks and young talent in the hopes of one day being in a position to make the Celtics a championship contender. Along the way, the team developed some talented players while trying to bring in character veterans. The young Celtics took their lumps, as did Ainge, Doc Rivers and everyone associated with the team. Pierce began to lose faith and started to reconsider his future with the Celtics, placing the team at the crossroads a little quicker than anyone had probably imagined.

Thanks to developing situations in Seattle and Minnesota, though, the timing couldn't have been better. Ainge rolled the dice, dealing youth for experience, and the summer of 2007 turned up aces. Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett were suddenly joining Pierce in Boston, the team was back on the NBA map, and free agents started lining up to join the fray.

Pundits figured the Celtics would need some time to gel and figure it out. Next year, they said, would be the Celtics' time. But the team started playing together informally a month before training camp, traveled to Rome, and while Ubuntu wasn't built in a day, it was definitely underway.

Sixty-six regular season wins later, the Celtics were THE story of the postseason, and the Celtics' time was now. Sixteen postseason wins later, after dismissing Zaza, LeBron, Chauncey and Kobe, the Boston Celtics are World Champions.

In the city of blinding lights, it's time for the blinding bling of trophies and rings. It's been a banner year, in every sense of the word.

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