Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Boston Be Not Proud

Shit, has it been that long? It has.

Frankly, I've been caught in the vise grip of ennui for awhile, and it took a playoff run by the Atlanta Hawks (the Hawks!) to inspire me. I've witnessed nearly every Hawks home game since the start of 2006-07, and had anyone told me they'd push the mighty Celtics to Game 7 - before bowing out in the most ignominious cock-punching imaginable - I'd have wondered who dosed my cheese grits.

Of course, the Celtics were better. Their stars were more experienced. Their coaching was better. Their bench was deeper. Their defense was stouter. Their offense used such daring weapons as "high screens", "picks and rolls," "penetrations and kick-outs for open jumpers," and so on. Of course they eventually won, and won huge, as well they should have. When you look at the particulars of the series, the burning question is: how did the Hawks (the Hawks!) manage to win three games???

Yes, the young Hawks fed off the emotions of the home crowd, and much has been made of it. But what we witnessed in Atlanta represented so much more. This Hawks team represented the culmination of hope. We saw in this Hawks team a reason to care again: that youth, determination and, yes, faith could be rewarded. Over the years we patiently endured listless efforts, mounting losses, missed opportunities, and countless barbs. But what the Hawks improbably did in Games 3, 4, and 6 inspired all that cliched crap that makes us love sports: along the way they gave us redemption, genuine surprise, and unbridled joy.

Those of us who have been around all along understand. During Game 1 of the Thrashers playoffs last year, I watched as the Philips crowd shamefully booed the Hawks players shown on the video board. The players seemed embarrassed but endured it quietly. I was angry. How anyone could boo those guys - who busted their rears, cared so much, and showed slow yet steady improvement - was a mystery. Corny as it sounds, watching this team turn the boos into raucous cheers makes me feel almost like a proud parent. Our little Hawklings are all growns up!

Of all the images I'll take from this series, perhaps the most indelible came near the bitter end: Rajon Rondo raced downcourt for a fastbreak layup only to get the WWE treatment from Marvin Williams (!). Now, I don't condone Marvin's actions, but I do think it came off far dirtier than Marvin intended. However, what Marvin did symbolized everything the Hawks had to do to reach Game 7 - not just in this postseason, but in every game since the 13-69 season of 2004-05. That outburst of angry pride from the team's most gentle, laid back player sent a clear message: this Hawks team was no longer content to be a pushover or laughingstock. The Hawks needed to get tougher, and they did.

A quick word to the Celtics: eff you. Eff you right in the goddamn ear. What a bunch of spoiled, preening children. The snarling, throat-slashing, chest-thumping, and gang symbol histrionics - give me a fucking break. Their behavior is unbecoming of a franchise with such a storied history, and the lofty expectations to make more of it. Remember, Boston's "Big Three" played for teams that went a combined 87-159 in 2006-07. Then these nouveau riche douchebags win 66 games together and they act like lotto winners at a country club. How anyone could mistake their obnoxious self-congratulation for an authentic expression of intensity is beyond me.