Wednesday, March 21, 2007

It ain't easy being green

This was done for my Feature Writing class and thus has a lot less stats and sports jargon

Ben Perkins watches his Boston Celtics struggle through another game, on the edge of his chair not more than a foot from his roommate’s 48” flat screen TV.

He jumps out of his chair at fouls the referees ignore or open shots missed by Celtic players. As the Celtics lose another heart-breaker, Ben Perkins can only watch.

The Boston Celtics record is 20 wins and 48 losses with 14 games left to play. They are the second worst team in the National Basketball Association. At one point in the season, Boston lost 18 straight games, a Celtics franchise record and a mere five games short of the all-time record.

The Boston Celtics are a pretty bad team.

Not only are the Celtics bad, they lost long-time patriarch and architect of some of the greatest Celtics teams ever, Red Auerbach, when he passed away at the beginning of the season. The Celtics dedicated their season to Red.

Perkins, a self-proclaimed life-long Celtics fan, is one of many die-hard Celtics fans that have suffered through the 2006-07 season. But unlike a lot of bitter Boston sports fans, Perkins has a more optimistic outlook on these Celtics.

“They’re a good bad team. It’s still fun to watch. They have a lot of young players playing hard” said Perkins.

Boston’s youth is its boon as well as its curse. The Celtics player’s average age is 25, very young for a basketball team. More often than not the team has shown its youth on the court: collapsing late in games in which they lead, losing to lesser opponents and seeming generally lost at points.

But all these growing pains the Celtics have endured this year may be worth it down the road, according to Perkins. “[The younger] pieces have improved this year. If they are healthy next year, they will be a good team.”

Injuries are something all sports teams have to deal with at one point or another, but the Celtics have been particularly bitten by the injury bug this season.

Perkins described the Celtics season thus far in two simple words: “Lotta injuries”.

The Celtics All-Star guard/forward Paul Pierce missed 24 games earlier this season due to a stress fracture in his left foot and an infected elbow. Boston lost 16 of its 18 game losing streak during this span.

Pierce’s absence definitely had something to do with that.

Perkins reflected on that historic 18 game losing streak in a hazy way. “I can’t even remember it. I watched most of them, they went by quick. When they finally won, I couldn’t believe they broke it, it was bizarre.”

All this losing does come with some solace at the end of the season. The teams that finish with the worst records get the best chance to draft the most highly touted college prospects.

As the Celtics season wore on and they kept losing, many fans thoughts went right to the draft. It would almost be better for the Celtics to lose games and secure a high draft pick than futilely try and win a few games here and there.

Perkins is not of those fans.

“The players don’t want to lose. I don’t want them to lose. If they win, they don’t need the pick. They have enough talent to win, to not be in last place. It’s a bad idea.”

Perkins sees his faithful cheering for a last place team as a right of passage, a weathering of a storm that makes winning all the more sweet.

Perkins compared this feeling to that unforgettable Red Sox season in 2004. He only became a baseball fan when the Red Sox made it to the playoffs that year.

“If [the Red Sox] won it would be great, but I didn’t have those 86 years of torment that other people had so it wasn’t as deep a feeling,” Perkins said.

This may not be Larry Bird’s Celtics of the 80’s. Or the team that won 8 straight championships in the late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s. This team is not going to the playoffs and probably won’t win more than 25 games.

But the fans will endure, as they always do, hoping for that one moment when their team finally reaches the top. And when that team does, the fans will celebrate: scars of losing streaks, devastating injuries and everything else.

Red Auerbach once said “The Boston Celtics are not a basketball team. They are a way of life.” Ben Perkins and all the Celtics faithful live that creed every time they watch the Green suit up and play.

Win or lose.

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