Friday, June 20, 2008

Green and white and black all over

If you pay even the least amount of attention to sports this month, you'll know that my beloved Boston Celtics won the NBA Championship for the first time since I was 11. Yesterday I was in the neighborhood, so I walked down to the Public Library to catch the victory parade. And I have to admit, I choked up when the floats with Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett went by. It had nothing to do with the trophy (I think all the sports trophies are pretty gaudy) or the cheering.

This was the most diverse crowd for just about anything I've seen in Boston for a long time. Young, old, black (much more black than I'm used to), brown, yellow, white. I didn't read any reports of problems in the paper this morning, which matched my experience of a boisterous, but well-behaved crowd. For most cities, this may not seem like a big deal, but this is Boston, and the Celtics.

The last time the Celtics won, in '86, they were the whitest team in the NBA, already the blackest in sports, and there wasn't always that much love for the Celts in the black community here. Back then Bill Russell, the greatest Celtic and possibly the best big man ever, was a pariah in these parts for, among other things, his unflinching criticism of Boston for the way it treated him during and after his distinguished career, because he spoke his mind- and was usually right. (J.A. Adande wrote a good piece about the curious issue of the Cs and race earlier this year) Even in '02, the last time they were competitive, there was some ambivalence in the press and fandom- Paul Pierce was too much of a thug, Antione Walker was greedy and shortsighted on the court, etc. Which often were ways of saying "too black".

Not this time. The only peep you heard was about Jemele Hill, a national columnist for ESPN, writing that rooting for the Celtics was akin to rooting for Hitler, and being suspended for that idiocy. (The column, without that comment, is here) Back at home, though little white girls held up signs asking Rondo to marry them. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett grinned like little kids, going back and forth with anyone in the crowd who he could here.

As much of a sports nut as I can be, I know they don't matter that much, and a good year for the Cs doesn't mean somehow Boston has put history behind itself. But for that one afternoon, under a shower of green confetti, it was nice to witness the possibility.

No comments: