In the wake of the Boston-Brooklyn scuffle – which has, naturally been commonly referred to as a brawl – our Khalid Salaam aptly noted that the incident reminded us why we like Rajon Rondo, so much. Rondo was thrown out of the game for shoving (and slightly chin-checking) Kris Humphries in retaliation for his’ hucksterish foul on Kevin Garnett, where Humphries “incidentally/accidentally” slapped KG in the face. KG flopped to floor and yelled something (probably threatening) at Humphries, right before little Rondo the Enforcer got in that grill. Humphries, like the truest of customers, tweeted a photo of his owwies.
Wait, hol’ up…Rondo the Enforcer? That’s not sounding quite right. Now that you think about it, where were Perk and Tony Allen and Baby and the rest of the crew in all of this? Oh, that’s right, Kendrick Perkins was in OKC, Tony was suited up in Memphis and Big Baby Davis was in Orlando. In the midst of the Celtics-Nets scrum, it was disorienting to see Jason Terry and Brandon Bass listlessly get into the fray. Man…what happened to the Cs?
Their coach has some ideas:
“If I’m Brooklyn – and the league – you have to think we’re pretty soft, the way we’re playing,” said Doc Rivers. “We’re a soft team, right now. We have no toughness.”
Shout out to Doc for spitting the real. You know a coach has the utmost respect in his locker room when he can call his crew soft with impunity. Vinny Del Negro wouldn’t pull that with the Clipps. If he did, Del he would probably walk into his office, see CP3 sitting in his chair with his feet up on the desk, on some, “Have a seat, Vinny…let’s rap for a few.” Doc doesn’t “need more people.” And, judging by KG’s impish response to the criticism after the game, Doc wasn’t lying about this new Celtics squad, either.
Doc clarified his statement by revealing “that stuff’s not toughness,” referring to the scuffle. He was more so referring to things like the fact that Boston is dead last in the NBA in rebound differential at -5.3, that teams are averaging about 100 ppg on them and they’re letting opponents shoot 51 percent from the field. That is downright galling. Are they the D’Antoni-era Phoenix Suns, now?
From a competitive standpoint point, that’s disconcerting. More disturbing, though, is the idea that this current iteration of the Celtics squad is not only a group of matadors that are soft on the boards, but that they’ve lost their bravado of toughness, as well. Rivers said he told his team at halftime, “They think you’re soft.” This could be a sad ending for a group of unlikely Celtics fans.
For generations, the Boston Celtics were team non-grata for a lot of non-New Englander black folks. As many sports fans know, a lot of that had to do with race. Aside from the city of Boston’s longstanding, nationwide reputation for being inhospitable to black folks (something the city seems to be successfully discharging), this was exacerbated and blown up, culturally, during the 1980s when Birds’ Celtics battled Magic’s Lakers. Tribalism acting the way that it does, you had a nation of black men, young and old, foamy-mouth opposing the Celtics, since they were a mostly-white roadblock to Magic’s mostly-black Lakers (not to mention Bernard’s Knicks, Isiah’s Pistons, Doc’s Sixers and even a young MJ’s Bulls).
So, it was an odd, culturally significant thing for a lot of those same young men – cats born in the latter half of ‘60s and the ‘70s – to find themselves either secretly rooting for the Celtics these past five years, or doing so brazenly, in public. We’re talking cats in Chicago rocking Celtic hats on Facebook and dudes from Baltimore tweeting “I rocks with the Cs heavy.”
There was an explanation for all of this. The same Generation X dudes that rooted against the Celtics as shorties, also grew up listening to hip-hop, which was sub/countercultural and, often confrontational. Their idols – from Ice Cube to KRS-One to Wu-Tang to Scarface – got down a certain way…the way the 2007-2012 Celtics got down.
The Celtics franchise’ ethos changed when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen went to Boston in the summer of 2007. Over the next five years, you had an ornery bunch that was not to be trifled with. Boston locked you down, fouled you hard and devoured the boards. They hit ice-vein shots in the clutch. The squad was cold, man. And, just in case that wasn’t clear enough, they glowered mean enough and bumped their gums loud enough to reinforce things.
This resonated with black dudes – especially the under-45 set. We like woofers (KG). We like malcontents (which, by the way, is why Russell Westbrook, like Rondo, is a cult favorite). We like bravado (Paul Pierce). We like cats that are a little off (Tony Allen/Baby Davis). We like no-nonsense Deebos (Perk). We like frozen veins (Ray Allen). We like soldiers (Posey/PJ/Sheed/Nate). We don’t have a monopoly on appreciating those qualities, by any means, but we dig them a great deal, nonetheless. In a serious twist, those Celtics became the new era Hoyas/UNLV/Fab Five/Bad Boy Pistons.
The march toward this destination started a while ago. Tony and Baby left. Perk was traded to the Thunder. And there was Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, when LeBron James – whom the old Cs always made it a point to try to intimidate and put on Front Street – facing elimination, strutted into Boston and bullyfooted those dudes. He took their lunch money, their bikes…and their hearts. Then Ray left (for Miami, at that).
And now there’s this KG-Brandon Bass, small-ball combo down low. Boston used to play angry D with a chip on its shoulder, and now squads Marlo’ing them like the lean Barksdale crew. Oh – and this is really sad – cats keep crumpling poor Pierce’s ankles. That’s not the kind of squad wins the barbershop.
Sadly, Doc’s press conference might have been the eulogy for Black America’s love affair with the Boston Celtics. Memphis, what’s poppin’?