Celtics fans have justly been labeled the best fans in sports. They are. Not only because of their all-weather devotion to the team and franchise, but because their reactions as a body have affected major decisions by both the team and players. I firmly believe that the night during the post-season when fans chanted "Let's Go Celtics" through the last minutes of a game we were 20 points down, management finally realized that to us, loyalty to the team we have and who we cherish can outweigh the importance of winning every game. Not only that, but our support of this group of men through both highs and lows is part of what enabled last season's embattled team to channel their strength and defy the odds again and again and again. And is probably why they – most of them – are still here, and why the one that left took out a full page ad in the globe to show his appreciation of them.
But, as Ray Allen learned this summer, the fans' loyalty (which I affectionately refer to as "The Green Monster") can cut both ways. Historically it has been observed that "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," but more recently I think both Ray Allen and Danny Ainge have had occasion to learn that "Hell REALLY hath no fury like a Celtics fan scorned."
I remember listening to a radio show the day after Rondo was suspended for "bumping" a ref. It happened at the end of a long game of bogus calls and no-calls from a particularly officious set of officials. Watching the game at home, even I, a tree-hugging pacifist, was struggling to convince myself that the momentary pleasure of attacking the picture of the ref through the TV would not, in the clear light of morning, seem worth the expense of having to buy a new one (TV, not ref.)
The "bump" occurred in the final minutes after another atrocious no-call that basically cost us the game. Rondo claimed he had just lost his balance, but the general view was that he'd lost his temper and the media exploded with the same old song about how immature and volatile he is. Personally, in that game, after that call, I was amazed at his self-control. On the radio show I was listening to, they were conducting an informal poll of whether we should get rid of him and his 'uncontrollable mood swings.'
And a man called in. The pitch of his voice was like an outsized big rig barreling through the Ted Williams tunnel at 70mph, taking out half the ceiling and numerous commuter cars in a long sheet metal scream. I could picture him clearly, purple and sputtering, trembling with rage, gesticulating wildly as he roared into the mouthpiece. The gist of his argument, if you can call a barely coherent rant an argument, was that Rondo was disgusting, a disgrace to the team and the city because he couldn't do a simple thing like control his temper. Then he hung up, presumably to either have a heart attack or kill someone.
And I wondered, Does that man have any idea of the irony of his ballistic overreaction to Rondo's comparatively innocuous little bump of a ref who frankly (again, I say this as a tree-hugging pacifist who won't even kill a mosquito) had been asking for it? How many of these fans who call into radio shows ever stop to compare their expectations of the team and players to their own behavior and self-control? One of the things that Doc will repeat often to the press is "Hey. They're human."
What the team was able to play through last season, all the sudden and life-threatening ailments and accidents (Green, Wilcox, Pietrus,) all the injuries and bad luck and dark forecasts of their season certainly made them seem at times something more than human. But what makes them great, and what makes us, the fan base great, is not an inflated concept of basketball players as superheroes, with stores of superhuman strength but none of the distracting affects of personhood such as emotion or vulnerability. It's not about buying a bouquet of stat sheets, putting them in green and telling them "Win."
Its about what we manage to achieve by being human. We have all had our struggles. Harvard may get all the funding, but the School of Hard Knocks is where the people in this city take most pride in having an education. We all know what it is to be down, and to be kicked when you're down, and to have the floor fall out from under you while you're being kicked while you're down.
When it happens to our team, or our players, it makes them family. You know my struggle, you know my joys, you know me. And we are an emotional city. Every one of us – admit it - is themselves or knows someone very well who IS that raving nut-job on the radio show. And we all know that that nut-job, after the rage has cooled, will probably go outside and get his leg broken in a heroic attempt to save the life of a kitten. Because THAT is BOSTON. Rage and rudeness and compassion and humor in equal overflowing proportions.
This team and its fans are unapologetically human. Think of Cousy's retirement and the "Boston Tear Party," of "BEAT LA," of Red Auerbach, Johnny Most, Bill Russell, Tommy Heinsohn, Larry Bird – I could go on all night. Each of these moments and individuals are disarmingly human – in the best sense of the word - and disarmingly great. And maybe it's our willingness to allow our players to be human (usually) that enables them to achieve the standard of greatness that is the hallmark of this franchise. They say a mob has many heads but no brain. The green mob of Celtics fans has many heads but just one enormous, unwieldy heart. That heart rages and rants and cheers and sobs but supports its team unconditionally. Heart is what makes a good player great; and heart is what makes a great player, team, and franchise legendary.
Welcome to our newest writer at Celtics Green! Great article, Ruby! One thing that has always set Celtics teams apart is their heart. And you are right, Celtics fans have a lot of heart too :)
Ruby, delighted to see FLCeltsFan found a write to her liking to help shoulder the load. Nice insight to the fan base. Going ballistic, waxing hyperbolic, and disproportionate overreaction is why they call them fan(atic)s. Some attribute an increase in violence to sports fans rage, but I wonder if the reverse might not be true. Blowing off that steam raging at the tv, refs, sports writers, or fellow bloggers might just release enough pressure to avoid many more explosions.