Courtney Lee has been on 3 different teams already in his 4 seasons in the league. He has played for Orlando, New Jersey and Houston, all good organizations. But, Lee says there's something different about the Celtics.
“The vibe here is totally different,” said Lee, who will start at least until Avery Bradley returns in December. “It’s one of the best 1-through-15 teams I’ve been on where everybody is being cool with each other and on the same page. The coaching staff is committed to winning a championship.
“That’s not a knock on any other team,” he said. “I’m sure the goal was the same everywhere else. But here you can feel it and see it, instead of just hearing about it. There’s the constant reminders, the constant videos in the locker room playing last year’s playoffs. The conversations you have with everyone from management all the way down to the ball boys and the equipment guys. Everyone is committed to winning a championship.
“Everybody does a good job of coming together. We have a lot of guys on this team with similar personalities and interests, all with one common goal: a championship. That makes it easy to give in and forget about being an individual and becoming a team.”
The Celtics are focused on a championship. They are rubbing salt in their wounds by watching the loss in last year's Eastern Conference Finals over and over. Even the new guys are feeling that loss and taking it personally. And soon, they will have to stand by and watch the Heat raise their banner and receive their rings. That will be a scenario that will stick with them through the season. That should have been us. That will be us next season.
The vibe that Courtney is feeling is not just a desire for a championship, it's also the Celtic way. It's always been there and hopefully it will always be there. John Brown started the Celtics with a family atmosphere and Red Auerbach fostered that feeling throughout the years. This quote from Artis Gilmore shows that this vibe is nothing new. Gilmore came to the Celtics after 5 years in the ABA, 7 years with the Bulls, and 5 years with the Spurs. Even though he played just 47 games with the Celtics in 1988, Gilmore remembers his time in Boston very fondly. He had this to say about the organization:
It was truly a professional organization. Today, many of the other organizations are similar in the way they treat the athlete, but that wasn't always the case. The level of professionalism wasn't the same; and the other franchises have had to play catch-up. Something as simple as uniforms is a prime example; the Celtics always made sure that the uniforms were clean and ready for the players, whereas this task was the player's responsibility everywhere else that I played. That has changed now. All NBA franchises take care of the uniforms.
Franchises all pretty much do all these things for players these days, but the Celtics still have a special feel about them. I read a lot of books by former Celtics and about Celtics' history, and it has always been the same. The Celtics are a family and players enter a brotherhood when they become Celtics. In 2007-08, Doc put another name for it in play: ubuntu. The word 'Ubuntu' originates from one of the Bantu dialects of Africa, and is pronounced as uu-Boon-too. Bishop Desmond Tutu defined ubuntu like this:
A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.
Since that championship season, ubuntu has taken a couple of hits, most notably when Danny traded Perk, one of the core players from that season. Then last season, there were whispers of feuding between Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo. Then Ray thumbed his nose at his former brothers and took his talents to the enemy. But that is all past and now, the team is set on restoring that feeling of ubuntu.
“As a team, you don’t think you lose it, but you may have individuals who may mess up Ubuntu, not follow Ubuntu as much as the next man does,” Rondo said.
“We’ve had a close family since then. You can say ’08 because we won, but each year since I’ve been here, we’ve had a close team. We’ve just got to do a better job of sacrificing on and off the court, being better followers.
“We have a lot of strong ego guys that at times may not want to follow or may not know when to get coached, so it’s just being a better listener and being more positive with your teammates.”
With feuds and trades behind them, the Celtics who have been around since 2008 are re-discovering ubuntu and the new players are buying into it all the way. They have been working on chemistry and bonding since early September. They traveled to Europe, just as they did in the year that they first implemented the concept of ubuntu and they used that trip as a bonding experience just as they did in 2008.
The players are working on being unselfish. They are working on playing for the team and not for themselves. For instance, when Doc put Jet into the starting lineup in Milan, he sought out Courtney Lee to talk to him and make sure that Lee was ok with the move and to stress team over who starts and who comes off the bench. He sought out the Celtics for just this reason. Their reputation throughout the league for their unity and chemistry.
“You know, my Celtic Way has been hiding for so long, I’m just happy to be back so I can pull it out,” he said. “If Dallas was tight, this is vise grip. This is a unique situation. This is one that every player who is beyond 10-plus years in the league, it’s a situation you want to come into.”
Finally, I'll end with the Captain's words that kind of sum the whole thing up.
“You have a new team now,” Pierce said. “You have four or five players from a year ago, and it’s up to us to implement the new guys, to help them understand the kind of culture we have around here, the team concept, what it means to be a Celtic.
“In order to do that, we’re going to need one another. So we’re going to build, we’re going to keep building. [Ubuntu] has been a little inconsistent. It’s tough when you have a lockout last year, no full training camp, you don’t have a lot of practices, you’ve got to kind of go on the fly."
I have a feeling that this season is going to be very special.