Chris Parisi has experienced all the ups and downs, the heart ache and redemption, the pain and exhilaration of love. The object of his affection? The Boston Celtics.
My first taste of the Boston Celtics was with my dad while I was in grade school in the early ‘70s, watching them on our black-and-white television. Tommy Heinsohn was the coach by then. JoJo White taught me my jump shot. Dave Cowens crashed across the beat-up parquet. Paul Silas. Don Nelson—Nellie. When I played for the junior high basketball team, my uniform number was 17. Number 17. John Havlicek. It’s still my lucky number.
The first championship I saw was in 1974. Red Auerbach was a grumpy, grouchy genius who sold me on the idea, among others, that the Boston Celtics were not a basketball team, they were a way of life. Just do what you do best, he would say. Brilliant.
Remember what falling in love with someone feels like? You bump your head, say ridiculous things, every moment is an adventure, every sigh is a salve, every sob a stab through your heart.
Try falling head-over-heels for a whole team. The Celtics more than inspired me with the way they played the game, with guts and grit and pride, and I followed as best I could with the mediocre skills of a clumsy youth.
Fools in love
Well are there any other kind of lovers?
Fools in love
Is there any other kind of pain?
It was 1976, Game 5 of the NBA Championship, Boston against the Phoenix Suns in the original Boston Garden. Triple Overtime, Celtics win. That’s the one that really, really took me over the edge. That’s when I was truly smitten.
They went on to win Banner Number 13, the first one I truly remember. Two championships in three years, their 13 total titles more by far than any other team in NBA history; this was how it was supposed to be. Nirvana, Paradise, Eden. I was going to start high-school in three months. I’ll bet there are some Boston teens right now feeling like I felt then.
True Love is for better and for worse and all that, in spades, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. You share the sweetness when you soar, and feel the weight when you fall.
I was in heaven when the Celtics were flying higher than Zeus, but it changed for the worse pretty quickly as I went through high school in Upstate New York. There was no such thing as cable, the Celtics didn’t play on TV that much, and they didn’t win that much even when they did. I experienced the uncomfortable, unfamiliar feeling of losing and even though I loved watching and playing the game, I felt a little empty, blue. It was the first time my love had abandoned me and I didn’t know what I had done. I gripped the memory of those banners, embraced the history and my dad’s love of the C’s. In my mind, they were champions, forever and ever, and this was but a hiccup in the Righteousness Of Things.
Fools in love
Are there any creatures more pathetic?
Never knowing when they’ve lost the game
I went to college, ending up in Boston of all places, and as if on cue, as quickly as it had left, the Celtics mystique popped up on the back of a leprechaun. Or more accurately, a Hick from French Lick, craftily snared by Red in the 1978 draft, the year before Larry Bird even declared himself eligible to be drafted. By 1981, just like that, my True Love had planted one right on the kisser.
I admit, I am as spoiled as they come when loving a team. This ride was even longer than my first, and I so appreciated it, wallowed in it. It was a long run, a great run, a decade of Bird, McHale and Parish. The Big Three, and three more championships.
But after that? For better and worse, two tragic deaths came with the glory, and the inevitable farewells. Highs and lows, the peaks and valleys that only long-time lovers go through. And after experiencing the ecstasy of four championships as they happened, over 10 years, after the screams and shouts and hollering and tears of joy and sadness as few save true fans can truly empathize with and appreciate, after all that…nothing.
For 22 years. Nothing. Oh sure, a few sparks here, a couple of bits and pieces there, the changing of owners, hiring of divas, drafting of clowns.
Fools in love
Gently hold each others’ hands forever
Fools in love
Gently tear each other limb from limb
It is impossible to explain to someone who is not a true fan the depths of despair that come with the nosedive from Olympus to Hades and the angst that an extended stay in Hell brings. Harder still to explain to devotees of teams that have not had this level of success. Far easier to give a cat a bath.
It was hard to keep the flame burning, hard to keep soaking in the aura of Celtics Pride with the fall that had come. The few glimmers of hope—the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals Game 3, with a record 4th quarter comeback against the then-New Jersey Nets; the drafting of role players and a potential star in Big Al Jefferson—these were nothing more than teases, gentle reminders of what had been.
A record 18 game losing streak? I watched every one. 22 years. I still believed.
There is no better feeling then when you are rewarded with seeing your love after a long absence. The Big Ticket, Kevin Garnett, came to us, teaming with the sweetness of Ray Allen’s shot and the herky- jerky of Paul Pierce’s game, a game that has netted him more points in a Celts uniform than Larry Legend, more than anyone who wore green other than Hondo.
My heart soared, my love was back—had never really left—and the Boston Three Party brought Banner 17 home by playing the right way, with guts and grit and pride.
Fools in love they think they’re heroes
‘Cause they get to feel no pain
I say fools in love are zeros
I should know, I should know
Because this fool’s in love again
I got to touch the trophy; the Righteousness Of Things had been restored.
Do you wonder why this fool’s in love?
Lyrics by Joe Jackson
Photo: AP/Frank Curtin