About the Celtics’ future, and a city’s image

So, we don’t have the Celtics to kick around anymore this spring. But they’ll be back on the firing line in a half dozen weeks with a gaggle of draft picks, one of which, with any luck, should be among the vaunted top-three, plus lots of pad in their salary cap with which to accommodate a premium free agent, presuming one –for a change – would be willing to play in Our Town.

In theory, it might seem the ingenious Danny Ainge’s rebuilding plan is about to deliver its coup de maître, at which dear old Red Auerbach, were he still among us, might have sniffed devilishly. No question all that is comforting and consoling to hold dear, given their strides the last couple of seasons under much admired Coach Brad Stevens. But have we not been down this road before?

In the end, the Celtics didn’t look like they belonged on the same floor with Atlanta, much as people who know this game had predicted, and the Hawks themselves are a long stride from being among the NBA’s legitimate elite. The next leap for these upstart Celtics, from the pleasing if ordinary to valid contention, will be humongous. This draft isn‘t likely to deliver such redemption, nor are they likely to have better picks to play with any time soon.

Which leaves free agency, more and more the quicksand of all professional sport. The free-agent pack this off season is skimpy. If media speculation is reliable, the choice pipedream of the moment is Kevin Durant, who meets the celebrity yardstick that dazzles casual fans, although who knows if he’s the answer to all that ails them. The more shopworn Al Horford is also available as is lumbering Dwight Howard, although the Celtics saddling themselves with him at this late date seems unimaginable. After the flim-flam he laid on Orlando a few years back, Howard remains persona non grata in the entire state of Florida. Not very Celtic-like, as we used to say.

It’s astounding given that the events in question occurred almost four decades ago. But ever since the searing racial discord ignited by busing horribly sullied Boston’s image, luring hyper-talented black basketball stars free to make their own choices has been quite hopeless. Given the overwhelmingly lucrative choices African-American basketball stars have had the last couple of generations, spurning Boston with its lingering image has been easy, no matter how unfair that may seem as you see it. Oddly, basketball remains the game where it’s still a factor. If unstated, it’s inferred and never works to the Celts’ advantage.

The last notable Celtic free agent pick-up was Bill Walton some 30 years ago. Ultimate free thinker of the jock crowd, Walton was captive of no extraneous thinking, save for his own. Chances are that when this off season has come and gone, none of this will have changed.


But we still do have Deflategate to pound on, oh happy day. Life would be so much poorer without it, at least in such hot corners as this. But fear not, gentle reader, you have been subjected to enough punishment on this score. Your appeals for mercy have been heard. There will be no more diatribes here, only an appeal that all concern cease and desist, in the name of common sense.

Such opportunities have existed from the get-go. What if, two days after the fiasco in question, Coach Bill Belichick had stepped forward and said something like: “I know nothing about deflated footballs and have never touched a game ball during a game in my entire professional life. But I’m the captain of this ship. The buck stops here. I accept responsibility and blame and I will make damn sure it never happens again.”

Or, what if a few days later Sir Galahad the quarterback had found it somehow within the parameters of his enormous ego to have been a little less combative and righteous and maybe even opted not to destroy his cellphone, which he continues adamantly to insist had nothing incriminating on it. Of course that remains, shall we say, the most pregnant of the points at issue. We have only Tom Terrific’s assurances that his cellphone was “clean,” there being few courts in any jurisdiction that might find that explanation sufficient.

Or, had just days later the blustery team owner, brimming over with sanctimony, not stormed the gates of the Super Bowl protesting the inhumanity of his team’s plight and demanding abject apologies from the football lord on high himself, his ex-buddy the commissioner.

Here’s betting that if these reasonable steps had been taken with simple calm, composure, and minimal loss of face, the genie would never have left the bottle. It would have been a minor controversy resulting in mild punishments. Maybe Tom Brady would have been obliged to eat a little crow but he could have easily – smooth article that he is – found a clever way to rise above that byu portraying himself as the “good soldier.” In the end, even the commissioner, dumb as he may be, would have been forced to concede there were no grounds for concocting a federal case out of deflated footballs that had no effect on the outcome of anything.

Instead, going on a year and a half later, we have bombs bursting anew with anger rising to new heights and the bombast boiling over. Now the captive of the players association, Brady seems intent on pushing the madness over the brink even though legal experts insist his chances of getting a full federal appeals court review of the latest rendering are “nil.” Most appalling of all is the fact that if need be, both sides are vowing to go all the way to the Supreme Court, which would be an absolute disgrace.

It is crazy! And they are all to blame.

Marty Brennaman is a highly respected veteran play-by-play man long with the Cincinnati Reds. So when he chose on his gig the other day to plunge headlong into some heavily controversial waters over baseball’s ongoing fiddling with traditional norms, rules, and the unwritten but historically accepted understandings of how the game should be played, it became a national story.

Brennaman declared, “Baseball is becoming a game of sissies.” He blames the contemporary powers-that-be for kowtowing to public opinion, capitulating to an excessive fear of injury, pussyfooting with political correctness, and otherwise trying to please all the people all the time for what he regards as the game’s increasingly sorrowful state, resulting in growing confusion about how it can or should be played.

Apart from quibbling a bit with his dated language – the term “sissies” may have been ill-advised – I second the motion, completely agree, and add a fervent “amen.” It’s gotta stop.

Brennaman’s ire has been further raised by the latest round of dumb and needless agitation over how the base paths must be run, what constitutes a “correct slide,” and how a runner’s attempt to make life more difficult for a fielder can be regarded with sharp disapproval by the umpires and their flannelled suit supervisors at MLB HQs in NYC.

The base-runner brouhaha was, of course, inspired by the NL playoff incident last fall when a Dodger runner maimed a Mets infielder with a totally dirty and illegal rolling block. Used to happen every game. But instead of treating the incident for what it was, a play botched by the umps when it happened then butchered by the suits when they got their mitts on it, the powers chose instead to revamp the rule book. Once again! And now nobody’s sure of the protocol governing sliding into second and the fine art of breaking up the double play is in disrepute. So much for 140 years of perceived baseball wisdom!

Where does it end? Home plate encounters. Interference calls. Bans on brush-backs. Pitcher warnings. Instant ejections. Curbs on contact. Sliding no-no’s. The arbitrary intervention of instant replay second-guessing everything and everyone. Where does it end?

Are other games laughing at baseball? They should be. Baseball is not football, but it ought not be patty-cake, either.


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