Friday, June 20, 2008

Green machine

My interest in the National Basketball Association has dropped off in recent years. Part of it is that so few teams run the fast break these days, as coaches try to control every possession. Part of it is that many of the best players have been coming into the pros either straight from high school (before the rule was changed) or after just one year of college. It was fun to watch a player develop in college and then follow him to the pros; now it seems like most top players are hired guns.

Still, it was fun to watch this year's final between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. Sure there was a little history involved, but you have to be above a certain age to remember Bird and Magic, let alone Russell and West. But this week's series-clinching win had enough to stand on its own merits.

Let's consider what Danny Ainge accomplished here. The Celtics' executive had a team that finished last in its division in 2006-07. After a series of moves that included trading a high first-round draft choice for an over-30 standout (Ray Allen), and a seven-for-one deal with Minnesota for another star (Kevin Garnett), Boston suddenly had a completely new look. Then Ainge filled out the rest of the puzzle with spare parts from around the league, as players say a chance to be with a winner.

Everyone thinks they could turn around a pro sports franchise with the right moves -- it's one of the appeals of fantasy sports, I guess -- but it's quite another to actually do it in this day and age. Ainge made the Celtics relevant again in record time ... and seemed to get awfully smarter in the process.

Game Six was an odd night. The Celtics pulled ahead in the second quarter, and the Lakers started forcing up shots from all sorts of bad angles and playing as little defense as possible. The word "quit" is a little strong, but it did come to mind. It became pretty obvious that there was no magical comeback coming on this night.

When it was finally over, the past and present came together. Garnett and Bill Russell hugged on the court, and fans got ready for a 17th banner-raising ceremony in the fall.

Boston has had more than its share of athletic success in the past few years, and I'd prefer the championships to be spread out a little more around the continent (for example, Buffalo). But in some cases, it just seems right when certain teams are contenders. The Montreal Canadiens ought to be good most years, just like the Dallas Cowboys. (I can't bring myself to say the New York Yankees are in this group, but you can.)

The Celtics are another one. After more than 20 years, it's easy being green again.

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