May 13, 2012

Farewell to Boston - Number 3 - First Celtics Game

At some point...when I'm not lazy...I'll be transforming to an all Houston site. In the meantime, I'll try to say goodbye to Boston...a place that gave me many unforgettable sports moments. As the countdown continues, I’ll recant my five favorite Boston sports memories - ranging from specific games I attended, players I idolized, and my favorite teams - complete with a little Paul Gallant-style seasoning. We've talked Super Bowl 39, and celebrated the loudest and most dominant pitcher in Red Sox history. Now, we shift to the NBA hardcourt...

If you know me well enough, you'll know that football is my life.

I've followed the New England Patriots religiously, having watched just about every single game since 1995. I'd pretend I was Drew Bledsoe, Curtis Martin (until he crossed the line and joined those d-bag Jets), and Ben Coates; throwing, running and catching the game winning touchdown while playing in my backyard. I've been playing the occasional pick-up games with my friends from the age of seven to...well even today. And before even playing organized football (which I did from the age of nine until I was eighteen), I made sure to prove to my overprotective Mom I could handle the sport - basically by cheap shotting and tackling everyone in sight while playing soccer (which I was forced to play during the fall of third grade).

But you'll be surprised to know that football wasn't my first love. That honor belonged to hoops.

It was a strange love. I couldn't play...yet (though an athletic defensive agitator prone to technical & flagrant fouls have never exactly been in high demand). And my home town team - the Celtics - were well beyond their glory years of the late 80's. Rick Fox and Eric Williams were Boston's best two players. I'll be honest: They sucked.

Yet I still loved basketball. And it was all because of a biographical video-tape...and a guy who had retired just a few years before. His name was Larry Bird.

I first saw the Larry Bird highlight video at the house of a close family friend of ours: The Bouchers. For some reason...perhaps due to speech impediment or terrible hearing...I refused to call them anything but the Blueshaves. But I digress. I saw Larry Legend and all his glorious highlights, and I was hooked on hoops. This guy was clearly the greatest athlete who'd ever played in Boston.

There may be one or two players (Jordan and maybe Lebron) as talented offensively as Bird...shooting...passing...and making his teammates around him better. While far from the best defender, he played good team defense and was in the right position at the right times. But the best part about Bird was his heart. He was athletically limited, but he gave it his all every night on every play, making hustle plays out the wazoo, and never taking any sh*t from anybody.

But I think what made me respect him most was his trash talk level. And the fact that he always backed it up. After all, sportsmanship is overrated...especially when you can be a douche and make the opposition look like idiots.

Unfortunately, I never got to witness Larry ball so hard on the court in person. Those highlight tapes were all I had. 6 years old I was beyond excited to go to my first ever sporting event to catch the [sh*tty] Celtics.

I've gotta admit though...I remember jack diddly sh*t from the game...which was apparently fairly badass. It was February 28th 1996 in the brand new Fleet Center, and the Celtics topped the Hornets 121-116 in OT. I was passed out for the entire 4th quarter and OT. Sorry bros...mediocrity can't keep a 6 year old up past bedtime.

But the game itself is irrelevant. It's what happened before that game that made the night amazing. Before we headed into the Fleet, my Paps and I hit up a restaurant for some grub. I don't remember where it was. All I know is that I was in the 6-year-old "this place better have some f*cking hot dogs or I'll bitch like the end is nigh" phase of my life, and that naturally, I devoured one.

Anyway, while I'm busy stuffing my face with the only food I've ever eaten, my dad notices someone over by the bar.

"Hey's Larry Bird!"

No. F*cking. Way.

Yup. There he was. The "Hick from French Lick" was sipping a brewski...towering over the other patrons like a giant among hobbits.

My jaw dropped.

It got better. Paps had some cajones, and walked up to Larry Bird. He asked him if he wouldn't mind meeting me. Bird happily agreed.

He was sooooooooo f*cking tall. I was leaning back just to look up at him. Here he was, Boston's greatest athlete of all-time (okay...Russell, Orr, and Brady might have something to say about that), staring down with a grin at my puny frame. And I'll never forget what he asked me...

"You gonna scream and cheer?" asked the "Hick from French Lick", with an accent that completely explained his nickname.

I stood dumbstruck for a moment before going nuts and saying something along the lines of "YES YES YES OMG DUDE I'M LIKE YOUR BIGGEST FAN AND SOMETIMES I WATCH TAPES OF YOUR HIGHLIGHTS BLA BLA BLA BLA HOLY SH*T YOU'RE F*CKING LARRY BIRD BRO."
He smiled, talked to my Dad for a bit, posed for a picture with me, and then he was gone. A couple weeks later, a friend of ours who worked at the Fleet made a posterized version of the pic and Larry Legend stamped it with his John Hancock. Awesome.

The absurd odds of running into Larry Bird, let alone speaking and getting my picture with him before my first Celtic's game didn't really dawn on me. I was six, and figured this was something I could get used to.

"Maybe we'll see Magic Johnson before our next Celtics game," I murmured sleepily to my Paps on the car ride home.

My Dad smiled. "Sounds like a plan budzy"

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