Yes, yes, I know. The Celtics? The team whose mascot and traditional fan base are each tiny drunken Irishmen? The team from the whitest large city in America? The team of Larry freaking Bird?
Yes. And here's why.
1. The Celtics are the Blackest Team in the 2008 Playoffs
"Blackness" is a slippery concept, especially in the context of athletics. "Black" basketball has often been associated with a high-tempo, offense-first, individualist mentality, despite scads of counter-examples both now and throughout the history of the post-integration NBA (about which, more later). But we're avoiding all that and characterizing the Celtics as the blackest team in a much simpler way: counting the number of black Americans on the team.
Along with Philly, the Celtics are one of only two teams in this year's playoffs with a black head coach and an all-black rotation (Brian Scalabrine is the only white guy on C's who plays at all, and he's 11-deep on the chart and hasn't gotten into a game yet in the playoffs this year). Every other team has at least one non-black guy in the rotation (Walton, Kirilenko, Nash, Dirk, Scola, Peja, Manu, Zaza, Turkoglu, Songaila, Calderon, Big Z), or a non-black coach (Flip Saunders).
Hell, the Lakers, who for years served as the unofficial team of black America, are running out the son of the whitest man in America (Luke Walton, son of Bill), a Euro (Pau Gasol), and a guy who speaks fluent Italian and yet is neither Euro nor in the waste disposal business (Kobe). Kareem and Magic aren't walking through that door, people. Time to adjust to the new reality.
2. The Celtics Are the Blackest Team in NBA History
For anybody who came of age in the '80s, the above statement no doubt seems like gibberish. What about the frontcourt of Bird and Kevin McHale, and the backcourt of Danny Ainge and . . . I dunno, Jerry Sichting? Well, those guys were around, no doubt. But look back beyond those guys, to the teams that created the Celtic mystique in the first place, and what do you find?
- In 1950, you find Celtic forward Chuck Cooper, the first black player ever drafted by an NBA team, and thus the first black player associated with an NBA team (the undrafted Earl Lloyd actually got into an NBA game before Cooper that following season, though only because his team started the season a day earlier that the Celtics)
- In 1964, you find the World Champion Celtics running out the first all-black starting five in NBA history, which included three future Hall of Famers in Bill Russell, Sam Jones, and K.C. Jones. This happens two years before Texas Western's all-black starting five famously wins the NCAA title over an all-white Kentucky squad.
- In 1967, you find the Celtics hiring the first black head coach in NBA history (Russell), who later that season also becomes the first black head coach to win an NBA title.
- In 1984, you find K.C. Jones coaching the team to another title, thus making the Celtics the only team to have won championships with two different black head coaches.
- In 1986, you find another Jones-led team putting up banner number 16 in the old Garden. No black head coach has won an NBA title since.
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