Monday, April 30, 2012

Celebrate Older Americans Month

Dear Paul, KG, and Ray:

I don’t know if you guys are aware of this, but May is Older Americans Month. I hadn’t heard of it either, but the other day I saw a sign up on the campus where I teach, telling me to celebrate it. Here’s some background from the holiday’s official website: “Since 1963, communities across the nation have come together to celebrate Older Americans Month—a proud tradition that shows our nation’s commitment to recognizing the contributions and achievements of older Americans.” Now, I don’t know which communities have been celebrating this holiday since 1963 (sounds like BS to me) and I don’t even know what constitutes an older American (older than who, right?), but every NBA fan knows that you guys are Older Americans, at least in basketball terms. And, in fact, the theme for Older Americans Month 2012 is perfect for you guys: “Never Too Old to Play…” That’s the theme, with the ellipses and everything. I don’t like that ellipses, though, because there’s a hint of doubt there. Like some Older American is thinking about participating in an “intergenerational Wii bowling tournament”—the website suggests this activity—and trying to convince himself that the slogan is actually true. And after losing Game One against the Hawks, I know you guys also must have doubts, deep down, about whether or not the Big Three is finally too old to play. And even though the slogan is ridiculous—it certainly is possible to become too old to play—I don't think you guys are too old to play. I think you have another run left in you.

And let's ignore the Rondo situation, because here’s the thing: you guys are gonna have to step up whether he’s playing or not. He played his butt off in Game One before the ejection and the team still struggled. The Celtics need you guys. You guys are the Celtics. Yeah, Kevin, you turned it on in the second half, but the team needs you for an entire game. Paul, those shots are gonna fall; you’re too relentless of a scorer to stay cold. Ray, you need to come back and play. Yes, I saw your suit and tie—I was at the game, actually—and yes it looked very nice. But you need to play in this series. Your team needs you. They made zero threes without you. Zero! Hobble out there and make a couple threes, Ray. (It’s okay if you miss a few, too, as long as you make some.) Are you guys gonna let the Older Americans in the Western Conference get all the attention? Come on. Step it up. The games in April are over. May is your month.

I don’t have any special connection to Boston, but after Rondo’s ejection and the loss, as I exited the arena, I found myself preparing biting comebacks in my head in case some Hawks fan said something to me. Like: “Joe Johnson really earned his hundred mil tonight, huh?” Or: “Why’d you guys drop confetti from the ceiling after winning one game in the first round? That’s weird.” Or: “When’s the last time the Hawks made the finals?” But then I remembered that I have no connection to Boston, so this was pointless. And then I also remembered that my own hometown team, the Rockets, barely missed the playoffs again for the third straight year. (I don’t want to talk about it, guys. Too raw.) Here’s the thing, though: in those three years, the Celts have become my adopted team. Every losing sports fan picks an adopted team when their team consistently fails to make the postseason, and sometimes—I’m not gonna lie, fellas—we develop strong feelings for these adopted teams. If our hometown teams are like family, our adopted teams are romantic entanglements. Sometimes it’s brief; sometimes it’s long term. And we adopt particular teams for reasons that are half conscious and half unconscious. In my late teens and early twenties, I was in a serious relationship with Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers, even though I’ve never set foot in Indiana. Partly this was because Reggie was skinny and I was skinny and because he played basketball the way I dreamed of playing—making clutch threes and talking smack. (My best friend bought me I Love Being the Enemy, Reggie’s autobiography, for a Christmas gift one year, and I considered it a page-turner.) But this doesn’t explain why I grew to love dudes like Mark Jackson and the Davises and Rik Smits and Jalen and Austin Croshere and rooted for them like I had a stake in their success. I remember being crushed when they lost to MJ in seven and then lying face down on the floor speechless when they lost the 2000 Finals to the Lakers, that same best friend cheering obnoxiously for Kobe. When I finally recovered, I was like, “Why are you cheering for L.A., asshole? You’re not even from L.A.” (This all coincided, of course, with weird, dark Rockets years.) After the Pacers’ glory days ended, I didn’t think I’d get involved with another team again, but I fell for the Celtics without even meaning to, just when I thought I couldn't feel anything for the NBA anymore. A few years back I was watching Rondo run point on TV during the regular season and you guys were all moving the ball around, like five passes each possession ending with a layup or three each time, and I thought, “Man, these guys are really fun to watch…and they’re on TV every week.” And I started watching y’all all the time. I never thought, “These guys are my new team!” but I grew you to love all you guys the way one grows to love the cast of a good ensemble drama. My wife and I, almost without our realizing it, became Celtics fans. Rondo became my new Reggie Miller. Eventually I found myself waking up at like 6am in Singapore one morning—long story—taking mass transit and then walking in the rain to my cousin-in-law’s apartment to watch Game 7 of the Finals against the Lakers. When you guys lost, I wanted to lay face down speechless on their floor, but I didn’t.

Why am I telling you guys all this? I don’t know exactly, but maybe to help me explain this: the Big Three (and Rondo) are bigger than just Boston. Seeing you guys and Rondo in person was big for me, a special sports experience. And it was a reminder that you guys, this Celtics core, are one of the great teams of the last decade. It was also a reminder of everything wonderful and problematic about your younger brother Rajon. He was even more impressive in person, way more impressive, the quickness, the court-vision, the contortions around the basket, and yet he also made a crazy boneheaded move that might’ve cost you guys a win, if not an entire series. But don’t let that moment cost you, fellas. Rondo has helped you guys age gracefully over the last few years; now it’s time to pick him up. Do it for him and for your fans, hometown and adopted. More importantly, do it for Older Americans everywhere. Inspire them. Make one more run. We’re not ready for this show to come to an end.



P.S. During the final minute of the game, in my despair over Rondo’s ejection and the ensuing loss, I bent down quickly to grab the stuff under my seat and accidentally slammed my head against the metal railing in front of me. I heard a couple Hawks fans behind me say, “Oh shit!” Then they started laughing. I have a red line on my forehead now, like a hyphen. I need you guys to win.  

P.P.S. There was a dude in front of us at the game wearing a Kobe jersey. A Kobe jersey, at a Hawks vs. Celtics game. A grown man! Why would anyone do this? “Hawks/Celtics game tonight? I’m definitely wearing my Kobe jersey.” Only a Kobe fan would proudly wear a jersey that has nothing to do with the game being played. And by the way, the guy who bought me the Reggie autobiography and cheered for Kobe even though he's not from California? He lives in L.A. now. 

P.P.P.S. To make this website more accessible to Older Americans, I've decided to increase the font size. We all celebrate this holiday in our own way.