25 years ago, my friend Paul made a Celtics fan of me. More than that: he made me a basketball fan. Even more: he made me a sports fan.
That was new.
I grew up in a medium-sized town that had no major league sports teams. I was gangling, weak and uncoordinated--and I came to despise all things athletic because of the physical humiliations I endured in gym class and elsewhere.
Then I met Paul, a born and bred Bostonian, and that began to change. The Celts had Bird, Parish, McHale, Johnson and Ainge starting for them, and were on a tear. Paul would bring the local papers to work, read through the sports sections, and chat me up about the team. He didn't care that I barely knew how basketball was played, or that I had never watched a basketball game either in person or on TV before. He gave his enthusiasm to me without expecting much in return.
It worked. That year, I began to change. I listened when Paul told me about the games. I started reading the sports pages of The Boston Globe; hell, I even read the Boston Herald sometimes. I tuned in games on our tiny hand-me-down TV in our apartment in Jamaica Plain. I was hooked.
Rooting for the Celtics soon brought about other changes. A few years after meeting Paul, I joined a gym, something the younger me would never ever have considered. I didn't always go that regularly--I still don't--but the point was that some psychological barrier between me and my body had been broken. Still later, I started long-distance cycling, and though I was living in Ohio at the time, my first long ride drew me back to The Hub for the Boston - New York AIDS Ride. I began to take some pride in what I could physically accomplish.
None of that would have happened without the Celts.
For 22 years, I have read the sports page of The Boston Globe every day for Celtics news--even July, August and September when there is no NBA news at all. It's been a long and sometimes-discouraging couple of decades. But there's probably a lesson in keeping the faith that long, maybe one that won't be evident to me until after the confetti settles in the Boston Garden and they scrub the Gatorade stains off the parquet.
Maybe back in Boston there's a young twenty-something geek like I was who is starting to change make some changes in his life thanks to the efforts of Messrs. Pierce, Garnett, Allen, Rondo and Perkins, et als. As for me, I'm going for a bike ride.