The game of basketball has evolved over the past 75 years and with it, so has its reach, coverage and how fans consume the NBA. This is a candid conversation with three of his colleagues CelticsBloggers from three different generations on how being a Celtics fan has changed over the years and how age and perspective have affected their relationship with Celtics.
Bill C (46 years old): Mike, I’ve seen it all, but I’m curious what your first memory was when you were totally hooked. What was that moment when you became a fan?
Mike Denon (71 years old): As a kid, I was a fan of baseball/soccer, and only discovered NBA as a teenager. My best friend read an article in Sports Illustrated about Frank Ramsey, the first Celtic to play the sixth man. My boyfriend liked it so much that he decided to become a Celtics fan, so I did too. This was in 1965, and not many matches were broadcast on TV at the time, but I clearly remember watching the seventh game of the Finals, the Celtics-Lakers In the garden. This was Reed Auerbach’s last match as a coach. Bill Russell was phenomenal with 25 points and 32 rebounds, and I was amazed at his blocking. The Celtics won 95-93 and since then I have been everything.
BS: I am always jealous of reading your articles because they are so rich in direct detail. My experience was different from yours. I grew up in Saudi Arabia and the only NBA games we played were Sunday replays and occasional videos that my uncles send us in all-stars over the weekend and play-off games. I will never forget watching the fifth game of the 1991 qualifiers against Pacers Bird broke his cheekbones before the end of the first half and came back in the middle of the third. I didn’t get a chance to watch a lot of matches, but I watched it a hundred times. What’s interesting to me is that you got into it a bit late when you were a teenager.
MD: Bill, yes, I was about 14 or 15 years old. I grew up in Brooklyn and nicks It was awful for most of the ’60s, so I probably didn’t care. I knew the names of some of their players, and I knew the Celtics would win the title every year, but that’s it. There were no 24/7 modes where you could easily follow a sport or team out of town. I started buying basketball flyers and listening to matches with Johnny Most on the radio. Then he switched to MSG whenever Cs showed up, which at the time were about five or six times a season.
BS: This is actually a perfect part. I think when Mike and I were growing up, we were starving for any content we could find about the Celtics. I remember cutting out dozens of boxes and Sports Illustrated articles and creating these little yearbooks for every season. Now, everything is at your fingertips.
Alex, as a fan of the internet age, what’s the draw for you?
Alex Wallick (20 years old): I think the main draw was the full and comprehensive access to everything. It’s super easy and it’s always been very easy for me to do a post-game interview with a player on YouTube, or look at a score box to see who’s played well on ESPN. Throughout my life, I have felt that I have had a fairly close and interactive relationship with the team and the players just because of the exposure and attention they receive.
I have this fairly close relationship with the team because I’ve seen just about everything Jason Tatum says and does. I grew up with Marcus Smart as he spent time with the organization. Same with Jaylen Brown. None of this would have been possible without social media and the internet
BS: Mike, do you think the lack of access affected your early fandom?
MD: Maybe that made me more committed, because I had to work on it. After high school, I chose to go to Boston University – I wanted to go there for several reasons, but the location was one of the most important. After graduation, I returned to Brooklyn and began working in Manhattan. There was a newsstand in Times Square that posted newspapers from the city, so I’d stop there on Monday on my way to the office to buy the Boston Globe. I learned a lot from Bob Ryan. Alex is right, the Internet and Twitter are valuable resources. I don’t take it for granted.
BS: So, this is the gist of what I wanted to talk about. It used to be a puzzle about your favorite players and teams. Now, every little thing is checked. I’ve definitely become a fan of the front desk and the basketball trade, but sometimes, I wish I didn’t get too much of a view from behind the curtain.
AW: It’s also interesting because a lot of people in the media like to capture what’s happening in the front office, because that’s something fans haven’t been able to experience until recently. GM and POBO both go to podcasts, are interviewed, and are often featured in the media nowadays. Is this his choice? I think it depends on the person but that’s how business is done and it’s a major way to make money. All of this means that the NBA has become more of a business. It’s always been a business but I think it’s more of a business now than it used to be.
BS: TRUE. Do you think that’s better for the game I fell in love with 60 years ago, Mike? I’m torn. I’m distracted.
MDBusiness has always been an integral part of the NBA, and the difference now is that it’s infinitely more complex. In Red Auerbach’s time, every franchise’s main goal was to sell enough tickets just to stay in business. When the player’s contract expired, he was not a free agent. His only option was to visit Red’s office and haggle for a $8,000 contract, while Red was offering $7,000. That’s why players like Tommy Heinson had to sell off-season insurance, and why Tommy and others struggled to establish a players’ union and a pension plan. I miss the simplicity of those days, just as I miss a good quick three-on-two break that ends with throwing the ball, but time goes on. Basketball has evolved both on and off the court. I accept that and still appreciate everything about it – although I don’t understand the salary cap any more than I do in rocket science.
BS: I’m very curious how aware young fans are these days of the dollars and cents of everything. Even when I was in college, I never remember going into the things salary cap. Sure, I was amazed that someone would sign a multi-year contract, but it didn’t take into account how difficult it was to root for the Celtics. Now, the Offseason is as entertaining as the games.
Alex, I grew up at the age of tying a player’s points in each match to his percentage of the team’s salary. How much does that play in how you view the game?
AW: I like to watch the match from a very analytical point of view. I’m not very big on the salary side of things, but I pay attention to that because this is something I want to do for a living. But I am definitely not an expert. What I consider myself very familiar with is player analysis – that’s how I watch the match. Does this player have this skill? Does this player need to develop in this field? It’s really an assessment of the players and how talented they really are is the reason why I watched the match. There is something so special about watching people master a skill and become so talented at something so difficult.
BS: Mike, in your opinion, how have the years affected your enjoyment of the game? Has writing about it changed, for better or for worse, your view?
MD: I’m an OG fan and blogger, and proud of that. I write about the Celtics, their history, and how this history relates to today. I don’t write about Xs and Os, player ratings, or salary cap maneuvers. There are more than enough other writers covering these topics. I would have relived the ’80s NBA in a heartbeat. Give me post play and game running and referees make calls without going to the screen.
With all that said, writing about the game today has kept me in touch with current trends. As you’d expect, I’m an eye test guy, but I’ve learned and understood how advanced stats, player tracking, and other metrics affect the NBA today. So, my view is better. I appreciate today’s match and the players as much as I did in the past.
BS: So, when this summer’s drama came out with Kevin Durant and likely included Jaylen Brown, what was your first impression? Does being a fan for so long numb you with the momentum of listings? Did Boston draft Brown and “our man” likely overshadow your judgment?
MD: The first impression was “No!” Of course you’ll want to play Durant for the Celtics – he’s a fantastic, historic player who continues to perform at the highest level. But the price was too high at this point in his career. He will be 34 this season and has had injuries for the past three years. Those who preferred the trade said Durant would secure the Boston title. not like that. As far as KD, he only won his two rings after joining the 73-win Warriors squad that already had three NBA players (Carrey, Thompson, Greene).
Another argument is that Jaylen could leave on free agency in two years, while Durant is under contract for four. This does not matter. KD is under contract now, but he’s still trying to force the nets to trade it. What happens if Jaylene goes on to become a star in Brooklyn and Durant becomes unhappy again?
If the Celtics aren’t contenders yet, you can probably roll the dice for a big star. However, those Celtics made it to the finals and added Brogdon (and Gallinari before he got hurt) without touching the heart. They are now the best bet to win it all. There’s no reason to give up on JB, as well as perhaps Smart or White and a whole lot of first shots in the future, when the title is already at hand.
BS: This is a much more analytical approach than I had, Mike. I bet Alex has a more thoughtful response.
AW: I kind of grew up with Jaylen Brown. As a fan, I learned a lot about the game and decided to pursue it as a career. So, it was just a shock because you never thought he’d be one of your buddies until he was. I have more deep thoughts to write about. As soon as I thought about it more, my mind shifted from a state of shock to just trying to understand why it was all so. But when the news first came out, it was mostly just a sense of “wow.”
BS: this is funy. As I got older, I became more emotional. In my 30s, I was more obsessed with results and winning. That’s all that matters. But in my forties, my relationship with the team was more like it was when I was a kid. The connection is more emotional. There was a time when I wanted to be a smarter fan who knows cover paper as much as whiteboard, but nowadays, it’s more of a love affair again.