It rained pretty heavy this past Tuesday.
I sat, in a partially melancholy state, wondering on what exactly I would write this week as I plan to pass out my inaugural NBA accolades for #TheOpenRun next week, The #DoWork Awards.
As usual, basketball was on my mind.
I thought about the UConn Lady Huskies having their 111-game losing strike broken, new-minted Women’s Team USA head coach Dawn Staley leading her South Carolina Lady Gamecocks to their first national championship and resisting the urge to clown the University of North Carolina’s men’s program for winning their sixth by giving shouts out to their Afro-Am Studies department’s fine professors who have guided many a student-athlete toward the ability to speak fluent Swahili…
All the while, I had music playing in the background, offering the soundtrack to my thoughts and foundation for this piece.
Music is huge part of my Life.
I love music.
It has provided me with a livelihood doing something I love.
I’ve been able to share that love in a multitude of fashions, whether it be via performance, my work in the industry or as a professor of hip hop culture, it’s been a blessing.
I kicked in the door on the rest of my day, waving the 4-4, as in thinking about April 4, 1968, when The King was excommunicated permanently on a motel balcony in Memphis and being reminded of The Godfather of Soul’s performance on that same evening in the racially divided powder keg of Boston, Massachusetts at the time.
Brown was credited by many for saving Boston from bloodshed and retribution in retaliation for the assassination of the non-violent civil rights leader.
Wondering if Boston was as bad as it was presented by some didn’t deter me from taking the opportunity offered through my accomplishments in the culture to create and teach the first ever university-accredited course on hip hop. I was able to do my thing through my course, Edutainment: The Impact Of Hip Hip On American Culture, at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 1998.
My lone advocate in the department was a man by the name of John Bracey.
We shared a love for fresh squeezed lemonade and the sonic stylings of legendary jazz musician John Coltrane.
When I arrived on campus for my first class, he invited me out to an early dinner at a very posh, swanky restaurant called “KFC” where I was planning to ask him for tips on how to handle this incredibly groundbreaking responsibility.
Thinking the man might impart some technical wizardry about the craft on how to deal with young people in a university setting, Professor Bracey actually gave me the best advice I had ever gotten as a professional anything:
Love is perhaps Life’s most elusive commodity.
Boston is a city that paid homage by erecting statues in the likenesses of Bobby Orr, Red Auerbach and Larry Bird while even naming a tunnel after the World Series ringless Ted Williams before seemingly deigning itself to begrudgingly offer the commodity that had escaped pro sports most decorated winner, William Felton Russell.
Washed away in memory are the halcyon days of Bird, McHale and Parish roaming the parquet at the old Boston Garden.
Long gone are the days of the GAP Band of Garnett, Allen and Pierce.
If change is truly the only constant in life, what’s different about Boston or its team in the National Basketball Association, the Celtics, now?
At one time, they stood as the standard bearers and are easily the most storied franchise in league history.
But things have shifted so dramatically that the Celts sit near the top of the Eastern Conference, currently a game and a half behind the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers at 50-29, and have a player in Isaiah Thomas averaging almost 30 points a night who isn’t in serious consideration for the league’s Most Valuable Player.
This is not your father’s NBA.
These are not your father’s Celtics.
The results of Boston GM Danny Ainge fleecing perennial candidate for NBA’s worst general manager in the Brooklyn Nets’ Billy King by moving KG and The Truth for a multitude of picks are just beginning to manifest themselves.
Improving every season since Ainge introduced one of the best young sideline technicians in “President” Brad Stevens before the 2013-2014 campaign, including two playoff appearance albeit brief ones, the buzz around the Beantown Gang centers on their readiness to make the leap and ability to write a new chapter in Celtic lore.
By building Boston through the draft, strategic trades and quality free agent acquisitions in a fashion similar to another once-moribund team that was in transition just a few years ago, the Golden State Warriors, The Celtics are pouring the foundation for the future. As drafting Wardell Stephen Curry from tiny Davidson College in North Carolina marked the launch of a new age in Oakland, trading for Isaiah Thomas and making him the top gun for the squad may be the genesis of good in Beantown.
The Celtics can only hope to duplicate some semblance of the success found in the Bay Area.
This is not to say that Boston is Golden State, but there seems to be some merit in noting the similarities in the way the team has been and is continuing to be constructed.
Both teams have small, very talented leading men in Curry and Thomas, but the tough and offensively improved Avery Bradley is no Klay Alexander Thompson and The One Man Army, Jae Crowder, can only reasonably imitate the glue guy/emotional soul/Swiss Army knifeness of Draymond Green.
Rookie Jaylen Brown looks like he could be special for this team and picking up veteran Al Horford may seem like a consolation prize in the Kevin Durant Free Agency Sweepstakes a year ago, but he may be a better fit long-term for the Celts.
Rounding out the roster are quality pieces with some playoff experience and the feeling of the view from the top like stoic worker bee Amir Johnson, the evolving and rugged Marcus Smart and versatile backups in Jonas Jerebko and Canadian Kelly Olynyk.
With the kind of roster lineup flexibility that will help them in the playoffs, Stevens could conceivably go ten deep off of his bench.
But do they have killers offensively?
After being touted by Isaiah Thomas as “just another game”, the Celts’ April 5, 2017 tilt vs. the Cavs found Boston having a very difficult time generating offence with the league’s second most prolific fourth-quarter scorer off the floor.
This offensive anemia has stricken the squad on occasion and should be addressed before the playoffs. NBA coaches possess a certain degree of sadism in exploiting team and player weaknesses during the second season. Best believe whoever faces the Celtics will look to exploit their deficiencies time and again.
But who will step up to be the dog Boston needs to generate points for himself and others when Thomas isn’t so prolific?
Do the Celts have enough to overcome other contenders like Washington and last season’s other Eastern Conference Finalist, the Toronto Raptors?
No matter how their season ends, because of Billy King’s largesse, the Celtics will undoubtedly exercise their swap option with the Nets, possibly selecting the missing piece to their puzzle in the ongoing renaissance, imbued with the splendor of the past and the promise of future glory.
In a city that has fallen in love with its Lilliputian leader and the rest of its scrappy, well-coached squad, will that love manifest even if they don’t topple the current Beasts of the East from Northeast Ohio?
Will monuments ever be raised in praise of the 60th of 60 players selected in the 2011 NBA Draft?
Time will tell it.
I ended up enjoying my time in Western Massachusetts teaching at UMass and visiting Boston from there.
Never faced any overt racial issues, but then again, I was but a visitor on a short stay.
My visit to Berklee College of Music in The Town was an experience that renewed some things in me that I’d forgotten.
It reminded me that through my work in music, no matter where I was on this planet, if I played with skill and moved in love, I could make an impact; an indelible and historic impression.
Perhaps the seed for this impression was planted during a PBS documentary on Louis Armstrong I watched Fourth of July Weekend when I was eight.
Here I was: a damn nerd, in the house, gawking at an educational program in the middle of summer and school was out of session.
So inspired by Armstrong was I that I expressed to Moms my desire to play the trumpet.
She told me we couldn’t afford all of that. Yet there we were, walking into a second hand store, grabbing a dented, but functioning horn then off to buy a new mouthpiece.
That whole summer was spent having no clue how to play it while threatening to injure myself with a trumpet-blowing induced brain aneurysm.
Once school began that fall, a dedicated band teacher named Mr. DeSantis taught me how to play and to find my voice through that instrument.
By the end of that year, I made an all-region band and got good enough to play a solo of “All Blues” by Miles Dewey Davis, a collaborative partner of Coltrane’s and a man generally considered his equal as a creative genius and jazz giant.
Then things changed…
I moved away and stopped playing my horn, but I never stopped loving music.
The trail I felt I was blazing had taken a different course, but with the same destination: Greatness.
The Boston Celtics want to fly in the rarefied air their franchise reveled in 17 times previous.
Even if they don’t get there this season, the future, even in the Era of Free Agency, is promising.
The Celts shouldn’t be afraid to dream big and fly high.