It was close to midnight when I jumped into my car and headed home after watching Celtics Beat the Warriors in the first game of the Finals.
When I started the car, it was Sly and the Family Stone.Thanks (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)“It was just getting started, and it seemed like the perfect tune for where the Celtics find themselves now.
It took a long time for the Celtics to return to the Finals – twelve years had passed and seven other teams had won titles in the meantime. It’s been nine years since Ainge blew out the old core and started over.
Those of Norwegian descent are known to spend long winter nights in South Dakota with ‘Ole and Lena’ jokes—which often, but not always, play out the supposed ignorance, or sometimes, innocence of first-generation Norwegian settlers.
One of my favorite things is finding Ole and Lena meeting in heaven, walking around enjoying all the beautiful views. Lena says to Ole, “Isn’t that very beautiful in here?” And Ole replies, “Sure, you know, we would have been here a lot sooner had it not been for the nursing home feeding us all oatmeal.”
So is the case with the Celtics. As much as we enjoy this trip to the Finals, it’s hard to escape the idea that this team – or some variation of it – could have been here a lot sooner. But the thing is, we need to let go of this way of thinking.
It’s all water under the bridge now, and there’s a case to prove because the C had to work really hard just to get here, they wouldn’t take anything for granted.
We might think they arrived late, but nothing was easy for these guys. And yes, you can look at a good portion of their trials and point out that they were self-made, but now that we’re here, does that really matter?
We always think players should enter the league with an exclamation point, as Bird and Russell did, but we also forget that these guys were veterans before they were newbies. Bird was in his fifth year of college before joining the Celtics, and Russell had already led the USF Dons to two NCAA titles (and 55 games in a row).
Jaylen and Jason? They went from playing against 16- and 17-year-olds to playing against LeBron in a couple of years.
No other professional league throws rookies off the end of the curb like this, but it’s been done for so long in the NBA that we forget there was a time players entered the league with experience that actually had some impact on the game.
So let’s reset the clock a little bit. Let’s go by age and not NBA experience…
Jason Tatum is making his first final at 24, just like Larry Bird.
If you thought Tatum had four years of on-the-job training rather than a college career, it would be a little easier to overlook some of the growing pains he’s been through.
Both Ainge and Stevens, but I think especially Stevens, knew that growing up isn’t a linear process for these kids. Stevens saw it firsthand as a college coach.
There is a real adjustment period from being able to dominate players who are barely old enough to get their driver’s licenses to being able to dominate professional players for a decade or more. It will take Years Even the best players to make this transition completely.
There is a conflict between how well you think you are based on past experience, and how well you do over your current competitors, and this conflict will be frustrating at times. It will take mental development now that your physical abilities are not enough to activate you. And along the way, you’ll have to develop thicker skin, because mistakes you make won’t be buried in matches against top-tier programs in the middle of the blasts. It will be made in front of selling crowds in big cities where guys literally make a living finding fault with you and your teammates.
None of this is a linear process, and none of us have the right to expect it.
But the Celtics are stuck by their youth. For the most part, no matter what we as fans thought, neither the coaches nor the front office expected the young core of the squad to meet unrealistic standards. They let them find their own path to greatness.
If the C can hold out and win this thing, it’s because Ainge, Stevens, and Udoka let them be themselves.