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Celtic Pride (an essay)

Kobe is like Mike, but even that's not enough to beat a team

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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June 18, 2008 -- I expected it, but it still dimmed the glow I felt from a big Red Sox victory and a bigger Celtics victory on Monday. After 22 years, the Celtics are once again world champs after destroying the Los Angeles Lakers, 131-92 to win the NBA title. What dimmed the glow was a headline on a story written by some dim-witted sports writer who said, “Kobe Bryant is no Michael Jordan.” No, he's not. He's probably better. He is the Michael Jordan of his era. He's the complete package, amazing offensive skills combined with superb passing skills and a tremendous defender. Like Michael, he is just one guy and one guy doesn't win championships, not even the great Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain or Oscar Robinson could do it alone, and Russell has a lot more championship rings than Jordan has (and he had to defend Wilt Chamberlain).

I've said it before when the blue collar Detroit Pistons beat a team of superstars in 2004 to win the championship, that teamwork, particularly defensive teamwork, is the key to championship basketball, not individual superstars like Michael Jordan. Basketball writers are so caught up in the Jordan legend, that they feel they have to blame Kobe Bryant for the Lakers loss. Give the Celtics some credit. Sure, they've got three all-stars on their team and Paul Pierce is a legitimate superstar, but it was their defense, the help and rotations especially, which won them the title. All the best teams in the league, the Celtics, Pistons, Cavaliers, the Spurs and the Lakers have good defense, but the Lakers relied a little too much on their offense to win games. Offense wins games, but defense wins championships. Bill Russell and K.C. Jones of the old Celtic dynasty weren't good scorers, but they were among the greatest defenders in the history of basketball.

The key to the Celtics championship was a stifling defense, the best in the league all season. Despite the great contributions of the Celtics “Big Three,” a little, inexperienced guard named Rajon Rondo just may have been the biggest hero for the Celtics. Rondo, like John Havlicek of old, seemed to be powered by a nuclear reactor. He was running all over the place, grabbing six steals, seven rebounds and handing out eight assists, pushing the ball up the court, making pinpoint passes and harassing the Lakers, including Bryant. Rondo is not a good shooter, but he scored 21 points, most of it on sheer hustle. The Celtics swarming defense completely disrupted the Lakers offense, and Rondo was a big part of the swarm. Give the coach some credit, too. Doc Rivers was coaching against one of the all-time greats, Phil Jackson, and he out-coached him. Rivers got his players to give up individual glory for the good of the team. He got his all-stars to buy into the team concept and to play the best team defense in the NBA.

As Celtic star Kevin Garnett said after the game, “anything is possible.” He said there is a great responsibility and tradition when you don the Celtic green. Bill Russell so admired Garnett's unselfish game that he publicly said he would loan Garnett one of his 11 championship rings, if Garnett never won a championship. After the game on Sunday, Garnett hugged Russell, who came out on the confetti-littered floor to congratulate him. Garnett said, over and over into Russell's ear, “I've got my own!” The Lakers expected to win the championship. All the experts said they would, but the Celtics were hungrier. Long years of frustration had made them more determined. They fought harder for every rebound, every loose ball. They deserved to win.

The Celtics won the championship because they worked harder for it within the team concept. It is a damnable lie to blame Kobe Bryant for the Celtic win. There is plenty of blame to go around on the side of the Lakers, and plenty of congratulations are due the Celtics for a job well done. They have earned everyone's respect, not that they will get it.

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Copyright © 2008 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

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