It’s an article of faith that revenge, taxes and death are three certainties of life. For Boston sports, there’s another word that applies: schadenfreude.
We see it time and time again in baseball. The Red Sox fans and organization like to think of the Yankees as their fiercest rival and, to an extent, that is true. But a rivalry implies a certain degree of equality in terms of competition and results. Until 2004, the “rivalry” was all in the minds of leather-lunged fans and the pot-stirring Larry Lucchino, calling New York “the evil empire.” Never mind that at the time, the Yankees had won 26 world championships since the Red Sox had won their last. A rivalry? ESPN’s Chris Connelly compared it to a rivalry between a hammer and a nail.
But if the Red Sox couldn’t win, and they never did back then, then it was imperative to root against the Yankees. And if the Yankees lost, well, that was almost as sweet. Never mind that the relationship was in no way reciprocal; New Yorkers have no such obsession. If we couldn’t celebrate our own team, the next best thing was gloating about the shortcoming of the other, more successful team.
Remember Eddie Andelman’s “Yankee Elimination Day” countdown on WEEI. Never mind that if that day ever did arrive, and sometimes it did not, it came after another day that Andelman conveniently chose to ignore: Red Sox Elimination Day.
To a lesser extent, the same feelings hold for the Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens. (Why Bostonians pick the best teams in their respective sport is a matter for another day.) The fact that the Canadiens have stumbled on hard times, and the Bruins have clearly lapped them, make this dynamic less compelling. (It’s sort of the same thing now with the Yankees. Did you see their lineup last weekend?)
In basketball, the Celtics have had two hated rivals since Bill Russell arrived to claim the first of his 11 titles in 1957: Philadelphia and Los Angeles. In the early days, both of these were one-sided. The Lakers, at least, ended decades of frustration by finally beating the Celtics in 1985. They did so again in 1987 and in 2010. They also won three other times while the Celtics were floundering under Rick Pitino.
Is there any Celtics fan who actually rooted for the Lakers in 2000 against the Pacers, in 2001 against the 76ers, or in 2002 against the Nets? Alas, the Lakers won all of those NBA Finals. But they went six years before winning again, getting roasted in the process by Detroit in 2004 and again by the Celtics in 2008. Those two Finals, especially 2008, were causes for gloating.
Now, it seems, both teams are due for monumental rebuilding but only one of them, the Celtics, has openly admitted to it. General Manager Danny Ainge somehow wrangled three first-round draft picks for two players at the end of their career, another for a coach who didn’t want to be around, and then convinced one of the brightest, most sought-after college coaches to take a leap of faith.
The Celtics are going to surprise some people this season. They’ll be better than you think. They have what the Lakers do not have: young talented players, a young coach with the organization’s full support and nine first round picks in the next five years. The Lakers have no one on their roster under the age of 32 who is remotely attractive, unless you count bust Wesley Johnson. They have a coach whose system helped drive away the supposed future cornerstone of the franchise, Dwight Howard.
They are looking ahead to the summer of 2014, where they will have cap room and nothing else. That’s all they’re talking about because they are going to stink this season.
Have you looked at that roster? It’s terrible. That’s the main reason Howard left. No he wasn’t crazy about Coach Mike D’Antoni and no, he wasn’t crazy about Kobe Bryant. But he also was not crazy enough to spend the next five years of his career riding that train wreck.
The Lakers are one championship away from catching the Celtics, who have 17 banners hanging in TD Garden. Bryant desperately wants one more, not just to match Boston, but also to match Michael Jordan’s individual haul of six. (No one is coming close to Russell’s 11.)
Kobe isn’t going to get it in Los Angeles anytime soon.
What we do know — in the here and now — is that while the Celtics may not be “championship driven,” they do have a plan. They have a promising future.
The Lakers have neither. Let the gloating begin.