|10.29.08 at 12:44 am ET|
Over the last few years the TD BankNorth Garden had become a revolving door of new faces. Countless players came and went, as did fairweather fans who no longer wanted to support a losing cause. But there were two faces that stayed the same ‘ a resilient captain and a diehard Bostonian, both who refused turn their backs on the Boston Celtics.
Celtics captain Paul Pierce and actor/musician Donnie Wahlberg developed a friendship during the 2002 basketball season. They shared a special bond of frustration and unmet expectations. Wahlberg wanted to resurrect his career after New Kids on the Block and Pierce wanted to win a title with the Cs. Through this common understanding, Wahlberg got to know a different side of Pierce.
‘Obviously to be an elite athlete you have to have an ego, you have to have confidence, but he’s a special guy because he has humility too,’ Wahlberg said during the Celtics regular season opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers. ‘So do I and I think that’s one of the reasons why he and I get along. We’ve always shared that mutual respect even through the worst of times. I still traveled with the team, still followed them everywhere, and he never treated me any different.’
Pierce and Wahlberg decided to stick by the Celtics. Wahlberg took in games on both the east and west coasts while Pierce never asked to leave Boston. Six years later, their loyalty paid off. Wahlberg, now on a sold out comeback tour, sat courtside to watch a teary-eyed Pierce receive his championship ring.
‘To see him tonight so emotional, it’s beautiful because you realize how much it really means to him,’ Wahlberg said. ‘He’s a laidback guy so a lot of people don’t realize how much it means to him and how hard it must have been for him during some of the dark times here. It’s a lot of weight and he never came out publicly and said ‘trade me.’ He never did what all the other superstars do. He didn’t do it.’
Despite reports of Pierce living it up in Las Vegas this summer and claiming he is the best basketball player in the world, Wahlberg said he has never become big time. The only difference he ever noticed, in fact, was that of embarrassment.
‘The only time he was ever different was when I could see times when he was really down when the team was really struggling,’ he said. ‘He’d look over and he’d give me a nod and stuff but I could see he was really hurting and embarrassed too. That’s the only change he’s really had. He’s always been consistent, always been gracious, and humble, and wonderful to me.’
To show his appreciation to Pierce for bringing the world championship back to Beantown, Wahlberg invited him to join the New Kids on stage during their first concert at the Garden in 15 years. The group donned Celtics jerseys (Wahlberg wore number 34) while Pierce proudly hoisted the championship trophy in front of a packed house. Even after winning a title and NBA Finals MVP Award, Pierce was still in awe of how Wahlberg could perform under that much pressure.
‘It’s the same thing ‘ I don’t know how he gets on the free throw line in front of all the people that are watching him. But that’s Paul. He’s a humble guy,’ Wahlberg said. ‘When we were on stage together at the show he was like, ‘Wow, I’m so happy for you,’ just the same why I was for him. I gave him a big hug after Game Six and I was just so happy for him and it’s just a good thing. It’s really cool and it’s a trip to hear him say that, but it doesn’t surprise me because that’s the kind of guy he is.’
Just as it was during Wahlberg’s return to the stage, the energy in the Garden was electrifying during the ring ceremony.
‘This building has been a surreal place for me for the last year,’ Wahlberg said. ‘Most of last season I knew there was a chance we were going to play here, I knew there was a chance the Celtics were going to play in the championship, and to actually see it all happen in just like a year’s time, it’s unbelievable. I don’t want to compare us to the Celtics in any way but to share the stage with Paul was very, very powerful for me. I’ve spent a lot of time at these games going through my own ups and downs of my career while Paul was going through his and in the last year it’s kind of been a comeback of sorts for both of us.’
In just 12 months, their six-year friendship has transformed from commiseration to celebration. The level of success has changed, but as Wahlberg says, Pierce hasn’t.
|10.29.08 at 12:41 am ET|
Before Danny Wood got hooked up with courtside seats by Donnie Wahlberg to watch the Boston Celtics ring ceremony, the New Kids on the Block member took in a world championship from a different view.
‘During the ring ceremony I was definitely getting chills because I was actually in the building in ’86 when they won number 16,’ Wood said. ‘I was a junior in high school at Copley High and I was in the building when they won. I mean I was way up in the rafters. So for me it’s really special to be here to see them raise that after all these years.’
Watching the banner get hoisted to the rafters took Wood back to the days of the original Big Three.
‘I started thinking about Larry Bird and Kevin McHale and all the guys that last time they won were here,’ he said. ‘And then I started thinking like my sons are big Celtics fans so this is their generation for them.’
The native Bostonian added, ‘It’s just great for the city of Boston, for the organization, for them to be doing this again.’
|10.28.08 at 10:43 pm ET|
Miss the Celtics 90-85 victory over the Cavs on Opening Night?
And since a night like this would not feel right without Red Auerbach, his signature is engraved on the inside of every championship ring.
|10.28.08 at 10:23 pm ET|
The final score hardly tells this story of this one. It was one of those unforgettable Boston sports nights. One of only 17 in the legendary history of the NBA’s most successful franchise. Raise another to the rafters and hand out the jewelery. Here’s what the players had to say about a night that had it all, and a Celtics come-from-behind win to boot.
|10.28.08 at 9:09 pm ET|
12 years ago David Robinson and Doc Rivers sat next to each other in the San Antonio Spurs locker room, sharing dreams of becoming NBA champions. Three seasons after Rivers retired, Robinson realized his ultimate goal and won it all. On Tuesday night, Rivers finally realized his.
Robinson was on hand to watch Rivers receive his championship ring as the head coach of the Boston Celtics. The Admiral, coincidentally, had already planned to be in Boston and it couldn’t have been better timing.
‘I love Doc,’ Robinson said after the Celtics defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 90-85 on Opening Night. ‘He’s a great guy. I was watching him through the playoffs and this is really the first chance I’ve really had to talk with him and congratulate him. It was really good to be able to get up here tonight.’
Just as many of the Celtics were overcome with emotion, Robinson felt it too. Like Pierce, it took him 10 years to win his first NBA title. He felt a sense of relief for both Rivers and the players.
‘I know it was an emotional time for [Doc],’ he sad. ‘He has a great family and they went through a couple of really hard years and that kind of redemption is super. Tonight was even kind of an emotional time just watching him and knowing what it felt like for those three guys to get their first ring. Pretty nice, pretty good.’
Robinson stepped away from the game in 2003 after winning his second championship in five years with the Spurs. He knows firsthand just how hard it is to repeat.
‘Obviously we weren’t able to do it,’ he said. ‘You’ve got to have a lot of luck along with being ready. Mentally they’ve crossed the line. They’re ready mentally. But I remember one year Tim Duncan got hurt and that changes your whole picture. If they lose Kevin Garnett, if they lose Paul Pierce, that’s stuff that you can’t control. They have the right mentality now; they know they can win games; they’re going to figure out how to get themselves ready for the playoff time; Doc is great, so I think they’re in as good of a position as you could ask.’
Health, Robinson points out, is the key to success both in a season and a career. He spent 14 years in the league and offered advice to the young Celtics big men.
‘Work on your body. Make sure you’re strong, you’re healthy,’ he suggested. ‘You get so many bumps and bruises and if you don’t spend the time to be strong, if you don’t spend the time in the weight room outside of practice and outside of the locker room, you’re going to struggle. I don’t have a huge body, I’m not a 280-pound guy, so it’s even more important to keep your joints strong. So that’s what I would encourage these guys, just work on your body all the time. Be strong, be ready, be prepared to play and hopefully that’ll keep you from injuries.’
For all the sweat and tears that go into defending a title, there are also perks to being the champs. There is that special feeling they will be reminded of for 82 games.
‘One of the things that I remember the most is before every game coming out there and you’re sitting on the bench getting ready to be called up and they say, ‘And now you’re Worrrrld Champion San Antonio Spurs!” Robinson said. ‘That’ the best thing and you get to enjoy it all year long.’
|10.28.08 at 7:39 pm ET|
I know it’s a school night but I thought for sure we’d see Soulja Boy Jr. dancing across the Jumbotron. No such luck, though, when “Crank Dat Soulja Boy” was played. Maybe he had to write a book report.
There are, however, two Youk’s in the building. There is the real Kevin Youkilis, who is enjoying the game near the Celtics bench, and another guy who looks freakishly like the Red Sox first baseman. That means the “Yooooouuukkkk” cheers had twice as much “oooo” tonight.
|10.28.08 at 7:33 pm ET|