By Rich Levine
LOS ANGELES How will they all get along?
That was the question burning up Boston as the Celtics cruised into All-Star Weekend.
It was a slightly serious topic for an event thats typically taken about as seriously as the Big Mommas House franchise (sorry, I just love that we can call it that now), but still, as the Celtics made their way to L.A., thats what had everyone around here talking. It wasnt Bieber or Blake or even, quite as much, the Three-Point Contest.
It was: Hows this going to work?
How will the Big 3 co-exist with the Big Three? What about KG and Dwight Howard? Rondo and Derrick Rose? Amare? Horford? You name the player, and you could find a reason for things to get awkward, a reason to wonder: What the hells going to happen?
It wasnt a question born out of fear. Celtics fans werent a pack of overprotective parents, worried that their children wouldnt play nice. Or wouldnt be accepted. Or wouldnt fit in. No one cared about that. It was really just a matter of curiosity; of wondering what would happen when a bunch of crazed competitors whove spent the last four months (and then some) hating each other on the court are forced to spend the weekend together.
It was like a Bizarro NBA Real World:
This is the true story, of 12 players, forced to live in a locker room . . .
And we wanted to see how it would unfold. Would they ever stop being polite, and start being real? Or more, what is real?
How much do they actually hate each other? How deep and personal do the rivalries actually run?
And while All-Star Weekend wasnt going to answer every question on the topic, it would at least provide some insight. When it was all said and done, wed understand the mentality a little better. Or so we hoped.
As the weekend started, you had to be wary of anything that came out of the players mouths. Especially since it was 95 percent clichs. They downplayed the rivalries. Talked about the excitement; talked up the fun. On one hand, you understood what they were doing. No ones going to show up at All-Star weekend and start sniping at teammates. But on the other hand, the sweet talk was a tough sell.
Competition is one thing, Kevin Garnett said on Friday, socializing and being friendly is another. I know how to separate the two. This time is about enjoying basketball, and enjoying everyone here.
Right. This is the same guy who five days earlier had spent 35 minutes looking like he wanted to eat Chris Boshs children. And now he was enjoying Bosh's company?
And KG wasnt the only one talking that way. They all were. And it was only natural to assume that, well, they were all full of crap. They were playing nice. But it wasnt genuine. It couldnt be. Or maybe it was, but you just couldnt tell. It wasnt enough for these guys to just say it there was too much evidence, so fresh on everyones mind, that said otherwise. They had to show it. We had to see it.
So for the next three days I watched. I watched them interact, I watched them co-exist. I watched the Celtics during moments when a lot of other people werent.
At this point, theyre all probably filing for restraining orders, but it was worth it. Regardless of what anyone said publicly, it was during those times when they werent in the spotlight, when the mics werent on and the Cs werent the center of attention when theyd be the most real, and the answer to How will they all get along? would be most apparent. I watched KG joke around with Howard and Stoudemire. Pierce and LeBron. When the whole team was together, huddled at practice, just relaxing on sideline, or walking through the hotel.
And the take away was pretty telling, if not, in retrospect, entirely obvious.
It says a lot about who this team is, who the rest of the conference is. Why the Celtics are perceived one way, why they perceive their opponents another and why it might be impossible for them to all live perfectly ever after whether its the regular season, the playoffs or All-Star Weekend.
And its not about personality, or attitude or the color of their uniform.
It's about the date on their birth certificates. It's about age.
Obviously, its not breaking news that the Celtics are old. But I think that most of the time, when we talk about that age, we talk about it in a physical sense. Or how it relates to basketball experience, and years in the league. We hardly ever talk about the fact that the Bostons Big Three are in their mid-30s, the rest of the Easts biggest stars are in their 20s. And that those two groups of people are destined for trouble.
I dont care what line of work your in. Basketball, business, law enforcement or whatever. When you have those two ingredients, the young guys are going to think the old guys are out of touch and dont get it. The old guys are going to think the young guys are short-sighted and dont get it. There will be things they dont like about each other, there will be things they dont understand about each other. Theres going to be a disconnect. But thats not real hate, thats just misunderstanding.
Basically, what I saw were four players who existed on the outside of the teams inner circle. Guys who were very different than the rest of the conferences best. They weren't a part of the NBAs cool click, but at the same time, they couldn't care less. They werent rude, but they also werent going out of their way to foster any special relationships. They werent looking for new friends to party with on the road. Or potential teammates to poach at the next free-agency period. They were there to play basketball, have fun and enjoy a little time off from the grind. And thats about it.
The Big 3 were the only guys on the East roster over 30, and theyve taken Rajon Rondo under their spell. Hes now the oldest soul in the league. Hes more 34 than he is 24. And as I watched the four them go about their business, that divide was so apparent. And while that could be perceived as them not wanting to become friends (although with Rondo that could be true) I think its more a matter of them not being able to. More than anything, to the Celtics, the rest of the conference are the annoying 20-somethings that still don't get it. To the rest of the league, the Celtics are the old men trying to hold on to the way things were.
Honestly, how many 34-year-old guys do you know who are out there making friends with 26-year-olds? It doesnt happen. They're too different. Think about how long it took the Big 3 to even accept Rondo. He helped win them a title, and it still took a season-and-a-half after that before they ever let him in, and completely trusted him.
But when you step away from the real thing, and lower the stakes, that gap is less important. When you put them on the same team, in a casual setting, where their differences are less impactful, and given them a common goal: winning a game. Things can change. They can join forces. They can, as Garnett said in the previous quote, be "friendly" notice he didn't say "be friends." And it's actually possible to look on the sidelines and see KG enjoying Bosh's company and cheering on LeBron. It shows you that they don't hate these guys that much, individually; that if you put them on the same team, they'd eventually work it out. That they only truly hate them when they stand in the way of what they want.
But when it gets to that, and there's so much on the line, and the young guys are acting young and the old guys are acting old, it's a recipe for disaster and drama and hatred . . .
And a rivalry will only get better as this year goes on.
And with that, All-Star Weekend is officially over.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled Celtics season.