By Rich Levine
MIAMI When a celebrity reaches a certain age, is diagnosed with a devastating disease or starts to live an especially reckless lifestyle, its common practice for news organizations to preemptively write an obituary.
Thinking back to the last few years of Bob Hopes life, there were a few different occasions when his obituary prematurely released to the public. When Elizabeth Taylor passed away last month, the man whose byline appeared on her obit had been dead for six years. On that note, I wouldnt be surprised if there are already a few Charlie Sheen drafts floating around newsrooms across the country.
You probably already knew that, but hey, Im trying to start a column here.
In a way, its a strange to know that these obituaries exist while the subjects are still alive, but I guess you cant fault anyone for thinking ahead. In a world where so much of what happens is entirely shocking and unexpected, its only natural, almost practical, to prepare for the inevitable. It helps with deadlines, eases stresses, even allows for a better product.
Not to mention its something we all do in our everyday lives, as well.
I used celebrities as an example, but it obviously goes much deeper than that with individuals, experiences and relationships that we hold far dearer than Bob Hope, Elizabeth Taylor or Charlie Sheen. Whether its a sick family member, a doomed relationship, a cross-country move or change in jobs, we spend a lot of time contemplating how circumstances of our present life might end, so that were not entirely blindsided when they do.
At times, that borders on pessimistic and unhealthy, but it does serve a purpose. You dont want harp on the negative, but youd also be careless to ignore its existence all together.
For all these reasons, both practical and emotional, weve spent the better part of the last four years preparing for the end of the Celtics' run among the NBAs elite.
From the moment they got together in the summer of 2007, through the immeasurable levels of optimism and excitement, there was always the recognition that it wouldnt last forever. At first, we gave them a three-year window. Eventually, that was extended to four, with plans laid for a fifth. But while the end was never set in stone, it was always well in sight. And before long, even through the immense success of that first season, those preemptive obituaries slowly began to take shape.
The 2008 championship may have actually expedited the process.
By winning in their first year, the Big Three era became an immediate and eternal success. This team wasnt assembled to only win one title, but after 22 years of nothing, one title was really all anybody needed. It immediately answered all the most important and terrifying questions: What if this doesnt work? What if they dont win? What if they never win? When they did, Boston was free to watch the rest of this cores time together without the fear that Danny Ainges historic experiment would come up short.
We were unbelievably fortunate for this. In fact, it empowered us. And because we never feared the end (not that we were ever looking forward to it) we always looked it right in the eye, and waited its imminent arrival.
In turn, that led to a whole bunch of premature obituaries.
The first ones leaked in the spring of 2009, after it became clear that Kevin Garnetts initially diagnosed two-or-three-week knee injury was far more severe. Will he ever be the same? In that case, will the Celtics? Might this already be the end? A second-round exit, and confusion over what really happened with KG, only increased the speculation.
The team fought off death for the first time that fall, thanks to the addition of Rasheed Wallace and the return of Garnett, but the Grim Reaper quickly resurfaced, as KG struggled to regain his swagger and the rest of the team limped around alongside him both physically and mentally. As they slept-walked through the season, there were serious talks of trading Ray Allen, and many fans had come to accept the possibility. Have they gone as far as they could together? Is it already time to reload? Are they better off without the Big 3?
It was by no means a consensus, but there were plenty of people ready to pull the trigger and send the obituary off to print. The Wizards will give up Jamison AND Butler!? Later, Ray! Its been real.
Ray stayed, but the struggles continued, and the Cs headed into the playoffs at an all-time low. Again, they were done. Again, they had nothing left. Again, it was OK, lets watch them get eliminated by the LeBron, bang out a new opening paragraph and bury these guys at sea . . .
Nope. Not yet.
The Celtics, of course, made one of the most inexplicable turnarounds in NBA history. One that, in retrospect, makes a lot more sense, but in the moment was more unlikely than Andrew Bynum getting an invite to Christmas at the Bareas.
Their legendary run came up 20 minutes short, but the Celtics proved once again, that they couldnt and shouldnt be counted out, no matter how dire the circumstances.
Yet, before the last piece of confetti even hit the Staples Center floor, the obits were back. There was talk of Docs departure, Allens free agency, Paul Pierces option and just the general feeling andor fear that theyd let their last chance slip away.
But not so fast!
Doc was back. Paul was back. Ray was back. They added Jermaine ONeal, Shaquille ONeal and Delonte West. Rondo was now an All-Star and on his way to being a superstar. Kevin Garnett was reinvigorated.
They addressed all the problems, and suddenly they were better equipped than ever before.
After the trade deadline, they were never worse.
They swept the Knicks . . . theyre alive!
They lost the first two in Miami dead!!!
Game 3 blowout . . . they have a chance.
Fourth quarter of Game 4 . . . Yes!
Overtime . . . No!
And here we are. The obituaries are all lined up and ready to go, and it feels like weve never been closer to actually hitting the send button . . .
Then again, weve felt that way so many times before.
Maybe its crazy to think they can pull it off, but maybe its just as crazy to count out a team thats proved you and everyone wrong so many times before.
Or maybe . . . I dont know.
All I know is that theres nothing unrealistic about believing, as long as you never actually lose sight of reality.
And weve never done that with this team.
Weve always been well aware that it can end at any second. Probably even a little more aware than we needed to be. Weve always known that their time atop the Eastern Conference would come to an end. That it would probably happen at the hands of LeBron (although we never imagined the lengths hed go to). That it would leave the Big Three looking old, tired, slow and worn down (although we never imagined Rondo would be in the worse shape of the four and Perk would be in OKC). That the loss would signal a time of serious flux and indecision within Celtics Nation.
And we know tonight could bring that upon us.
But we also know it wouldnt be the first time this team defied the odds on their own mortality and lives to see another day.