Mother knows best

Mother knows best
January 24, 2014, 1:45 pm
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He still claims that it was all some wild coincidence. He had no idea she would be there. Well, he knew she would be there, just not right THERE. He was just assigned a seat. He sat in it. What else was he supposed to do?
 
But coincidence or not (and let’s be honest, probably not) we can all agree that it was hilarious. Almost seven years later, it’s still hilarious. Some day down the road, when Danny Ainge ultimately walks away from the Boston Celtics, this story will have a place in his legacy. Even if it never amounted to anything but a $30,000 fine.
 
It was March 10, 2007. The semifinals of the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City (now THAT’s a coincidence). The No. 3 seed Texas Longhorns were up against the seventh-seeded Oklahoma State Cowboys, but regardless of the match-up, there was only one thing on anyone’s mind. Only one reason most of the country was tuned in: 19-year-old freshman Kevin Durant.
 
Durant had just completed one of the greatest freshman seasons in college basketball history. He finished as the nation’s fourth leading-scorer, with 25.6 points a game. He was the nation’s fourth-leading rebounder, with 11.3 boards a game. A day later, in the finals against Kansas, Durant would obliterate the Big 12 Tournament scoring record set in 2000 by Iowa State’s Marcus Fizer. Three weeks later, he would become the first freshman ever to be named Naismith College Player of the Year.
 
On this particular day, Durant scored 26 points in the Longhorns 69-64 win, and at some point over the course of the action, the cameras (as they tend to do) looked for Durant’s mom in the crowd — and boom, there she was.
 
And boom, there he was:
 
Danny Ainge.
 
Sitting right next to her.
 
I want to say that he was eating a bag of popcorn. That’s how it is in my memory (and it makes the whole scene even funnier) but that might just be wishful thinking. Either way, you can only imagine the reaction from executives around the league as the pair popped up on the screen. I figure it was somewhere along the lines of how all those college coaches looked in Blue Chips as they were lined up along the parade route in French Lick, only to see Larry Bird and Ricky Roe roll by in a convertible driven by the great Pete Bell.
 
Of course, this was different. It’s not like Ainge’s interaction with Durant’s mom would have any influence on where her son played the following season. It had no bearing on the bounce of the ping pong balls. It’s not like Durant was going to stand up at the podium on Draft Day, nudge David Stern aside and say: “Well, I’ve talked it over with my mom and Mr. Ainge and (*pulls out green hat*) I’ve decided to join the Boston Celtics.”
 
In the big picture, it meant nothing. But in the moment, it was much more than that. Certainly from the league’s perspective, as they hit Ainge with a $30,000 fine for what was deemed excessive contact with the family of an undeclared underclassmen. And for Celtics fans, too. The sight of Ainge sitting next to Durant’s mother, the idea of Durant and the Celtics having any connection at all, meant the world. It meant the potential realization of a dream. If nothing else, it was another welcomed opportunity to get lost in some romanticized version of the future, given that the present was so unbelievably depressing.
 
In March of 2007, the Celtics weren’t all that different from the Celtics in January of 2014. They had one legitimate star — who was playing through injury and whose future with the team was perpetually in doubt. They had a few solid young pieces, a less than stellar record and all their attention focused on the upcoming draft. Although from a fan’s perspective, then was a lot more desperate than now. Then, it had been 21 years since the last Celtics title. Then, the process of rebuilding didn’t make sense because fans had never experienced a rebuild that amounted to anything but more rebuilding. Patience, hope and optimism were waning. The Celtics were a punch line that had long since stopped being funny. Durant represented hope.
 
Anyway, we all know what happened next. In the 15 months after Ainge’s date with Mrs. Durant (actually, Mrs. Pratt) the Celtics lost out in the lottery, eventually traded the No. 5 pick for Ray Allen, all those young pieces for Kevin Garnett and raised Banner 17 in the blink of an eye. Even though they never won another title, that team and that era brought excitement and passion back to the parquet. It ushered in a six-year stretch that will never be forgotten. And when you think back to how things were before all that took place, how pathetic the Celtics existence was at the time of that Big 12 tournament, the idea of changing anything about how history ultimately played out feels shortsighted and ungrateful.
 
And of course, to change one thing would change everything, and create more hypothetical what-ifs than the brain can even handle. They could have won the lottery and taken Greg Oden. They could have won the lottery, or just landed in the Top 2, and still have made a trade. Not surprisingly, that’s what Doc Rivers wanted to do. But all that said, I truly believe that the Celtics would have taken Durant with that first overall pick. I know that was the plan on the night of the actual lottery, and while that obviously could’ve changed between then and draft day, after numerous workouts and interviews, I don’t think it would have. And as insane as it is to wish away anything that happened over the last six years, watching that scrawny 19-year-old, 220-pound freshman grow and mature into what he is today — a 6-9, 240-pound, transcendent monster — makes the urge nearly impossible to ignore.
 
And when Durant takes the floor tonight in Boston (Note: Hopefully, he will. He’s currently listed as a game-time decision with a sore shoulder) a small part of you has to at least wonder what could have been. At least a small part of me will.
 
Hell, they could have drafted Durant and still traded for KG. Then again, maybe Garnett never agrees to come without Ray Allen. In that case, maybe they trade those young assets for another star. Or maybe they keep pushing the rebuild and trade Pierce for more young talent. Real talent. Or another lottery pick. Maybe they roll out a starting five that next season of Rondo, Delonte West, Kevin Durant, Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins. Maybe they struggle and land in the top five of each of the next two drafts (the same way OKC did with Durant) and have their choice of players like Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
 
Or who knows, maybe they come out of those two drafts with Michael Beasley and Hasheem Thabeet?
 
Either way, this post has obviously flown off the handles, and lost touch with any semblance of reality, but hey, that’s what happens during a rebuild. Sometimes that’s how you pass the time in between realistic title shots. You get lost in a sea of questions surrounding what could have been before, what could be now and, most importantly, what might happen next.
 
For instance: Will there be an empty seat at this year’s Big 12 Tournament between Mrs. Wiggins and Mrs. Embiid?
 
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