Posted by Romy Nehme
My dad is a stickler for tradition, and despite that having many repercussions on me as a youth (read: no sleepovers, booze, boyfriends, fun), his appreciation for the team-first Celtics dynasties was born out of that same mentality. I still remember being 13, living in Ottawa, and watching all 82 games of Never Nervous Pervis Ellison’s bad knees, Jazzy Jeff’s basketball doppelganger (see: Todd Day’s erratic jump shot) and the rest of the Celtics’ cast of misfits who toiled in misery for the next decade with vivid clarity.
I like to say that I’m a sports fan by heredity, but it truly feels that way. Consider this: while other families would pack the minivan and head out on camping trips or to Disneyworld, the only family reunions I can recall consisted of congregating around the television set and watching sports. And not passively, either. In 1986, Zico (Brazil) missed a penalty shot in the Quarterfinals against France, and my dad was so incensed that he incapacitated the couch by damaging the springs with his fist of fury. I’m sure I looked on with horror, but I realize now that that must have been one of my first initiation rites as a true, diehard sports fan. It might just be a game, but that doesn’t meant that there won’t be collateral damage.
When my parents were in Lebanon, they used to gather around the neighbors’ little tv box to watch Larry Bird wield his magic on the parquet. After moving to Canada, my dad was delighted to find out that our illegal black satellite box carried a New England Station that broadcasted all of the Celtics games. Tommy Heinsohn’s raspy voice booming into my living room soon became something of a ritualistic intonation.
I loved Tommy’s heart and Mike Gorman’s calibrating voice of reason.
But there was a problem. There came a point where my mom realized that she was being relegated to the sidelines. As with most moms, mine perceived all the whistles, theatrical referee gesticulations and quickly alternating possessions as a complicated language she could never really comprehend. So we sat her down one day for a proper Basketball 101 tutorial. That night, she got what all the fuss was about. I thought it only fair to christen her newfound fandom with her first email address, giving her the user name “hood_mamma”, which could not be more apt. She had, after all, traded in her apron for a pinny. Hood mamma routinely taunts kids at school for wearing Vince Carter jerseys (“wussy! Vince would miss half a season because of a broken nail!”) and asks others to justify their alliances. From that point on, we were all in it together. My family, now bound by sports, had never even sat down at the same table together to share a meal.
Over the years, I’ve been known to cancel social outings after a blowout (who wants to bear the insufferable sight of this girl sulking in the corner) or miss a birthday to catch an all-important Celtics game. Somehow I always seem to get a pass because my friends have come to understand that it’s not always just a game. Nothing quite captures this sentiment more than when I had one of my friends incorporate the 2008 NBA Finals into her bachelorette plastic penis festivities — lucky for me, her mom hails from Wichita and is a huge Jayhawks fan. Asking her to watch Pierce completely outplay Kobe was not as big an ask as you would think.
I’ve also developed a few brow furrowing quirks as a result: I can’t remember what I had for dinner, but I’m a master of the “what his height/weight” game. Name any player in the league, and my otherwise porous memory will come through. I have this uncanny Abed-prescience to telegraph color commentators’ analysis, often prompting a “is this game live?”, followed by my friend flashing me a look of incredulity.
Lastly, Rick Pit*no is considered a tyrannical dictator in my household; bring him up and I suggest you run before my dad reaches for the crowbar he keeps at his bedside to ward off any suitors inquiring about his daughters.
Mostly, you know that you’ve reached that defining level of fandom when you remember sports events on par with life-changing historical events; after coercing my roommate in grad school into watching the Celtics DVD box set (he is fiercely devoted to the Raptors, which tells you something about his mental fortitude), we switched back over to SportsCenter only to read on the ticker that Red Auerbach had just passed away. It was eerie … I sat there sobbing quietly while my stupefied roommate looked on. I still get emotional every time I see a clip of Red, especially the one where he has Cousy in a quasi-headlock as they trot off the court, celebrating yet another triumph. Talk to any true Celtics fan and you’ll soon understand that most of them suffer from the same kind of optic nerve damage that renders both the color green and red one and the same.
The osmosis has long taken hold of me; my father might have brought this creature to life, but I can sometimes see him recoiling in horror at the thought of this lab experiment gone wrong. He never meant for me to take basketball this seriously, but somehow while I went searching through the wilderness of life, sports reached out and found me.
So that’s my story: a loyalty that’s endured longer than almost any friendship, weathered the Andrew DeClercq and Greg Minors, and one that I cling to tightly despite its sometimes cruel and unreciprocal nature. That’s why sports are so strange — they take hold of you one day and leave you forever chemically altered. Like an addiction, but a voluntary one.
Despite my father’s occasional preachy grievances (usually manifest as a middle eastern whistle of exasperation), I personally wouldn’t have it any other way.
ALI: I always wondered how you were able to catch basketball games not being from the US and all. I sort of imagined it to look like that NBC promo where everyone from a small village is gathered around a TV laughing, and there’s that one guy outside who can’t watch TV because someone has to crank the TV’s power source. I don’t know why I think that. You’re only from Canada… and the 80s. You probably looked more like this than this. Although, it sounds like your dad actually did watch games like that in Lebanon!