I remember it like it was yesterday. I was 4 years old and I was in my Nana and Bampas house. I somehow remember everything so vividly. The layout of the furniture. The smells. The old wooden box TV. My nana was sick. I didn’t understand the extent of the illness at that age; I just knew she was sick. She had a silver oxygen tank that she let me decorate with pictures I drew and I used to cut them out and tape them on it. She rolled it around the house in her green sweat suit. She had purple fingertips and lips as she was deprived of oxygen. She was diagnosed with primary pulmonary hypertension; a disease where her heart was basically broken and couldn’t pump enough blood to get oxygen to the cells in her body. The pressure was so high it blew a hole in her heart. But still somehow, she was still the strongest woman I knew at 4 years old. She would sit on the L shaped sofa in the living room, posted in her green sweatsuit and barely able to form a sentence without being reinforced by that tank, and watched that wooden box. Religiously. On it, I wouldn’t understand until years later. But I knew it was what carried her through. I knew it made her somehow feel better. I knew that my sitting with her, and getting as excited from what she was watching as she did, would somehow make her feel happy. That’s all I ever wanted to do. Make her happy and not sick.
She gave me a suit one day to match her. I loved to match her. I painted my fingernails and my fingers with purple nail polish to do so. My “matching suit” was a skirt and shirt though; with a shamrock on it. She couldn’t yell at the TV but every time she raised her arms in excitement, she’d state, “Sammy, get up and dance!”, so I did. Obviously. Don’t have to tell me twice to dance 🙂 I wasn’t sure what I was really dancing and getting excited about but she did teach me how to spell, and the first thing I remember learning from her was, “L-A-R-R-Y”. She loved this dude Larry Bird. Which was crazy to me because all he did was throw a ball into a basket. A lot. They were just games, but every time it happened, man, she was stoked.
Back then, VCR’s had just come out, and my Bampa bought one for my nana so she could record these games. Men kinda ruled the house those days so my Bampa got first dips on the wooden box. But when he went to bed, because he had to wake up really early for work, my nana and I would watch the games she recorded on tapes. My mom would let me stay up way late to watch with Nana so I was super happy about that. I just can’t believe how vividly I remember. She was so sick all day, couldn’t sit up sick, but when she started to watch these games, she came to life. Which I absolutely would dance for.
My nana died the day before my 5th birthday. Her requests in her will were to ‘never bring flowers to her gravesite, only fried clams (true Mainer; and all my Bampa brought, respectively). And, to be buried in that “Larry Bird green sweat suit. Which she was. She wanted people to be made aware in her obituary that she was a Celtics fan. That that’s what carried her. That’s what made her keep going. That’s what she had to look forward to. That’s what yielded her happiness in her darkest times. Fast forward 27 years to today, and I have never understood my grandmother more.
The Celtics have gotten me through the most difficult times of my life. My most trying circumstances. When all is seemingly going wrong in my life, I know that the Celtics will be there. It sounds so dumb to people that don’t understand, and I get that. But having that deep of a passion for something that’s somehow been reciprocity, is incomprehensible and incommunicable.
That feeling was elicited at 4 years old because of my Nana, but after she passed, it was lost. That is until my mother met my stepfather. My stepfather is from Philadelphia. When he moved here, he brought Philly with him. The cheesesteaks, the verbiage, and Allen Iverson. I was 12 when I was introduced to Allen Iverson. I was instantly in love. His “I don’t give fuck”, independent style made him my first real crush. I was convinced I’d marry him. That didn’t turn out well. ‘We talkin bout marriage, not a crush, marriage’ 🙃. For the next 4 years, I watched every game, learned everything I could about The Answer and covered my locker, my notebooks and my room with Iverson everything. For my Sweet 16, my mom and my stepfather got me tickets to see him for the first time ever. I was dying. It was at the Fleet Center (Now known as the TD Garden & I still have the ticket), and I was elated.
When we arrived to the home of the Celtics, I knew I was in familiar territory for my Nana but, with all due respect, I was there for AI. The game started, and he didn’t. He wasn’t even on the bench. He was injured. I was absolutely heart broken. Where was my future husband !!?? I sat there so sad, but I watched. And watched more. And this dude, rocking 34 for the Cs , LIT IT UP. He balled the hell out man. Dropped like 40 points. I remember looking around the arena and thinking immediately about my Nana & how she responded to Larry Bird the exact same way this energetic, unified crowd was responding to Paul Pierce. It was insane. The energy. The feeling. And the rest was history. I, was back in the game.
Today is my birthday. Only right that Paul Pierce chose to retire that # 34 today 🙂 It’s just such alchemy. It’s come so full circle that I can’t even begin to put it into words. He individualistically made me re-fall in love with this team. His passion, devotion, loyalty and grit is what I know my Nana must’ve loved about Larry. He’s what made her fall in love with the Celtics back then. He is what made her religiously tune in night in and night out. He’s what kept her going and what made her happy. And if you’re a true Celtics fan, you can understand that Paul did this for our era. No one will ever understand what Paul Pierce did for Boston unless you’re a Boston die hard. He won’t be League respected like Kobe or MJ was. But that’s okay. I don’t care. Make fun of his wheelchair game. Make fun of his slowness. Make fun of his rocket ship picture tweets. Make fun of his buzz lightyear Halloween costume. I. Don’t. Care. He’s a fucking legend.
Someone that I can never thank enough for giving me the gift of basketball. The gift of loving something bigger than me. The gift of camaraderie and energy of fans that feel the same as I do, night in and night out, as we collectively cheer our team on in OUR Garden. The gift of unification in such a hateful world right now. So thank you, Paul Pierce. You’re so deeply appreciated and the love & respect I have for you is immeasurable. I will be screaming (and bawling) from section 8 today, as you respectively and deservedly raise your #34 right up there next to #33, and the other Celtics legends that have made the Boston Celtics an aberrant team that yields nothing less than extraordinary fans. Thank you Paul for showing me the “mother fuckin Truth” about basketball. It’s really the best birthday gift I could ever imagine.