It’s all UConn’s fault.
I would pop in to watch a Celtics game now and then to see how my boy Kemba, the Greatest Hero of the Big East, was doing. But there were these other guys on the team. One of them looked a little like Kemba, but even as I watched Kemba, I could see that this other guy was on another level. I eventually learned that his name is Jaylen Brown.
The other guy was taller, and somehow even better than Brown. I watched him play in the bubble playoffs last year, and this 22 year old averaged 24 points. Jayson Tatum. Okay, I see you.
It was a repeat of my secret love for the 2008 championship Celtics team. Again, I only watched to support Jesus Shuttlesworth. But fellow acclaimed actor Kevin Garnett was also on the team, and I finally got to see him play after being banished out in Minnesota for most of his career. He was great, of course, and over the season I even developed a grudging respect for Paul Pierce (which has been burnished by his epic firing from ESPN).
I suppose liking the Celtics was my destiny. My grandfather played basketball, and was pretty good until he hurt his knee. Still, he kept in contact with all of his basketball friends, including Sam Jones. Yes, that Sam Jones. I remember answering the phone a few times at my grandfather’s house, and hearing the husky voice of an older Black man on the other end.
“Hey, is Jimmy there? Tell him it’s Sam Jones.”
I was an idiot kid, so I didn’t understand that I was talking to one of the fifty greatest basketball players ever in the NBA. My room was right next to my grandfather’s, so I could hear the raucous laughter booming from his 6’4″ body as they recalled the good old days, games and girls that were long gone.
My grandfather died enough years ago that now I can’t remember exactly when it happened. I just remember hearing that he’d had a heart attack. He’d already had one of those, I said to myself. He’ll bounce back like he always does. Weeks in the hospital became months, and the thought snuck into my mind that he might not be coming out this time. I invented all sorts of reasons to not go see him- I was too busy, it was too far, I was too angry over some minor disagreement from childhood.
But I was scared. I’d never seen my grandfather sick. This dude was literally larger than life to me. I was the shortest boy in my class in the 8th grade, so my basketball-playing grandfather was a giant. I ran to his house every weekend for pizza and Cartoon Network. No bedtime. Football all day the next day with the other kids in the complex. Toys R Us on Sunday to get some obscure Star Trek model. This guy can’t die. I’ll see him when he comes home.
But he didn’t. I’m sorry I didn’t go to see you Grandpa Jim. I was a coward and I have to live with that until I die.
I don’t even know if Sam knows that Jimmy passed on. I’m sure it made it to him somehow. He must be pretty proud of how his team is playing, and I know James Ragland would be too.
So now there’s a new Big Three in Beantown that I can get behind, especially after watching Tatum go off last night for 50 to keep the Celtics alive in the series. My grandfather isn’t here to root them on, so I’ll have to carry on in his place. Let’s go Celtics!