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Rob Asghar Headshot

The Uniquely Bostonian Form of Sports Arrogance

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Let me kick Boston Celtics fans now that they're down.

All sports fans are arrogant and hypocritical, perhaps because all human beings are arrogant hypocritical, never more so than when they break themselves up in groups. But Boston Celtics fans and watchers offer a unique kind of hubris.

As a fan of USC and the Lakers, I'm hardly one to judge others for smugness. And I realize the Celtics are a tremendous bunch of competitors. But we can all still learn something from looking at the mentality of Celtics watchers, reflected best in this pre-Game 7 swipe by Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy:

What Game 6 failed to establish was any measure of the Lakers' mental toughness. Historically, the Lakers are the premier frontrunners in all of sports. As it was in 1984, it is today: no team looks better than the gold-clad Lakers running up and down the floor, dunking and making threes.

But there wasn't any competition for the home team last night. The Celtics simply failed to show up.

This suggests so much. The Lakers can score more points than the Celtics in 48 minutes, but they still can't "win" in Celtic eyes. If, with their backs against the wall the Lakers clobber the Celtics in Game 6, it's simply because the Celtics weren't informed that they needed to "show up" to claim their championship.

Shaughnessy reluctantly went on to concede the Lakers' "mental toughness" after Game 7, but only after eulogizing the Celtics for having supreme character.

What's mentally tough for Bostonians, generally, is recognizing that the Lakers have maintained strength longer and better than the Celtics have.

If the Lakers have won more championships in the modern era, Celtics fans say it's merely because the Lakers have greater physical talent -- as though no franchise should get credit for assembling better talent than others, within in a sport where you have to use savvy as much as dollars to assemble effective talent.

In the Celtics' world, it's no sign of toughness if Kobe Bryant plays through a broken finger and tweaked knee and a gimpy ankle for most of the season, or if young Andrew Bynum postpones surgery to hobble along on a torn knee -- but it's Shakespearean tragedy, nay, a Virgilian epic, if the Celtics are forced to soldier on minus an injured Kendrick Perkins.

This is all quintessentially Bostonian. It mainly uses a narrative derived from two Laker Game 7 losses to the Celtics in 1969 and 1984 -- in other words, before NBA players were born or before they began playing basketball. Rather than saying that the Celtics had a fine run in that prehistoric era, and rather than pointing out that Magic Johnson soon destroyed the Celtics' aura of invulnerability, and rather than noting that Andrew Bynum was injured in 2008, the Celtics fans and watchers revel in gloating about how Celtics teams are superior in character.

Bostonians ultimately see the NBA as a morality play. If Phil Jackson won more titles than Red Auerbach, it was because he exploited pre-assembled superstars rather than building a team from the ground up. If Boston beat the Lakers in 2008 using a pre-assembled cast of mercenaries, it's because, well, who cares? And even though those mercenaries enjoyed a league-best 66-16 wins that season and even though the Lakers lacked Bynum in those playoffs, Celtics again manage to see their six-game series win as a sign of heroism against "front-runners."

With two championships in the past 25 years, The Celtics have been largely irrelevant in the modern era, which has been dominated by Los Angeles, Chicago and San Antonio. And their team is again likely to fall apart soon.

But that will not stop Bostonians from their bloviating. Fair enough, it may be what carries them through those long winters. Now I'll stop smugly kicking them while they're down, long enough to celebrate my "front-running" Lakers' latest triumph. See you next June, Bostonians... if you can ever get back.

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