SHOULD PAYING FANS "JUST SAY NO" TO THE BOSTON CELTICS?


Chuck Hirshberg is a Celtics fan from way back; and to tell you the truth,the recent "work" of Danny Ainge is making him sick -- and turning the NBA's most-storied franchise into the hoops version of roadkill. Worse yet, Ainge and the Celtics new owner are literally stealing the money of the C's hardworking fans. Hirshberg thinks he has a classically American solution to the whole ugly mess -- a total fan boycott, which should appeal to history-conscious New Englanders.

Give me liberty or . . . | From Chuck Hirshberg

"See to it, every one of you, as you love the honor of Boston ... that the children of Adams and Hancock prove they are not bastards. Let us prove we are worthy of Liberty!"
-- Wendell Phillips

"Sometimes you want to hug Danny Ainge. And sometimes you want to whack him."
-- Larry Bird

What do you think, children of Adams and Hancock? Does the Boston Celtics' Director of Basketball Operations need a hug? Or does he need something more bracing, right upside the head?

Obviously, the latter. Not literally, mind you; that wouldn't do any good. Remember, this is the same guy who was completely unintimidated when 7-footer Tree Rollins tried to bite off one of his digits. What Danny -- and more important, the entire Celtics organization -- need now is a blow to the only organ that matters in professional sports: the Almighty Wallet. And you can do it, Celtics fans. Do you hear me? You hold the destiny of your team in your hands, as surely as your colonial ancestors once held the destiny of our budding nation.

Danny Ainge
Celtics fans have their doubts that Danny Ainge's rebuilding plan will net positive results.

By now, it is more than obvious that the NBA's most storied franchise is in the throes of a horrid, undignified death, like some sort of half-squashed roadkill. The proper question to ask is not, "Who's to blame?" but "How to fix it?"

On the other hand, what the hell. "Who is to blame?"

It's certainly not all Danny's fault. In the mid-1980s, with Red Auerbach still a prime mover in the organization, Boston pulled off two brilliant coups, which should have secured the franchise's greatness for another generation. First, they maneuvered their way into the 1986 lottery to draft Len Bias, who, in case you've forgotten, was the LeBron James of his day. Then they used the 22nd pick in the 1987 draft to snag Reggie Lewis.

The impulse among Celtics haters to enjoy the demise of this once too-proud dynasty is understandable, but please don't enjoy it too much. The deaths of those two athletic geniuses are just tiny glimmers of the lives our country loses to drugs, every damn day.

But here's the part you can enjoy, Celtics haters. It started in 2002, after Coach Jim O'Brien magically transformed 12 sulky underachievers into the second-best team in the Eastern Division. Granted, that's still not very good; but after more than a decade of futility, it was enough to completely rejuvenate the franchise.

Suddenly, the Celtics were worth something -- not only in the basketball world, but in a financial sense, too.

So team owner Paul Gaston delightedly prepared to sell the franchise to a group headed by Wyc Grousbeck for $360 million -- an NBA record. Boosters o' the Green rejoiced. Not only was their team decent again, it would soon be freed from the miserly Gaston, under whose penny-pinching regime the roster had grown so short that O'Brien sometimes had trouble assembling 10 healthy bodies for a decent practice. Grousbeck and company promised to spend more.

Vin Baker
At the beginning of the season, Vin Baker was on the rise again.

However, Gaston proved to be not only mean, but avaricious, too. O'Brien had based the Celtics' game on vigorous team defense and the three-point shot. He'd found a perfect player for this style in Rodney Rogers, a muscle-bound moose with a feathery touch. All Rogers wanted to re-up with the C's was fair market value -- about $3 million. But that would have put Gaston over the salary cap, cutting ever-so-gently into his enormous profit margin. (His daddy, Donald, had bought the team with a group of investors 20 years earlier for just $19 million.) So Rogers ended-up in New Jersey. Worse, Gaston then dealt point guard Kenny Anderson to Seattle for Vin Baker.

The Baker debacle is too sad even to dwell on. Point guard has been a problem for the C's ever since.

Enter Danny.

"AINGE SAYS ANTOINE WALKER WILL NOT BE TRADED," read the AP headline last May. "I will never make a phone call in that regard," he lied to The Boston Globe.

Meanwhile, the Celtics gave every indication that the future was now. This is how Celtics fans got screwed. This is how you, the fan, always gets screwed.

Let's make believe you live in suburban Boston, in a middle-sized house, with a middle-sized yard, two middle-sized kids and a middle-sized income. And let's make believe that -- unlike, say, a sportswriter -- you work hard for your money. And, also unlike a sportswriter, you rarely get drunk before you make a substantial purchase.

Finally, let's make believe that those two middle-sized kids of yours love basketball, and all summer long are begging you for Celtics tickets.

Hmmm, you think. A half-season ticket plan can be had for as little as $1,680 a person. Ouch! You'd have to give up a lot, but think of the life lessons your kids will learn!

Teamwork: They'll see the Celts won't win unless Walker and Paul Pierce share the ball.

Discipline: Everyone has to do their job on D, no matter how unglamorous.

Leadership: Jim O'Brien -- perhaps the only coach in the league who truly seems to have the respect of his players -- is a nightly education in that.

Okay! You'll put it on a credit card and pay it off by the end of the year. Just make sure the kids understand: There'll be no Disneyworld for a long, long time, and we'll have to cut down on trips to Red Lobster. But it'll be worth it to see playoff-caliber basketball.

We love this game, don't we, kids?!

Antoine Walker
Without Antoine, Paul Pierce has the entire Celtics team leaning on his shoulders.

Then Danny goes and trades Antoine, though he said he wouldn't. That's not a very good lesson for the young'ns.

O'Brien was devastated, but he didn't complain. He got the team winning again, with teamwork, discipline and leadership. Then Ainge traded O'Brien's favorite player, Eric Williams, the Hardest Working Man in Basketball, along with another favorite, Tony Battie (plus Kedrick Brown).

That was it. Ainge encouraged O'Brien to stay, but O'Brien declined. Perhaps he felt like the mouse in the old story who was offered $1,000 to lick the cream off a cat's whiskers. "The pay sounds great," the mouse told the cat. "But the location is crap."

And that's what all you Celtics fans should be saying now. You've been suckered, taken, used. Don't stand for it! Do you think Wyc Grousbeck feels your pain?

"[Basketball] is a monopoly, like cable TV," he told the Boston Business Journal last year. "No one is opening an NBA franchise in Worcester. So we can be comfortable with our financials."

If you ever want a decent team again, you have got to make Grousbeck uncomfortable with his financials. You've to make him understand that Boston won't sit still for bad basketball, just because the players wear green.

It's simple: STOP BUYING CELTICS TICKETS!

If you have season tickets, stop using them. Believe me, you won't be missing anything. Let Ainge sit by himself in an empty gym and watch the road-kill die.

I'm a little bit serious, Boston. Samuel Adams wasn't always just a bottle of suds. Once upon a time, he was the very essence of your great city, a man-and-a-half who would rather die than be lied to and cheated.

"If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace," he told the faint-hearted. "We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen."

What'll it be, Celtics fans? Servitude or the animating contest of freedom?