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Monday, December 24, 2007
Updated: December 26, 9:29 AM ET
The Celtics' rise fuels feelings of old times

By Jemele Hill
Page 2

Two things defined my childhood: Beverly Cleary and the Boston Celtics. One I loved. The other I hated with every human fiber.

The two times sports made me cry:

1. Senior year of high school. We were trailing the top fastpitch softball team in our division by a run. It was the bottom of the seventh (in our league that was the final inning) and we had two outs. We had a runner on first and I was on second. If we won, we would have tied for the division title. That was remarkable since just two years prior our opponent had beaten us like we were the Miami Dolphins. Anyway, our third baseman, the female version of Cecil Fielder, worked their pitcher to a full count. And then she got a great cut on the pitch and … popped up to the middle of the infield. Game over. My best friend and I cried for 10 hours in the dugout.

2. 1987. I was 12 and a huge Pistons fan. I just knew it was our year, just as I knew E.T. was real. Game 5. Celtics. Boston Garden. Eastern Conference finals. Larry Bird stole Isiah Thomas' friggin' inbounds pass with a couple of seconds left, passed to Dennis Johnson, and the Celtics won the game (and eventually the series). I had a nervous breakdown and spent two straight days listening to Robbie Nevil, flicking the lamp in my room on and off like Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction." Bad times.

So you can only imagine how distraught I was when Danny Ainge, who ranked fifth on my "Celtics I Hate More Than Rutabaga" list, actually pulled off the Kevin Garnett trade. I had that same terrible, sinking feeling I had the time my mother busted me for staying out two hours past my curfew with my high school boyfriend. How was I to anticipate that Agent Smith would covertly go to the movie theater to see if we really had gone to see "Sister Act 2"? If only I had known the name of the song that Lauryn Hill sang to help save St. Francis Academy, then I wouldn't have spent three months of my senior year as a P.O.D (Prisoner Of Denise).

Only I've come to realize Boston's resurgence isn't nearly as vomit-inducing as I thought it would be. In fact, the Celtics have rejuvenated me as a sports fan.

We think being a sports fan is only about loving your team, showing loyalty to them through success and failure, and having our lives enriched by incredible, athletic achievements.

Those are fine ideas, but not quite reality. The warm and fuzzy sentiments are only a small part of sports. The bigger part, the best part, the most fun part, is the hatred.

If you're any kind of fan, you are just as emotional and fired up when your rival loses and gets humiliated as you are when your own team pulls off a thrilling win. It's sports ying and yang.

If I'm being honest, I didn't derive that much enjoyment out of the Celtics being mostly irrelevant the last 13 years. OK, maybe that's not entirely true. That year the Celtics fielded a team of Ricky Davis, Michael Stewart and Chris Mihm was pretty hilarious. Sure, during the Celtics' trip off the map, the Pistons added another NBA title and have been a dominant team in the East the last six years, but those accomplishments weren't quite as sweet because Boston couldn't be stepped on along the way.

Think about it: Red Sox Nation wouldn't be nearly as intense, psychotic and deranged if the Yankees weren't always a threat and hadn't spent so long being so good. Red Sox fans have the perfect situation right now: The Yankees have been good enough to supply plenty of hate fuel, but not good enough to actually win a World Series. The Yankees beat them in headlines and players named in the Mitchell report, but little else. And A-Rod and his contract that could match the gross national product for some nations is just the hate gift that keeps on replenishing.

How much less fun is the NCAA Tournament if Duke isn't in it? Who else is most of America going to hate for three straight weeks? Could Bill Simmons survive if Billy Packer didn't show up one year?

When the Cowboys went through that stretch where they were no better than the Grand Rapids Rampage, the NFL just didn't feel the same. If the New England Patriots weren't identified as all that is evil and soul-less in the world, they wouldn't be blistering the ratings this season. Most people aren't tuning in because they love the Pats. They're tuning in hoping someone punches Bill Belichick in the mouth.

My alma mater, Michigan State, is playing in the Champs Sports Bowl against Boston College, which is a pretty significant step for a program that has mostly been a fodder for jokes the last couple seasons. But despite this massive improvement, know what the biggest moment of the season was for most MSU football fans? When Appalachian State beat Michigan at The Big House.

Hating the opponent is just as important as loving your own team. Hating is energizing. Hating is refreshing. Hating keeps you connected to the game in all sorts of unholy, sadistic ways. Hating is good.

So I can bear the nausea of seeing the Celtics rise again because they've jump-started my hate cable, which hasn't been this revved up since the late '80s. Thanks to the Celtics, I ordered NBA League Pass for the first time. Thanks to the Celtics, I check NBA box scores every night. Thanks to the Celtics, I taunted Simmons in an e-mail last week after the Pistons handed Boston its third loss of the season.

Yep, it's December and I'm taunting.

Man, it feels good to hate.

Page 2 columnist Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.