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Hoop heaven

Multitudes hail Celtics' long-awaited 17th banner

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Michael Levenson and Andrew Ryan
Globe Staff / June 20, 2008

Euphoric multitudes of cheering, chanting, cigar-chomping fans turned downtown Boston into a twisting river of emerald and white yesterday in a celebratory salute to the Celtics' first championship in 22 years.

It was an emotional high point for a region that not only saw the Celtics complete the greatest single-season turnaround in basketball history, but has witnessed the ascent to dominance of two of its other professional sports teams, the Red Sox and the Patriots.

A beguiling brew of sparkling weather, hometown pride, and simple admiration for a legendary team brought the faithful and the newly converted to the streets to see the Celtics roll like roundball royalty from the TD Banknorth Garden to Copley Square. Decked in shamrock-speckled top hats, green wigs, and Celtics jerseys, tens of thousands of fans lined the route.

Showers of green-and-white confetti cascaded across the skies as the players soaked in the revelry on duck boats, flanked by police officers on motorcycles, bicycles, and foot. Judging from the screams, Paul Pierce - sporting a T-shirt emblazoned with his nickname, "The Truth" - was the crowd favorite.

The team captain puffed a cigar that he said had been given to him by Red Auerbach, the late legendary coach known for lighting up after Celtics victories. Hoisting his golden Finals MVP trophy, Pierce listened to the gleeful chorus of fans pressed along barricades, perched in trees, and leaning out windows: "MVP! MVP!"

"Do you know what?" he shout ed at one point. "We might do it again next year."

Cigar smoke wafted above Causeway Street and teenagers hammed for television cameras, doing their best impressions of Celtic greats. "Anything is possible!" screamed one young man, mimicking All-Star Kevin Garnett's exultation at the end of Game 6.

Nine-year-old Shawn Michael Kelly stood on tiptoe, craning through the crowd for a glimpse of Pierce, whose name graced his green jersey. Kelly's hair was dyed Celtics green and a green shamrock was painted on one cheek. The other cheek bore the number 17, for the number of Celtics championships. His father, Kevin Kelly, 35, looked down at his giddy son and smiled.

"I figured he ought to see what I saw 22 years ago," said the father, who was 13 when he cheered at City Hall Plaza at the last Celtics victory rally in 1986. "He's seen plenty of other championships with the Red Sox and Patriots, but this is his first Celtics."

The parade drew young fans savoring their first taste of Celtics glory, grizzled veterans reliving memories of past championships, well-tailored business types, and shirtless college students slathered in green paint. The adoring masses came from across the city, a crowd noticeably more diverse than those that turned out to celebrate the Sox and Patriots.

Some signs and T-shirts were machine-printed and simple: "Sweet 17" and "Have a cigar." Others updated a famous cheer ("We beat L.A."), made puns ("Green with envy"), lashed out ("I hate L.A."), or boasted ("Got rings?").

Early drinkers held a handwritten sign out the window of the Harp bar on Causeway Street: "Hey Jack Nicholson, who can handle the truth now?"

Robert Hall, 28, used a flattened cereal box from a corner store near his home in East Boston to send a message in black magic marker: "On Top of the World! KG." Others held homemade signs that offered love ("KG: I can be a great stepmom") and fraternity: "Scalabrine is my homeboy," a reference to the backup center.

Nick Abisi, 39, who lives in Indianapolis but grew up in Nashua and has been a Celtics fan for 30 years, was taking his vacation around the championship win.

"This is not a team; it's a way of life," said Abisi, who flew in yesterday and planned to leave Tuesday. "I wouldn't miss this for the world. The smile won't come off my face for months."

The parade carried the Celtics on a winding victory tour that rolled past the barren concrete of City Hall Plaza to the grassy expanses of Boston Common and the Public Garden and the luxury storefronts of the Back Bay. Fans eager for a good vantage point started trickling onto the route as early as 6 a.m. By 10 a.m., an hour before the parade, the green wave was four and five people deep in many places.

Subway trains heading downtown were awash in more green than South Boston during the St. Patrick's Day parade. When the duck boats departed from the TD Banknorth Garden just after 11 a.m., the crowds were 40 deep at the corner of Boylston and Tremont streets. Boston police reported 21 arrests, mostly for disorderly conduct and drinking in public. City officials did not provide an official crowd estimate, and said it was impossible to compare the numbers with past parades for the Sox and Patriots.

But no one, it seemed, was immune from the noisy jubilation. Gearing up at the Garden, dozens of members of the Police Department's gang unit posed for photos near a Celtics banner on a flatbed truck. One officer in black cargo pants and a black shirt jumped up and down in anticipation as another held up a newspaper showing the team's Big Three.

Once the parade started, men in khakis and button-down shirts joined teenagers racing across Beacon Hill, eager to catch Garnett, Pierce, and Ray Allen making the turn onto the Common.

Gregg Frantz, 31, stood in the middle of Causeway Street, waving a huge Celtics flag, high-fiving every person who walked past him, and cheering, "We beat L.A." By his side, his daughter Makayla, 7, waved a 2008 championship banner, as Natalie, 5, looked on.

"This is ecstasy. I'm speechless," Frantz said. "We're champs. This is just pent up after waiting for 22 years. This is championship city."

The Celtics seemed to enjoy the parade as much as the fans. Glen "Big Baby" Davis, perched on the back of a duck boat, peeled off his shirt and waved it at the crowd. Leon Powe pointed at individual fans as if he knew them, sending the crowds into delirium. P.J. Brown screamed, "World Champions, baby!" over and over.

"Electric!" he yelled. "Number 1!"

David Abel, Maria Cramer, Peter Schworm, Donovan Slack, Marc J. Spears, and Megan Woolhouse of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents Maddie Hanna and Ryan Kost contributed to this report. Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.

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