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Title gives birth to a new generation of fans

For city's youth, NBA glory no longer faded images from the past

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Michael Levenson and Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / June 19, 2008

At Mozart Park in Jamaica Plain, 15-year-old Max Ricci and 17-year-old Steven Porix did their best imitations of the Big Three, slashing to the bucket, pulling up for long-range jumpers, and posting in the paint.

On Washington Street in Roxbury, 13-year-old Rakeem Ifill clutched a basketball under his arm as he compared this year's trio of stars - Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen - to the legends of the past - Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish.

And across from the Old Colony housing project in South Boston, a dozen teenagers on a neighborhood team sprawled under the hoop, talking with their coach about what they learned from the Celtics' dominance on Tuesday night.

"Motivation," said Luis Santiago, 15.

"Believe in yourself," said Charles Vega, 13.

"Role models," said Antonio Morales, 13.

Across the city yesterday, children who knew the Celtics only as a perennially struggling franchise reveled in a renewal of championship glory. Twenty-two years after the last Celtics banner was raised, a new generation of fans was born.

"It brings back those Auerbach times," Santiago said, sounding a good bit older than someone who was 13 when the legendary coach died in 2006 at the age of 89.

In the '70s and '80s the Celtics competed on an equal footing with the Red Sox and Bruins for the city's affection. Then the team fell on hard times.

Now, once again, the Celtics are the pride of Boston. Young and old sported jerseys emblazoned with the names Garnett, Allen, and Pierce. And there was a sense among young people that they had witnessed a new chapter in the city's storied basketball heritage .

"We haven't won it for so long," Vega said, "and we made history."

Ifill, who had just come from a pick-up basketball game with his friend, Uchenna Chinemere, 13, at Derby Park, said there was a connection between team's past glory and its current success.

"I didn't know too much about those teams in the past until I started watching my uncle's tapes of the finals in the '80's," Ifill said. "Larry Bird was good, they were all good. I think the way they [the Celtics] played last night, they got inspiration from those guys."

In Jamaica Plain, where baseball is king thanks to a large Dominican community, few wore green and white yesterday, but many said they had witnessed the Celtics' historic run to the championship.

"I'm happy for KG and Paul Pierce and Allen, because they played hard and they deserved it," Ricci said. "This team as a whole is better than those teams in the past that won championships, because they have the total package: shooters, big guys, and finishers."

Ricci said that the neighborhood in which he lives, not far from the basketball court, rocked with firecrackers and screaming fans last night.

In Roxbury, there were many more Celtics jerseys. Two men wearing Garnett's and Pierce's numbers rolled down Washington Street on mopeds. Store owners wore them as well. And sidewalk conversations were all about Tuesday night's win.

The coach of the South Boston team, Tory Mead, said that as he tries to steer children away from violence, he draws inspiration from the way Paul Pierce recovered from a stabbing in a Boston nightclub in 2000, stuck with the Celtics through their lean years, and led the team to triumph.

"Paul Pierce, even through his struggles, kept going; that shows me a lot," Mead said in between jump shots. "He believes in himself. He believes in his team. And most of all, he believes in God."

Time was, back in the '90s, when Boston sports teams were the perennial also-rans. Now, the Patriots are a dynasty, the Red Sox have two World Series victories this decade, and the Celtics have officially posted the greatest turnaround in NBA history, after winning just 24 games last season.

"I don't even know how to put it into words," said Joslyn Allen, 31, who was sporting a Ray Allen jersey on Castle Island. "My husband and I were talking about how spoiled it feels to be in Boston and how the excitement keeps building."

In Dorchester, inside the parking lot of a McDonald's Restaurant, Larry McCray, 52, and Richard Howell, 43, discussed the game in animated fashion. "Boom!" said Howell, imitating a Ray Allen three-point jumper, complete with wrist-action. "That's how it's done; don't be surprised if they do it again next year!"

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.

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