THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Adrian Walker

Communal crown

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Adrian Walker
Globe Columnist / June 20, 2008

The Boston Public Library's main building offers no shortage of good vantage points for a parade that ends in Copley Square.

Yet there was Bernard Margolis, the outgoing BPL president, on the sidewalk yesterday, looking slightly incongruous in a blue blazer and rep tie. It was important, he said, to watch the parade with the public.

"This is history," he said. "Besides I wanted to see all the green people."

History wore green yesterday, as Celtics Pride overwhelmed the Back Bay. The throng assembled early and left late, finding plenty of reasons to hang around even after the last of the duck boats had passed.

The efforts to place the Celtics' 17th championship into historical perspective have been tireless and enterprising. But there's not much history in evidence on parade day, the very embodiment of immediate gratification.

I took in the parade from the corner of Boylston and Exeter, just a couple hundred feet away from the Lenox Hotel, Red Auerbach's longtime Boston residence.

The neighborhood's changed a lot. When Auerbach coached his last game, in 1966, the Prudential Center was barely two years old, the "new" part of the Boston Public Library was six years from completion, and there was no such thing as an Apple Store.

On the way over, I had chatted with a fan who said he had been watching the Celtics since 1963. I asked him how the level of excitement now compared with then.

"Oh, there's no comparison," he said. "In those days you could walk up to the ticket window on the day of a playoff game and get a seat." That sounded nice, and very remote.

This title has been so long in coming that some of the most diehard fans barely remember the last time the Celtics won. In the fallow years though, the Patriots became a powerhouse, and the Red Sox grew into a near-religion. By all accounts, Boston has never been a better sports town than it is right now.

The Celtics are back, and the city is awash in nostalgia. The great Bill Russell, whose relationship with this city was nothing short of painful for a long time, is arguably more popular in Boston now than he was 40 years ago. Tom Heinsohn has weighed in on the Celtics' revival. Even a bland congratulatory press release from Indiana was treated as an important missive because it bore the signature of Larry Bird.

Against the pull of all that tradition it was a bit surprising to see how young the crowd was yesterday. Sure, they respectfully applauded when a float full of Celtics graybeards passed. But Jo Jo White got less of a reaction than the boat carrying Glen "Big Baby" Davis, who didn't even play against the Lakers until the last game.

I wasn't surprised by that, or unhappy. We say we love history, but you can't live in history; you can live only in the moment you're in. It is wonderful that the Celtics' dynasty has been restored. But these fans were relishing the beatdown of the Lakers - this championship, their moment.

To watch yesterday was to be reminded that so much of the appeal of sports is communal. However superficially, or contrived, the fun of sports is in sharing it with friends, neighbors, even strangers. The reason the parades never seem old is that people never tire of having an excuse to come together. We don't have to agree about politics, or race relations, or healthcare policy, to join the community of Green. Election Day doesn't come close to evoking the sense of shared purpose that an NBA title does.

Like who knows how many thousands of people, I celebrated the championship Tuesday night with a group of friends. There were cigars in honor of Red. And appreciative recitations of key moments in Celtics-Lakers history. It was a sweet moment.

In that moment, and again yesterday, we were all champions. And neighbors.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com.

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