I’m not sure I’ve lamented it much in this space through the years, but I should have. I’ve long thought Boston’s regional cable networks should do more to emphasize the history of their teams and the threads that connect the past to present.
Maybe it wouldn’t be cost-effective for, say, NESN to produce an extensive video library of biographies of past Red Sox and Bruins players (similar to what the Yes Network does with its Yankeeographies, which are excellent despite the subject matter). But it would make for appealing programming in the hours when there are no live games.
Heck, they should even do them on Patriots players, even though there is no NFL rights association with a regional network and thus no incentive of a synergistic relationship. What New England fan with any sense of history or recurring twinge of nostalgia wouldn’t want to watch a well-produced hour on Steve Grogan, Stanley Morgan, or John Hannah?
I should have complained about this more. But the timing isn’t great to complain about it now, because the Celtics, in association with rights-holder NBC Sports Boston, has come up with a tremendously enjoyable way of tying its present to its extraordinary past.
Thursday, the Celtics and NBC Sports Boston will debut a half-hour special titled “Passing the Torch,’’ which features Celtics greats conversing with current players about the basketball life. Hosted by Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn, it airs at 8:30 p.m., again Friday at the same time, and will repeat several times in the coming weeks. It also is available on Celtics digital channels.
The pairings for the conversations (which clearly took place early in the season) are inspired, particularly the flashy guard symposium between Bob Cousy and Kyrie Irving, which leads off the special. Jaylen Brown chats with Tom “Satch’’ Sanders in another segment, while Danny Ainge and Marcus Smart — kindred spirits as on-court instigators — share a candid and amusing conversation.
"You gotta bring a flag home for me."
🏆 Cooz tells Kyrie to get Banner 18 for him during the "Passing the Torch" special.
— Chris Forsberg (@ChrisForsberg_) April 12, 2019
“It was the kind of conversation you can imagine Danny and Marcus having all the time,’’ said Kara Walker, Celtics vice president of marketing and content strategy.
Walker said that the Celtics, who have been looking for content that would make their history appeal to younger demographics, decided the project was a go when the logistics worked out to get Irving and Cousy together.
“We want to take advantage of the assets that we have and the relationship that we have,’’ said Walker. “We know there’s a lot of power between our history and our present and our legends and our current players. We’ve been talking for a few seasons about how to highlight that.
“The genesis of this was that we thought maybe just [having a Celtics legend] sitting down with a current player will appeal to them and get them to tune in, and that will be a window into the history and making them want to know more.’’
That seems to apply to the current players involved, too. While there have certainly been recent Celtics who have cherished the franchise’s history — Kevin Garnett became appreciative of it immediately after coming over from the Timberwolves before the 2007-08 season — most players seem to have little more than a vague knowledge of what happened in the decades before them.
“It’s pretty rare when you find a young player who is well-versed on the history,’’ said Gorman. “Even when I do talk to Brian [Scalabrine], who really does want to know all about the game, I’ll point something out from years ago and he’ll remind me, ‘Mike, I was 3 when that happened.’ ’’
Fortunately, the pairings in “Passing the Torch’’ all feel authentic and intimate, and the current players come across as genuine in their curiosity. Irving, Brown, and Smart all morphed into the interviewer at times during their conversations.
“I was really impressed and surprised with the way the current players were so genuinely excited to have that conversation,’’ said Walker.
At one point, Cousy, inspiringly sharp at 90 years old, tells Irving after discussing his own approach to playing, “I was also a show-off, Kyrie.’’
“I heard,’’ replies Irving with a genuine laugh. “I get that a lot, too.’’
And when Cousy says, “I didn’t plan the unorthodox, I had God-given skills that allowed me to do these things, and at the time I was the only one doing it,’’ Irving is one of the few people on the planet that can relate to that feeling.
The Celtics plan to continue “Passing the Torch’’ with further conversations next season.
Keep those history lessons coming. For those that need them, and for those of us that appreciate the nostalgic entertainment.