Greece is far away from Boston. Unless one follows FIBA’s World Cup he might be unaware that basketball is very popular among the Greeks. Not only that, but these days (largely thanks to the internet) Greeks are greatly informed about the NBA both past and present. You’d be surprised to find out how many young Greeks know not only KG and Kobe, but also Kevin McHale and Kurt Rambis. The other day, a fifteen year old gave me a thorough analysis of Jordan’s performance at the flu game: ‘you know, I’ve watched it countless times on Youtube’. It is then no surprise that many Greeks choose to support NBA teams. And of course one of the most popular choices is the Boston Celtics.
The reasons of their popularity in Greece are pretty obvious, and include the 2007-08 championship, their history, and their association with stars like Garnett, Larry Bird and Bill Russell. But there is something more: one of the most popular Greek teams, Panathinaikos has the same emblem as the Celtics, the shamrock. If you go to a game of Panathinaikos, you are sure to see dozens of people wearing Celtics jerseys, most of them with the number 5.
I interviewed three people on how they became fans of the Celtics and what they think the feature prospects of the team are. The first one, Fotis is a doctor in his thirties, an intellectual and a sports connoisseur, who was born and raised in Athens. I interviewed him a few weeks before the regular season started.
“I became a fan of the Boston Celtics while I was still in the primary school. Mind you, unlike most people I am not a Panathinaikos fan – just the opposite– my favourite team is Apollo Smyrni. First, I watched a documentary on Greek TV about the NBA finals of 1984. I was impressed by how Bird led his teammates to victory. Later on, I loved playing a basketbal videogame, it was called ‘Lakers vs Celtics’ and I always picked the Celtics. That was it: I became a Celtics fan.
In the nineties, I remember the tragic death of Reggie Lewis. I was in high school when this happened, and I was shocked to see a young, healthy man at his prime to pass away just like this. In general, the nineties were disappointing, I only really followed our matches when (and if) we made it to the playoffs.
In 2007-08 I became again excited as the Celtics returned to the top, and I would spend hours and hours watching our matches late at night. Since then I am following the team really closely, I read the sports columns of the Boston Herald and watch the games (especially the play offs) even if this means I have to stay up until late at night.
For this year, I cannot say that I am an optimist. Sure, the trade was necessary, Garnett and Pierce were getting old, and we would have to start rebuilding the team at some point.
I have two main reservations about the coming year. First, it’s of course too early to judge Brad Stevens, and I wish him the very best; but to my mind Rivers had to stay, I do not understand why we had to change coach in the first place. Second, we should have taken steps earlier to prepare for the post-trade era: now, the only first rate player we have is Rondo. I am afraid next year we will have more losses than victories, and it might take us five years or longer to build again a competitive team. My message to the Celtics fans in the US? Beat LA!”
Zenaldo is a high school student. He excels at soccer, but when he has the chance he loves scoring some three pointers too. He lives in Ambelokipi close to the “Indian’s tomb”, the famous Panathinaikos stadium.
“I chose the Celtics because of their history, they are the team with most championships, everyone respects them. Last year, I loved how all the players defended well, and played for the team, rather than for their stats. Then, I love Garnett, his defensive skills are great. For the next year, I am optimistic, I think the trade was a good idea, the only thing is I was really sad to see Doc Rivers go.”
Michalis is a librarian in his thirties: a laid back bon viveur, he divides his free time between playing backgammon and reading novels by John Dos Passos. He loves basketball and claims that – before he took up smoking – he was a fearsome shooting guard. I am a Panathinaikos fan, and following the Celtics came to me naturally. The last few years I’ve spent more time watching the Celtics play than Panathinaikos, NBA is by far the best championship, and I really love the team. I tell you it isn’t easy, I sometimes go to work with only a few hours of sleep because I want to watch the games live. Like most people I found the nineties very disappointing, back then I did not watch many games, and the player I remember the most is Vitaly Potapenko. Not a great player to be sure but he was dedicated to the game. In 2007 I got really excited when we got Garnett, he is by far my favourite Celtic: he takes the game seriously and he’s so smart. For this coming season, well, what can I say? Sure, beating Miami in their home felt great, and I woke up many neighbours with my screams when Green made the buzzer beater. But on the whole, things do not look bright. The trade might have been necessary, but still I am disappointed with our roster now. My only hope is Rondo, his passing skills are great, and hopefully we’ll manage to rebuild a strong team around him. For Brad Stevens, I do not know, it was a very bold choice to pick a coach without NBA experience. Personally, I think it’s time we traded Danny Ainge!” Michalis also has a message for the fans in the US: “I think the Celtics fans really know the game, you can see it by the reactions of the crowd during the games, they understand what’s going on, they are not only emotional, they are also smart.”
The Celtics fans in Athens may not be many, but they make no secret of their dedication to the team. If you ever visit Athens, make sure you look out for them.